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Game Over Online ~ Timeline

GameOver Game Reviews - Timeline (c) Eidos Interactive, Reviewed by - Winston Wolf

Game & Publisher Timeline (c) Eidos Interactive
System Requirements Windows, Pentium II-266, 64MB Ram, 600MB HDD, 3D Accelerator, 4x CD-ROM
Overall Rating 45%
Date Published Wednesday, November 15th, 2000 at 07:53 PM

Divider Left By: Winston Wolf Divider Right

It's the kiss of death. Based on Michael Crichton's latest best-selling novel, Timeline arrived on store shelves to everyone's surprise late last week. What's so bad about that you ask? Well, this is a tactic often employed in the film industry. The idea is to slip the product into the marketplace without allowing the press to view the material before consumers can get their hands on it. The goal is to avoid or delay the potentially poor word of mouth for as long as possible in hopes that it won't dictate the product's success or lack thereof. Now, I'm not saying the good folks behind Timeline had this scheme in mind, particularly since video game publishers don't rely on opening weekend sales like the film studios do, but the fact Eidos Interactive did nothing to hype Timeline up prior to release speaks volumes about the game. Unfortunately, despite my hopes to the contrary, Timeline is not an exception to this rule.

Based on Michael Crichton's novel, Timeline opens on the threshold of the twenty-first century in a world of exploding advances on the frontiers of technology. Time travel has been actualized, bringing with it the intrigue and potential danger of visiting eras gone by. One such curious scientist, Professor Edward Johnston, has gone missing during one of his archeological time travel expeditions and it is now up to you, Christopher Hughes, as one of his students, to locate the good scientist and bring him back to the present, by travelling back in time to fourteenth-century feudal France, and oh no I've gone cross-eyed! In all seriousness, the story is compelling and whether or not you've read Michael Crichton's blood-soaked novel, it shouldn't prohibit or limit you from enjoying the game, that task belongs to the disastrous gameplay. Houston, we've got a problem.

Timeline gives new meaning to the term story-driven. In fact, it focuses so much on the storyline that, much like the ill-fated Professor, the gameplay mysteriously disappears as well. Now don't get me wrong, I love a good plot as much as the next time traveller, but I felt like I was doing little more than turning the pages of a book.

After an introductory movie, and a training session designed to demonstrate the first-person shooter controls to beginners, the game opens as you and your fellow student, Katherine Erickson, prepare the time machine to take you back to France in the year 1357, smack dab in the middle of the Hundred Years War. The game is broken down into a series of movie, cutscene and action sequences. Unfortunately, the action sequences are often no longer than a couple of minutes before the next cutscene or movie starts up. Upon arrival, one of the first action sequences requires you to travel down a mountain in order to reach the town of Castelgard. It's at this point of the game where you'll realize not only is your sidekick Katherine an Architectural Lead, she's also an employee of the Psychic Friends' Network. She knows everything! She tells you which fork in the road to take, she tells you where you can locate important items and how to go about obtaining them, and she tells you how to approach or avoid guards. At one point in the game, while Katherine was in captivity, she told me that I needed to light a candle on a statue in order to reveal a button I had to press to open a secret door. Who with the what now?!? Listen lady, how about you let me figure things out for myself, otherwise it sounds like you've got things well in hand here. Perhaps you'd like to do this on your own?

The helpful hints from Mrs. Know-it-all, which unfortunately can't be turned off, isn't the only gameplay deterrent, there's a general lack of depth in the game as well. The action sequences are frequently limited in terms of where you can go. Often consisting of a few rooms, it's usually not too long before you hit a locked door. These action sequences seem like they've been designed with beginners in mind, as you can often run through each sequence in about 30 to 120 seconds. Exploration is non-existent. Once in Castelgard, you're just a joust match, a horseback ride through the streets, a two-inch adventure, and a visit to a Knight's tomb away from coming face to face with the climatic finale where you'll have to save both Katherine and the Professor from the nemesis of the game, Decker (an ending that screams sequel might I add). An hour and a half later you could be done with Timeline and considering there's no replay value due to the lack of multiplayer, you'll realize you've got a lemon on your hands.

Timeline is a non-violent game. Contrary to the blood-soaked novel, when you get yourself in a sword fight, opponents will kneel down and give up when you've hit them enough times. Once again, don't get me wrong, I'm not opposed to non-violent games, there's just a general lack of action in this game, period. Using stealth to sneak up on guards, you'll be able to knock many of them out without starting a conflict. In fact, besides a sword fight in the middle of the game that is unavoidable, you could essentially complete the entire game with very few encounters. It's only at the end of the game, when you meet up with the main bad guys, that your combat skills will be put to the test. Besides a sword and a stun stick, the only other weapon available is a bow and arrow, a weapon I only needed to use once in the game to impress a bouncer. Instead, Timeline relies on joust matches, boat rides, and puzzles to provide the thrills, sequences that are often dull and simple to complete. There's no difficulty level setting in the game and veteran gamers will not find anything in Timeline challenging.

Timeline boasts a "highly interactive world", but I couldn't disagree more. A sequence near the beginning of the game allows you to pick up barrels and toss them at oncoming guards, but that was about as interactive as the game got. It seemed as though every item was bolted to the ground, every door locked, every window closed. I was impressed to hear many residents of Castelgard speaking French, but they'd never speak to me, only to their comrades. The entire game felt scripted. The story completed dictated the game. I felt constrained throughout the game too follow a certain path. It was their way or the highway.

Giving credit where credit is due, Timeline features a strong audio department. While the sound effects are rather generic, the dialogue was excellent. Each character has his or her own unique personality and the accents were right on the money. They even had French-speaking citizens in Castelgard. The musical score was also tremendous, helping to create some tense moments during the game. Graphically, Timeline reminded me a lot of Thief, not necessarily the most spectacular visuals, but they did a commendable job bringing the architecture of that era to life. Horizon shots are often breathtaking and the characters are well detailed. The lighting effects are particularly well done. Overall, the presentation of the game is by far it's best feature.

When the time travelling was done and the Professor was secure, I felt as though I had just finished watching a movie or reading a book. I helped turn the pages of the novel, that's all. The story dictated the gameplay throughout the entire adventure and the action sequences presented no challenge, and while some sequences were inventive, like the joust, they were often quite dull. Veteran gamers will be furious when Katherine details each and every action scene. She does all the thinking for you. Exploration is absent and encounters are few and far between. I enjoyed the look and sounds of the game, but that's about it. No multiplayer, little action, all story. Read the novel, it's more exciting.

[ 13/50 ] Gameplay
[ 07/10 ] Plotline
[ 09/10 ] Graphics
[ 08/10 ] Sound
[ 07/10 ] Controls
[ 01/10 ] Replay Value


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