Review by Al Giovetti
Genre: Fighting action adventure game
Release: August, 1996 (PC); Sept. 96 (PSX)
Developer: Adeline (France)
Producer: Frederick Raynal; programmers: Didier Chanfray, Serge Plaignol
Requirements: MS-DOS or Windows 95 compatible computer, with double-speed CD-ROM drive, 486DX/66 Processor (P90 recommended); SVGA monitor with 256 colors; VESA local bus or PCI video; mouse (gamepad recommended)
Team: Designed by the same team that created Alone in the Dark and Relentless.
History: Delphine surprised many of us with a startlingly beautiful game called Another world in Europe and Out of this World in the US (see below). Designed by the same team that created Alone in the Dark, Fade to Black and Relentless (Little Big Adventure). Like any good design house, Adeline is following up with game after game. Walt Disney, a pioneer in the animated feature film industry, once said that when we had films that did not hit, following right on the heels of that product was another which did hit and paid for the next one. Even the best companies have flops, you just have to keep pumping the pump.
The Computer Show meet with Activision and took a look at this one long before the public had a glimpse. We filmed and broadcast an interview with Activision Producer Marc Bennett, which should be available on the video streaming server, in Quick Time Movies, or via watching the show on your local station.
Plot: In the future, a computer virus infects a computer system used to train soldiers by capturing time in order to increase computer speed to a fantastically fast rate. When the computer crashes it pulls our hero, Stanley into the computer. Stanley must fight his way through nine historical periods in order to defeat the virus and restore the computer.
Those time periods are the 20th century, arguably the most dangerous, the Wild West complete with love starved drunken cowboys, feudal Japan with both overweight and flying adversaries, ancient Rome, prehistory, Medieval Europe where the Medicis may poison our hero time eras, Conquistador, The Future, and the Ultimate Showdown against the computer virus itself. Each time period has two main levels and at the end of each time period there is a big boss.
Game play: You follow the paths which wind from one location to the other. Like a rail shooter, you cannot leave the paths to investigate things, Only in combat can you use the 360 degrees and six directional freedom of the three dimensional game engine. Unfortunately, you are not allowed the freedom to go back to previous areas, making the game very linear and unidirectional. You must plod ever forward, and cannot go back to explore for the all too small French hot spots or items to pick up. Since there are hidden rooms and many weapons and power ups, including two levels of life points, batteries, memory uploads, healthy memory, extra lives, weapons and ammo, you really miss it when you cannot go back to search for things.
The infected memory increases accompanied by a beep or ever increasing tempo and loudness. Not only is the beep annoying but the whole concept of time dependent games is annoying to many game players, and the fact that this aspect of the game is not optional for those who wish to take their time and work through the game slowly is hard to fathom. Time dependent games often get to the point where playing catch up does nothing. And for many where they cannot find out how to speed up the game, the time dependent element becomes unnecessarily discouraging. A better solution would have been to make this part of the game optional, as another aspect of a difficulty adjustment to game play.
Interface: Third person perspective screen takes up 90% of the screen with a bar at the top to show health. At the bottom an inventory of weapons is displayed that you can pick from. Camera angles move up and down and from side to side in true cinematic fashion. Cameras follow the characters on the screen and keep them in the center of the action at all times. Extra3DMotion technology's real-time roving camera perspectives, 3-D animated sequences and a stunning CD soundtrack thrust you into the fighting action. Combat is easily and quickly controlled by the cursor, alt and control keys. Pushing a cursor arrow key while holding either the alt or control key down will execute one of eight evasion or attack moves, respectively. A bar at the top of the screen shows playerís energy, extra lives, enemyís energy, and infected memory meter. The bar at the bottom of the screen shows available weapons and , and non-infected memory stock. First you start out bare handed and learn to fight that way. The game then gives you a succession of other weapons, more than 45 of them, to practice and master, including rocks, clubs, swords, knives, crossbows, guns, fire balls and beam weapons. Each weapon is fun to experiment with and find out how it works and how it will advance the plot.
Enemies and weapons: : Defeat from 80 to 300 realistic enemies from past and future battlefields, with 45 weapons from Prehistoric clubs to Aztec spears to Wild West guns in your fights to restore the future of the world. The higher difficulty levels convinced me that this game may cheat since the characters came in more numbers and were more difficult to defeat, rather than some type of more imaginative system. Most of us yearn for an adjustable set of parameters which allow us to change the way difficulty and game play works, but this was not to be in Time Commando. Depending on the difficulty level you could be facing as many as 300 enemies or as few as 80.
Graphics: The animation and backgrounds are in true 3D with some of the most beautifully rendered and smoothly animated characters and backgrounds. The images are texture mapped, Gouraud shaded, perspective corrected, and light sourced (although I did not see shadows under the main characters). Each figure is made up of about 500 polygons, which results in smoother animation and rendering. Character animation can be altered by a special program on-the-fly that provides even smoother animation.
Animation: The speed of the animation is reportedly better or as good as an animated film at 24 to 30 frames per second (fps) on a Pentium 90 and can reach higher speeds of 60 frames per second on 166 MHz Pentium machines. The animation is fully interpolated to add frames by the animation engine. The animation gradually adjusts itself upward automatically in frames as the speed of the computer increases, providing smooth animation whatever speed of CPU you drive.
Sound effects: Good
Utilities: During the E3 show the disks that Activision handed out to the press contained a virus. (Do not fear, Time Commando does not contain any viruses. - Ed) And not to be undone, Activision spent a lot of time researching virus software. The result, when you buy Time Commando, included on the CD is a copy of the McAfee WebScan product.
The game can only be saved or paused at memory upload terminals scattered throughout the game. Games load from the Load Game bar within the Start Game menu. The inability to save the game at any point or to pause except at the memory upload terminals is a serious flaw. Game players should be allowed to save and pause whenever they like. Game designers do not give game players this ability in a lame and divisive attempt to add game play by artificially making the game more difficult. This only angers and frustrates players unnecessarily. Time Commando only gets away with this error by being so good in many other areas, but repetitive frustrations will cause many to bring games back
Multi-player: Unfortunately, the enemy gets to double team you, but you cannot play the game with another to help you through the more difficult places in the game.
Reviewers: Glenn says, "you control Stanley as he fights his way through nine of humankindís most infamous eras (how an era becomes infamous I donít know, but it sounds cool)." Good one Glenn. Leave it to Jeff Adam Young to remember Karataka on the Apple II, a real fun side scroller if there ever was one. Now where is my old copy and what did I do with that Apple II?
Hint: When outside the locked barn, grab a lighted stick of dynamite and throw it back into the barn loft door, which is open.
Cheats: Time Commando Cheats
T. Liam McDonald, PC Gamer, volume 3, number 6, June, 1996, pg. 36-37.
Jeffrey Adam Young, http://www.gamespot.com/action/imecomm/, (82%)
Neil Riggs & Ruari Buchanan, http://www.mcb.net/parsec/p_timec.html
Glenn Broderick, Computer Player, volume 3, number 5, October, 1996, pg. 72-73, 8/10, (80%).
Al Giovetti and Amanda Giovetti, Another World, Current Notes, volume 12, number 6, July-August, 1992, pg. 64.
Al Giovetti, Out of this World, QuestBusters, volume 9, number 6/7, June-July, 1992, pg. 8.