By Adam Smith on August 30th, 2011 at 12:23 pm.
I am not a cruel enough man to recommend that anyone plays Is It Time?, for it is not enjoyable and it contains a bleak message of despair that made me feel empty inside. Even more so than usual. It’s also quite definitely one of those indie art games that a lot of people simply have no time for. If that is the case, may I suggest that it probably has no time for you either. Or maybe it has all the time in its rapidly diminishing world. Despite not being able to recommend you play it, I am going to leave a link here and suggest that you consider clicking on it. Be warned, it’s bleak and in many ways it’s boring, but then it’s a game about loneliness and death so I could perhaps also call it honest.
The intro is like a condensation of the opening of Up and the game itself is a lot like what would happen if that’s where the plot ended. There are no adventures here. The player character is an old woman whose husband has passed on. She lives alone, eating, sleeping and…that’s about it. It’s a game about waiting to die and eventually wanting to die. To live, you eat and sleep. But how do you make living worthwhile when there’s so little left in your world? If you’re planning to play through, maybe do so before reading the rest of my musings. I think this is best experienced fresh.
Is It Time? has a lot in common with pieces like Rohrer’s Passage and Tale of Tales’ The Graveyard but it just about manages to have a character of its own. It’s a personal and emotional statement rather than a commentary on the way games deal with death, but by allowing the player to choose when their time is up, it does raise an interesting question. Why would anyone choose to keep playing after the first painful day? The agonising pace of the game, the bleakness of the subject matter and the promise of nothing but repetition should have us quitting straight away. And the game throws that option directly in your face. Later on, it tries to convince you that there’s no choice left in the matter and yet I fought to continue.
It’s mostly because there is always the promise that something else will happen. Some things do change from day to day and the game does more than simply grinding the player into submission. Actually, I used the word ‘promise’ before and that’s not right at all. The game promises nothing but death. It’s hope that drove me to continue every day. Hope without the promise of fulfilment. There was no evidence that things would improve or that I would gain a greater understanding of the life to come or the one that had gone before, but I still believed I might. My hope for my character in the game, as can be the case with hope in real life, was self-generated and unsupported by external factors.
The theme dominates the gameplay. There are status bars to manage but the core of the game is interactions with other characters, particularly the limitations upon those interactions. The friend who talks at you and then simply sits, also waiting, with nowhere to go and nothing to do. Then there’s the daughter. She bustles around the room so fast that you can’t catch up with her. She won’t stand still or adjust to your pace and this apparent callousness forms the basis of her character for a long time. There is a moment of kindness, which is certainly one of the things I was hoping for, but I found it the most heartbreaking moment of all. I quickly wished it hadn’t happened because it made that final choice, which is the only real choice you have throughout the game, all the harder. Easier to believe yourself a burden than to realise you will be missed.
As time passes, words become jumbled and incoherent, the screen is darker by the day and sometimes the controls are switched around. This led to me trying to move left and instead standing at the window with tears flooding down my cheeks. Not a happy moment. In fact, there were no happy moments. Not one. I’d say the game was a success though. It made me sad and it made me want to go and spend some time with my beloved old mum. Maybe if I play enough of these things I’ll become a decent human being. If your cheerful disposition remains intact after Is It Time?, might I recommend Home. You can thank me later.