by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
Puzzle games must be incredibly hard to make. Coming up with an entire game’s worth of new ideas sounds like a daunting task. You need to make everything unique, and also have a good balance of difficulty. Too easy and people will breeze through it having no fun. Too hard and no one will want to play. Project Temporality gets some things right. It has an original idea, yes. But is it fun to play? Not very.
If you haven’t played The Swapper, I suggest you do. Not only does it contain excellent puzzles, it’s also gorgeous and has a very mature story. Project Temporality is a mixture of The Swapper and Prince of Persia taking place inside a facility in space. You have a device which lets you manipulate time backwards and forwards. At any point during a rewind, you can hit a button to create a clone of yourself. When you resume time, this clone will go forth and do what you were originally doing, while you can go off and do something else. For example you might hit a switch to open a door, but the time limit is such that it will close before you can get to it. Creating a clone allows you to be in both places at once.
In fact you can create up to eleven clones, all doing different things. The only downside to this is that it’s impossible to keep track of so many. Having just a few is usually enough to solve most of the game’s puzzles. It takes a while to start thinking in the way that the game wants you to, in part due to the fact that the tutorial is not robust enough. In a game like Portal, you are guided through puzzles, allowing you to be introduced to and practice new types of mechanic as they come about. In Project Temporality, you are told the basics of how to create clones and rewind time, and then left to your own devices. Its way of trying to familiarise you with the main mechanic is to get you to do it once, and then do exactly the same thing again. Got it this time? You’d better hope so.
Time manipulation in games has been done before, but never quite in this way. Being able to rewind is usually limited to platforming games like Prince of Persia, or racing games like Grid and so on. There’s a reason for this: they are fast paced. Picture the scene. You enter a new puzzle room, see a button to open a door, go and stand on it, and then head towards the door. But wait, the door hasn’t opened! You stand still, puzzled for a few moments, looking around the room before noticing another switch. So, you rewind time, and have to watch yourself standing still gawping at the room around you for several seconds before you can continue.
Other times you stand on a button waiting impatiently for your clones to catch up to what you are doing. Other times you complete several steps in a puzzle, only to realise you have done them in the wrong order, and have to undo minutes of work by rewinding all the way back to the beginning. Rewinding time sounds like a great idea for a puzzle in theory. In practice I found myself wanting to fast forward my own life to get through each puzzle quicker. Not only that, but many of the puzzles involve moving platforms you have to ride around. I have no idea why they move so painfully slowly, but it reinforces the idea that the entire game needs a good kick up the backside to get going.
The platforming doesn’t help matters. If you are going to have jumping puzzles in 3D space, the jumping needs to be super tight. Here it is not, and it’s never clear quite how far you can jump. You can give a bit of boost to your leaps, but it barely seems to do anything, and there is no visual cue to show you if you are jumping further. One good feature is the ever present timer in the corner of the screen. It progresses in “real time”, i.e. if you rewind, it does too. This way you can stand on a button in one room, note the time, and rewind to another place and think “okay, I have ten seconds before that button gets pressed”. It’s necessary for puzzles which span multiple rooms, but even then, it’s tough to synchronise everything. Not being able to see what your clones are doing is a real downfall.
Visually the game is fine, but nothing to get excited about. It looks good, but doesn’t have much style to it. Some weird physics are on show, I once got stuck inside a door that closed on me, forcing me to rewind a fair distance, but overall the game is good from a performance standpoint. The ambient music that plays throughout the game is nice, but again, a little bland, much like the story. You can find little notes scattered throughout the facility, giving more information about what’s going on and why the Sun is visible through all the windows. However it’s never really intriguing enough to look at them in any great detail.
Project Temporality is okay, and that’s the feeling you get from all aspects of the game. It’s well made, and some thought clearly went into the puzzles and story, but not a lot of thought went into how much fun it is to actually play. I think it’s a case of the game being too clever for its own good. Just because you can put time manipulation into your game, doesn’t mean you should. That said, there’s a good few hours of challenging gameplay in here. It’s a shame the game isn’t worse, I could have used a good line about “wishing to go back in time so I could never play this!”. This review isn’t quite an announcement to steer clear of the game, just know what you are getting into if you decide to play it.
Unique idea, challenging puzzles.
All of the systems don’t really work together. Presentationally bland.