There's a feeling that's difficult to shake when playing Paradox Shift. It's that sense that you can't wait to see how it will be implemented in Portal 3. Time travel surely comes next, right? The student indie project from the University of Southern California and the Laguna College of Art & Design has been mentioned in the same breath as Narbacular Drop and Tag: The Power of Paint elsewhere, and it's tempting to agree. So I've had a play of a bit of it. And while it doesn't have a feature quite so novel as portals, it's certainly a far more engaging implementation of first-person time manipulation than previous attempts from mainstream gaming. The concept - moving between two time zones, tagging objects and transferring them between the two, in order to solve puzzles - is very intriguing. The delivery is already looking impressive. There's some thoughts below.
I don't know if you can travel through time. I can. It's easy. It's nice to see that reflected in a game. There's no need for arduous straining, or elaborate machines - you just blink and it changes. Such is it in Paradox Shift, where a simple left click transfers you from the smart corridors of the past, fresh Grand Canyon Damn, to its run-down, dilapidated ruins. Various objects can be highlighted with a right click of your magic timegun, and then will remain in whichever time period you transfer to. And from thence the puzzles arise.
Built in the UDK, it has a really lovely cel-shaded look to it. And while it is in a bunch of grey corridors, they're well decorated, and nicely laid out. There's smart decisions behind the presentation of the two time zones, letting near-identical rooms look distinct. (The only problem being my own brain's idiotic inability to remember that just because something looks shiny and clean does not make it more recent than something dirty and falling apart. I'm a bit like that bit in Time Cop when they go back to the past, collect some gold, travel to the future again and then carbon date it to find how far back they went. i.e. a moron.)
The puzzles are extremely simple, certainly in this middle level of the five planned. (The full game is set to last around an hour.) There's a hole for a battery in the future. There's a battery in the past. You're on your own from there. But while elementary, it's still rewarding to complete them. And there are signs of good understanding of evolving the concept in the very short section of game. Once you've dealt with a battery, you're then tasked with a more involved electrics puzzle. And then, mysteriously, a motorbike ride. (The team say that the motorbike sequence is nowhere near finished, but it seemed to work very well - and I've certainly never seen a game have me launch me and my vehicle through time to avoid obstacles - a nice touch.)
Keeping the time travel at the core of the game - something games like Singularity and TimeShift seemed to be so insanely determined not to do - means that the focus here is on the puzzles, where it should be. It wouldn't be conducive to combat. Unless, again, the solution was puzzle-based.
This isn't a sterile environment either. There's some really lovely details hidden about. At one point I saw a strange robotic creature scooching its way across a platform above me, for reasons I know not, just as the voice in my ear warned me he was being attacked by robots. The audio is very fine too, decent acting, and some lovely atmospheric music and swirly noises.
A cynical type might point out that bits feel a touch contrived. A door closed in one time is open in another - but aren't there door handles? And it's very useful that every obstruction was moved at some point. I'm also not quite clear what allows one object to be tagged and another not. Some wooden boxes can be, others can't, generally at the behest of a puzzle, rather than there being any internal logic.
Clearly this is a ten minute chunk of a short project, so I don't have a strong perspective on the game as a whole. It'll be interesting to see how far they push the concept by the fifth level. There's a lot of scope for doing some really interesting things here... which is what takes us to that Narbacular Drop place. I'm not sure the comparison is entirely earned. Narbacular was a, "Oh my goodness, this has to be made bigger" moment. That's not quite here. But it does feel like something that really deserves to be developed further, expanded into a full game, perhaps one with a malevolent robot calling you fat. Time portals. I'm just saying.
There's over 30 students working on this, looking pretty likely to pass I reckon. You can keep an eye on the project here (and also see how many other sites beat me to writing about it by a weekend - but I played it, so ner). There's also an IndieDB page for it here. There's no release date as yet, but the summer holidays are fast approaching.