by Activision Reviewed by: Aaron Nicholls
A deadly virus has invaded the military's top-secret super computer. Spreading at lethal speeds, its catastrophic time-warping effects now threaten to overtake the computer systems of the world. If the core memory cannot be restored in time, the situation will escalate irreparably ... the future will be ruled by chaos ... and the virus will mean the world's collapse. The battle lines are drawn. Time holds the key to stopping this technological demon's out-of-control mutations. The corridors of history are its battlefields. Vicious warriors, both past and future, form the barriers to freedom. Instinct is a Time Commando's only armor; all-out warfare his only choice. This is the setting for Time Commando, a game that mixes the fun of 3D fighting with the beauty of pre-rendered scenes. You fight your way through a variety of enemies in several different ages and locales, in a pre-rendered environment similar (but superior) to that in Rebel Assault, with a greater deal of control. Although it is a fighting game, any time you kill a monster, since they are computer creations and not real, they disintegrate into a swirl of pixels, so you parents with young kids, relax. If you don't like blood and gore, it's okay. However, this is still a fighting game, so don't expect things like quests, conversations, and "edutainment." This is an action game, pure and simple.
This game's graphics are its strong point, and both screenshots and actual video are quite impressive to watch. Throughout the stages of the game, there are a variety of environments (outdoors, in a castle, in a Japanese temple, on a battlefield, etc.), and each one varies from the others in colors and textures, thus avoiding the color overload that can happen with Quake or some other games. In addition, each of the characters has been given a wide variety of moves, allowing them to move and interact smoothly. Even after winning the game, I found myself watching the credits a couple of times to see all of the enemies that walk out and strut their stuff. When it comes to graphics, this game is a winner.
I really enjoyed the richness of the graphical environment. Everything is pre-rendered, so shadows, reflections, transparency, et al abound, making for an entertaining setting. These are not just fighting arenas. They are cities, castles, houses, and battlefields, so you will find books, clothes, tools, and all of the things you would expect to see in such an environment. Although you can not interact with the majority of these items, they make you feel like you are truly there. Many locales, especially the Modern Wars (my personal favorite), are very extensively detailed, and make for convincing and entertaining battles. The team responsible for the graphics, both pre-rendered and real-time, deserves a pat on the back for a job well done. This is the kind of game you might run for your kid brother to show off your new computer. Several screenshots and videos are available on the Activision web site, and should give you a good feel for the level of detail and action that exists in the game.
In Time Commando, the sounds are well done and add appropriate atmosphere, but not to the point that they are absorbing. Although I enjoyed the sounds of the game, I did not find myself listening for enemies or trying to pick up any other audio hints. On the other hand, the sounds did add an element of excitement to the game, like the way the karate masters run around screaming "hi-yaa" and chopping through the air. The sounds do not play an integral part in the game, but are definitely entertaining.
Documentation for this game was par for the course. There was a handy little key sheet, which I greatly appreciated (it means I don't have to read anything until after I have died a couple of times and whet my taste for blood). In addition, the CD cover has an ample color description of the storyline, items, moves, and interface. Although documentation was not extensive for a game like this, there is no need for a thick manual.
This is the one part of the game that I have a big gripe about. Although the game was fun, in many stages, it was totally aggravating. In fact, I have friends that quit the game halfway through (which is where it finally starts to get good!) because of the clumsiness of the interface.
First of all, most hand-to-hand combat is a pain in the behind. With most weapons, you have three modes: Attack1, Attack2, and Defend. The two attack modes are typically similar attacks with different times and damage, such as punches and kicks, and the defend command usually steps you back to get out of range. This changes with range weapons, but the idea stays the same.
The problem comes in the fact that there is little grace in hand-to-hand combat in this game. This is not Virtua Fighter. Do not expect to see yourself dancing back and forth, doing smooth crane kicks and eye-popping combos. Instead, you have a simple question to answer: Do I punch or kick? Do I thrust or slash? Do I swing or smash? That is really what close-quarters combat narrows down to -- either action A or B, and it occasionally gets annoying. You get the feeling that you are jerking around a clumsy mannequin, with poor results.
Secondly, this game resorts to a factor that I absolutely detest in a game: pixel hunts. You know, where you have to activate a secret button or twist a pot lid to continue the game. While this in itself is annoying, it is compounded by the fact that you are in a race against time, and when time runs out you lose a life. Also, your player is a very slow searcher, so every time you hit the search key, he staggers around for several seconds before raising his hands in defeat and saying "huh?"
The real frustration point that I have heard is near the end of the Japanese Middle Ages level. You fight a big dragon and once you defeat him, you come to an altar with several pots around it. You are low on time, and you have to try twisting all the pots, pushing on the altar, etc. before you can find the way to continue. I spent well over thirty minutes before I found that in order to open it, you had to twist one of the pots while standing at a certain spot and a certain angle.
I was very frustrated by this, because even when I knew where to go and what to do, I still could not do it. In addition, occasionally there are situations like this where you don't even know what to push, so you keep wandering around, pushing everything (saying "Huh? Huh? Huh?") until you find it. This is what makes people quit the game, and I don't blame them. These kind of interface problems should have been ironed out in consumer testing, and I was disappointed that they were not.
These hindrances are only prevalent in the initial stages, and later on in the game, you get hints, such as the phone ringing or a space suit before entering a room that looks like an airlock (hmm ... ). If you can get past the difficult parts in the first half of the game, the rest gets much better. I just wish there was less start-and-stop in it.
100% IBM-compatible PC, Pentium processor, 8 MB RAM,
2X CD-ROM drive, 10 MB hard drive space, 256 color VGA (320x200)
Time Commando is one of those love/hate games. I loved the game, and still play it regularly, especially the latter stages such as the Conquistadors and Modern Wars, both of which are filled with a good deal of swashbuckling, cool weapons, and lots of fun and interesting locales. However, there was a big gripe to get over before I got to this point. Once you get over the clumsy movements, the single-direction game flow, and the annoying pixel searches, this game is a lot of fun and looks very nice. This is a fun, beautiful game with flawed execution. Although I want to rate it higher, I have to give it an 81 when I think of all the frustration I had with it and the number of times I considered putting it down, which is something I don't want to see in a game. I want the world to finally pull me away from a game after long hours, not the game to push me away to a more comfortable setting. This could have been a great game, but I can only call it good. If you think you would enjoy a game like this, I suggest you go out and get it. If waiting 15 minutes for pizza delivery is too long, I recommend something non-stop, like boxing.
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