Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Defrost Games
Publisher: Defrost Games
Disclaimer; this game was provided free of charge by the publisher for review.
The premise here is that you’re a test subject stuck on board a space station, your experimental implant giving you the ability to control time. At the behest of an Admiral whose grip on reality seems to be slowing slipping you’ll be guided through a total of 16-levels, each acting as a test chamber for your new-found abilities. If it all sounds a bit like Portal, then you’d be right. But don’t let that comparison push you away, this is a solid puzzler with just a few flaws keeping it from greatness.
The entire game is built around your ability to rewind and fast-forward time, and create clones of yourself, who then promptly repeat the actions you just took, remaining stationary when completed. You can have up to eleven of these time clones running around at any given time, thus allowing you to be in numerous places at once. The key to any puzzle is working out where you need to be, and when you need to be there in order to progress, which is why a clock is present on the screen that always rewinds or fast fowards when you do, making it easy to time your movements correctly.
Here’s a very basic demonstration of how this works, courtesy of an early-game puzzle: before you is a door, and to either side are flights of stairs. You venture up one flight and come across a button. Sweet! Upon pressing it you notice that the door does not open, but across the room you see another button. So you clamber down the stairs, jog up the other flight of steps and press that button. Nope, the door remains closed. Ding! Realisation dawns in your brain-case like the rising of a mighty leviathan from the depths; Both buttons need to be pressed at the same time, thus you rewind time and create a clone of yourself who promptly runs up the stairs to the button. You then create another clone who does the same thing with the other button, and ta-da, the door opens, allowing you to amble through, feeling just a little smug and wondering if wanting to high-five your own time clone is a bit weird.
Here’s a slightly more complex example of how the mechanics work in practice: on the other side of a chasm is a key that you need to pass through a door toward the right-hand side of the drop. In front of you lie several switches, each of which moves a platform in the corresponding direction. In order to reach the other side, grab the key and then get to the door you need to successfully create a series of time clones that stand on the appropriate switches at the right time, bearing in mind that the platform will also respond immediately to the last switch pushed. Oh, and if you rewind past the point of creating a time clone, then that clone will vanish. What follows is a frantic couple of minutes as you attempt to work out what needs to be done, your brain attempting to navigate the flow of time and ability to have numerous versions of yourself running around. It’s something that takes some getting used, and will undoubtedly leave you floundering for a short while.
As you move through the game new elements are introduced. Some switches, for example, need only be stood on once to be activated while others need continued weight or will trigger a timer, while laser beams need to be moved around and bounced off mirrors in order for you to move forward. Colored keys are needed to open certain doors and often cannot be carried by a clone. This leads to some great moments where you’ve got one clone manipulating a laser, another opening a door and a third moving a platform, all while you’re now concentrating on jumping and hiding to get by.
Later the game introduces the concept of items that cannot be changed by rewinding or fast forwarding time, essentially meaning that one activated/moved they will remain like that, immune to your time manipulating absurdity. The game doesn’t overuse so when they do arrive it’s a well needed breath of fresh air that forces you to shift your thinking a touch. Fail to use them correctly the very first time and you’ll have to reload to a previous checkpoint, which the game helpfully creates just before you enter the room and which can be jumped back to at the tap of a button.
But ultimately it doesn’t take too long for the puzzle-solving to become a little boring. It’s not that there’s no challenge, because there’s a couple of real head-scratchers and the game has a nice learning curve, it’s because the setup never deviates from the formula that it introduces earlier on. Puzzles always boil down to standing on switches and timing things correctly, meaning the only thing you have to work out is exactly when a clone needs to be in position and for what. Enter a room and you’ll have a solid idea of what needs to be done purely because of the mixture of switches and doors you see. It always comes down to working out the exact timing and order of buttons to be pressed. From about the half-way point there’s no bursts of intuition, just a gentle prod from muscle memory because you’ve danced this dance before, and already know roughly how all the steps will fit together, it’s just the timing that needs sorting out.
Platforming is mixed into the time-cloning shenanigans, demanding that you not only time things correctly but also leap across gaps, further complicating the situations you find yourself trapped in. In any game where platforming makes up at least a small piece of the gameplay there is an absolute and undeniable necessity for precise, satisfying mechanics to be in place, otherwise any section that asks you to leap around will feel irritating. Sadly Project Temporality does not have these things. Simply jumping feels stiff and completely unnatural thanks to some poor animation work and an unnatural arc, which is accompanied by a baffling “blwooop” sound effect that vaguely reminds me of ye olde days where jumping was often accompanied by a fun sound effect, but that feels completely out of place here. Holding down the shift key gives you a small boost when you jump, but it’s barely noticeable and it’s hard to see why the developers didn’t simply choose to increase the default jump length instead. Thanks to the weird arc jumps follow merely judging whether a leap is manageable or not requires a lot more guesswork than it should, leaving any section that requires precise platforming against the clock feeling like a chore rather than a joyous celebration of skill.
While from a thematic perspective it certain makes sense for the environment to look largely the same, after all you are on a massive space ship designed for testing, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that wandering through endless corridors and rooms that re-use the same textures and objects over and over begins to grate. There’s only so many times one can see the same desks, chairs and walls before absolutely all desire to partake in the already limited exploration vanishes. Instead I found myself running through the environments as fast as I could, forcibly willing myself to stop long enough to grab an audio recording on my way to the next puzzle. To top that off the game just doesn’t have an interesting art-style – it’s standard sci-fi stuff. God, criticising an indie title, one that has had a lot of clear effort put into it, for its graphics always feels like a harsh thing to do since the focus for them and their limited budget should always be gameplay, but there’s no getting around the fact that Project Temporality is simply visually boring game.
The game’s also hampered by a couple of technical issues, such as a slightly choppy framerate and floaty movement. I also discovered a high number of glitches during the game where I got stuck in scenery or fell into pits and got trapped. Just about any object seems to have a chance to grabbing you if you venture close. These can be solved by simply rewinding time, but it does feel the developers perhaps used this mechanic as an excuse to avoid fixing these problems. This can become a problem during puzzles that require precision and quick movement, as you might find yourself getting stuff briefly on a corner or other object thanks to the wonky collision detection.
As for the story it meanders along in the background, seemingly oblivious to the presence of the player. As the test subject you might expect to be quite involved in the storyline, but you’re little more than a bystander who watches from a distance. The voice of Admiral Melville initially acts as your guide, but over the course of the game slowly reveals his madness, while bits of internal communications can be grabbed from around the environment to fill in the story. Some of the scientists find the testing inhuman, others are thrilled by the science, while you are more than a little uneasy given the amount of blood to be found within the levels. The story has just enough to keep you vaguely interested, but is ultimately filled with poor writing that is hard to take seriously. It seems to be attempting to capture the same dark, brilliant humour of the Portal series, but fails to grasp what makes GLaDOS work. However, there is the possibility that they weren’t attempting to go for humour and the dialogue is meant to convey the insanity of the Admiral, but if that’s the case then it still isn’t working very well.
Building a puzzle game is a tricky process, one that developers often fail to get enough credit for. At its very core lies the tricky proposition of balancing out the difficulty of the puzzles: too hard and players may find themselves stuck and unable to move forward – although with guides just a Google search away that’s not a huge problem these days – while if they’re too easy no satisfaction is gained from their completion. New elements most be introduced to keep things fresh and force players to think in new ways, while also adhering to unique brand of logic the game has already set in motion. The greatest of them manage to create a sensation in the player that the solutions they come up with are entirely of their of volition, cunning solutions to a problem that the developer created solely with the intention of stopping you in your tracks. This is, of course, a lie that we willingly accept; the clever solution we came up with was designed by the developer. Play through Portal 2 and it creates the feeling that you’re outwitting the game and its creator, even though everything you do is by design. It’s an aspect of puzzlers that cannot be taught or even described, but one thing is for sure; Project Temporality does not have this feeling.
Project Temporality does attempt to give players a reason to head back and run through the entire game at least once more through the use of stars. At the top of the screen is a blue bar which indicates how much “power” you’ve used throughout the level. The more clones you use and the longer each of them goes for the more power you use, with your total usage by the end of the level determining your rating. The idea is that by going back to each level you can discover the best way through each one, figuring out ways to minimise the use of clones, cutting corners where you can. Naturally, though, it’s a little hard to muster up the enthusiasm to go back through puzzles you’ve already solved merely to earn a higher rating.
One irritation that I must mention is that there’s no way of saving the game mid-level. Begin a new level and you must complete the entirety of it, otherwise when you quit and come back later you’ll need to run through it all again in order to get back to where you are. This can be annoying when you get stuck on the last puzzle in a level and quit out, only to have to meander back through the completed puzzles upon returning. Why can’t I just save the game between puzzles?
Oddly the ability to rebind keys is missing entirely, a potentially huge flaw for some gamers out there. However, on the game’s Steam forums the developers had already admitted that the lack of keybindings stems from the game’s origins as a console title, and have promised to add this missing feature in a patch.
For Defrost Games this is an impressive start to what will hopefully be a long and prosperous career in the videogame industry. Project Temporality is an intriguing little puzzler that runs out of steam relatively quickly, but that nonetheless offers up a solid blend of puzzle solving fun with an interesting take on the concept of controlling time, which has become so popular recently.
+ Time control mechanics work well.
+ Some clever puzzles.
– Runs out of steam quite quickly.
– No mid-level saving?
The Verdict: 3/5 – Good
A great first effort from Defrost and a good title for puzzle fans.