TIMEframe: A Snapshot of an Apocalypse
A Walking Simulator. That's what this game is tagged as on Steam: a Walking Simulator. Because you know you're in for a wild ride when the game's primary mechanic is sauntering across an empty field from Point A to Point B.
If you're generous enough to call it a game, that is.
But for a (clears throat) Walking Simulator, TIMEframe has a fascinating concept: in it, you experience the final moments of an ancient civilization before being annihilated by a falling comet. The event takes place over 10 seconds, but you experience it in extreme slow motion, so every second is streched out into a full minute. You have that 10 minutes to walk to each of the landmarks scattered around the valley and collect the lore of the land before the comet destroys everything.
Sounds kind of epic and sad doesn't it? Well, TIMEframe is neither of those things. It's a pointless slog through a boring land that failed to inspire, excite, or even interest me.
At the start of the game, you poof in at the base of a huge tower in the middle of a valley, with no guidance save for a dot-pattern map implying places of interest. From then on, you're going to be spending a lot of time holding down the W key. When you exit the tower, you'll notice two things: one, the low-poly art style with a palette of brown, light brown, and the goose-crap-green grass. Nothing stands out as particularly lovely or interesting; and two, the haunting, desolate music that is the one shining feature of this game.
The default, walking around music is a scratchy violin and breathy wind-chime-like keyboard, reminiscent of music from The Last of Us, Fallout, and This War of Mine. I say default because the music adds new instruments whenever a new monument is visited: when in the Tower, an acoustic guitar soars over with triplet arpeggios and a heavenly choir in back; when among the Windmills, a lighter, freer piano and guitar duet frolics for a while; while in the CIty, a lone guitar dully strums some minor chords. Not amazing, but well above average.
Everything else is just so dull. The world was just too sparse and flat to convince me that this was once a real, living civilization. There's fourteen places to visit with a whole lot of nothing in between, and none of those places are very interesting. There's no people, no animals, no little human touches that would have made the destruction of this place mean something to me. It's boring, dude!
Now I have a few theories on what kind of emotional connection this game was trying to make, and none of them work:
1. A feeling of impending doom, desperately trying to save as much of this place's history before it's destroyed, knowing you'll never get it all.
This would have been an intense and thoughtful experience, if when the comet hit and the screen went white, you didn't just respawn back in the tower with all of your progress still saved. You just go out and find the rest of the monuments as if nothing happened. What? Then what's the point of giving me a time limit? You guys just took away all the consequences of failure! Now the comet is barely an inconvenience. There is no drama, no tension in the experience anymore.
2. A tranquil stroll across a valley, tinged with melancholy because you know it's all about to disappear.
Then they could have stood to make a prettier game. This game looks like it's made of cardboard and tin foil. Myst, a far superior exploration game, looked better than this in 1993. If you're going to use such a low-fidelity art style, you'd better make something interesting with it. Walking around dirt-brown paper-mache-land gets old fast.
3. A tragic witnessing of the death of a civilization, powerless to stop the inevitable.
This is not a real place! It has no people! No pets! No human touches anywhere! Imagine how much more sad this would have been if in slow motion we saw people panicking in the streets, mothers holding children, and pius citizens out in the fields praying for salvation? Imagine how much more poignant this snapshot of an apocalypse would have been if it just had people in it!
Here's an example of a game that did it right: Majora's Mask. THAT had the tension and feeling of impending doom. THAT had the melancholy of looking at a beautiful land of Termina and knowing that it would be destroyed again and again. THAT had the tragedy and horror of watching the world and its people slowly fall apart. THAT game got the time-loop gameplay down pat, and that is a game that Random Seed Games should have took some pointers from.
A few tweaks in almost any direction and this game could have been the thoughtful, unforgettable experience that it claims to be. In reality, it's about as entertaining or thought-provoking as running for groceries. If you're intrigued by the art-style and music, as of this writing it's on sale on Steam. But I got more out of the trailers and screenshots for free.