Review by Enigma
Oh how I looked forward to playing this game. Timescape comes
to us by way of Cryo from the Arxel Tribe folks, who make great
edutainment games, usually. The story is set in ancient Pompeii,
just before the volcano popped off and buried everything. I love
history, I love edutainment games, and I wanted to have a wonderful
time exploring Pompeii.
Oh how I wish the volcano had buried this game.
The game's storyline is a bit silly, but that's okay. It's the
gameplay that's beyond silly. Many of these puzzles only barely
brush up against logic, and as you're exploring, the city's population
appears to have already fled, with the exception of only a very
Timescape does have a story. You are Adrian, a British
soldier in World War I, and you're in love with Sophia. You wind
up stranded and sick in a cave during the war. There you're visited
by the ancient goddess Ishtar, no less, of Mesopotamian fame.
Ishtar has the hots for you (well, Ishtar was less than selective
in that regard), but you rebuff her. To get even, she grabs Sophia
and plops her down into Pompeii just four days before Vesuvius
erupts. Sophia has no memory of you. Your job is to find her and
convince her to run away with you before the volcano destroys
Miraculously, you have an ancient identity and a nice toga, speak
perfect Latin, and seem to know plenty about Roman Gaul. You stay
with a prosperous wine merchant, a devotee of the cult of Isis
who dabbles in politics, and you know who he is, too. Once you
find your way out of his house you're off to tramp around the
city, meet influential people, solve mysteries, settle arguments,
steal stuff from temples, rescue folks, eventually convince Sophia
that you are indeed her true eternal love, and get outta there.
Now, I can buy the idea that Adrian speaks Latin and knows about
Gaul. British officers of World War I vintage usually had a strong
classical education. The emphasis on Isis, an Egyptian goddess,
isn't out of place either. There was indeed a cult of Isis in
ancient Roman cities, where folks were fascinated by the Egyptians.
I do find it a bit odd, though, that the game touches on the Roman
gods only peripherally.
If that were the only thing odd about this game, I wouldn't be
So there you are in ancient Pompeii. You'll move around through
traditional pointing and clicking. Note: you can die in Timescape.
In fact, you'll die fairly often unless you can read the minds
of the game designers. Your first puzzle, which you'll encounter
as soon as you step out the door of your adopted house, involves
settling a dispute between a couple of tradesmen. A mule has blocked
the path of a vegetable merchant. It's being mulish and refuses
to budge. The mule's owner and the merchant are about to come
to blows. You have to get the mule to move.
By this time you have a rope. Do you do the logical thing, and
tie it around the mule's neck? If you try that you'll get kicked
in the head. No, instead your solution defies the laws of physics.
If you don't come up with that solution, quickly, you'll either
be kicked in the head or arrested, and the game will end. If you're
smart you'll view that as a blessing.
Later you'll find a timed puzzle that also defies logic. Would
you really start stealing things from temples, just after making
friends with the priest? If you don't, game over. While you're
chucking javelins around, would you really turn that into an opportunity
to deliver a flower to your lady love over in the next-door garden?
If you don't, you'll wind up turning your javelin playmate into
a shish kabob. Game over.
You'll play an authentic Roman game, but you'll never get the
rules for how to play, not even in the encyclopedia. It doesn't
matter. You'll win anyway. You'll search for items without knowing
what the items are half the time, or where they might be located,
or why you need them, or how to use them once you've got them.
In short, the puzzles just aren't fair.
Lights, Camera, Action
I did find three elements of this game that I liked. The depiction
of ancient Pompeii looks good. The developers did their homework
and based their city on photos and maps of the real thing. You'll
see excellent reproductions of wall paintings and mosaics that
were really found in the ruins of Pompeii, and you'll see them
in the buildings that were really there. It took plenty of work
to reproduce all that, and Arxel Tribe should be commended for
Also, the in-game encyclopedia, always available, gives you extensive
information about the city and the ancient Romans. You can see
the photos of the modern excavations that Arxel Tribe used to
design the game. If you're interested in all that, instead of
playing the game you'll probably be better off spending your time
just wandering around in exploration mode and reading the encyclopedia.
I liked the music too, especially the first theme you hear in
the "House of the Cythera Player." If you've played
Pilgrim, set in the Middle Ages, you'll hear the same music
in the opening scene there. I forgive the fact that it isn't ancient
Roman music. It's still pretty nice.
Be glad, however, that the buildings look good, because that's
about all you'll see as you wander around in Timescape. With
the game's "visit mode" you can move around the deserted
city just to look at it. However, the city looks entirely deserted
even during the gameplay. Occasionally you'll encounter somebody
you need to talk to, but only when it fits into the storyline.
Other than that, nobody's there. Nobody's anywhere. It seems strange
to go to the central forum, and the place is completely deserted.
Nobody's in the gymnasium either, or in the tavern or the bakery
if the storyline doesn't demand it.
When you finally meet some characters, they look like 3D puppets.
They sometimes sway back and forth as though caught in a strong
wind while they're talking, although their mouths never move.
You'll know they're talking because of the voiceovers. Occasionally
they move their arms. They rarely display any other animation
that might indicate life, although some of them walk in the cutscenes
after "conversations." One elderly lady walks bent over
at a 90-degree angle. That, I suppose, indicates that she's elderly.
That stubborn mule was the most sympathetic character in the game,
The voice acting ranges from adequate to bad. Get used to it,
because the game forces you to experience each and every dialog
option. Sometimes you'll have only one dialog option, an element
of the game that will not require you to tax your brain. Your
character, Adrian, speaks fairly often and he won't embarrass
you, except for the fact that he's a British officer with an American
accent. Go figure.
Timescape provides you with a nice map of the real Pompeii,
and you'll need it to figure out where you are in the city. Almost
every time I used the map, however, the game froze. It also froze
when I tried to take screenshots. Sometimes it would unfreeze
after many clicks, but sometimes I just had to crash and reload.
If you crash, however, you won't lose your game. By choosing "continue"
when you reload you can resume wherever the game crashed. The
game comes on two CDs and requires minimal disc swapping, but
it froze then too. Plus, I couldn't quit. No, not because of fascinating
gameplay, but because whenever I did quit, the credits never stopped
rolling. No amount of clicking, force quits, or anything else
stopped them. Hitting "escape" only made them start
over. I had to force my computer to restart to get out of Timescape.
During actual gameplay everything ran smoothly.
Unless you're just so fascinated with the subject that you don't
mind slow, silly, illogical gameplay, I advise against a purchase
of Timescape. Indeed it was nice to wander around in ancient
Pompeii, but you can do that in half an hour under the "visit
mode." You also might read a book instead of playing this
tedious game. I finished it, because having started the thing
I was determined to finish it. I also wanted to see the spectacular
animation of Pompeii's destruction in the final cutscene. Even
that proved to be less than spectacular. A few of those 3D puppets
running and being hit by falling columns, a crude animation of
Vesuvius erupting that looks like a shot from a Saturday morning
cartoon show, and that's it. Not worth the wait, not worth the
plodding gameplay, not worth the time, not worth the money.
Release Date: 2000
Four Fat Chicks Links
Pentium 200 MMX
32 MB RAM
12X CD-ROM drive
Power PC 200 MHz
32 MB RAM
12X CD-ROM drive