By Alex Irish / November 2nd, 2017
|Platform||PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch|
When you think of the great twin stick shooters, you think of the arcade thrills of Smash TV, the neon-lit violence of Hotline Miami, or the modern retro classicism of Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved. Time Recoil, from Finnish developer 10tons, wants to thrive in that good company. It’s a twin stick shooter with a twist, mixing light story with surprisingly deep time-winding mechanics. While it has some rough edges, its mixture of mechanics and storytelling make for a unique blend.
There is a story in Time Recoil, believe it or not. You play a rebel in a dark and twisted version of history, your mission to track down and kill the mysterious Mr. Time over the years and even decades. Rather than play out in cinematic cutscenes, you actually play the story in-between missions. The general structure of things is, talk to character, travel in portal to your mission, return to base when finished, repeat. To keep things from being too repetitive, you meet new characters who assign you your missions. Sometimes, a return visit will see a wildly altered present. You gradually visit earlier time periods with the only telling differences being the set dressing. The story is almost secondary to such an arcade experience, but having a story at all is a thoughtful addition to give context to the escapades.
At first glance, you might be wondering what the distinct hook of Time Recoil might be, given its unassuming looks (I certainly did). You move about and aim to shoot per the controller’s left and right sticks, and once you make kills, you begin to learn that kills trigger a slow motion effect. This effect can in turn be chained to keep time at a standstill. This mechanic unveils itself as you go, becoming an essential mechanic of survival and a darn impressive hook.
Time Recoil does a pretty good job keeping pace at rewarding you with new powers and weaponry. Over the natural course of things, you’ll earn more special abilities that augment your rush. Depending on the amount of enemies you’ve wiped out, you can rush through walls, set off a small atomic blast, or stop time entirely. This keeps the action from getting stale and repetitive and adds strategy.
You start out, and most often use, a simple 8-bullet handgun in combat, learning quickly how fast those bullets actually go should you have lousy aim. There are fortunately other weapons, such as the shotgun and machine gun, which end up being better than the standard blasted handgun, and only available sparingly. As with the built-in super time powers, the need to change weapon tactics adds another layer of strategy, juggling as you run out of ammo on one.
Besides new powers, Time Recoil constantly finds ways to keep the experience from repeating itself. Not every level is a killfest, some are rescue missions, stealth missions, or simple infiltrations. The level design often takes on puzzle-like elements as you must figure out the most efficient way to clear the objective. Some levels do take longer than others, such as a heist where you have to cross a large floor to steal a treasure. Another mission places you in a stealth situation where you have to sneak past a guard only to turn on a switch to activate a laser to eradicate him, take his gun, and make your way out.
It sounds simple, but it proves deceptively difficult. Time Recoil gets difficult across the board in short order, even very kindly telling you how long it took you to die each time (down to the millisecond). You’ll likely breeze through its five chapters if you just stick to normal play, likely in around 5 hours given the repetition of your demise. In addition to the usual Trophies (per PSN), Time Recoil encourages replay value via multiple difficulties, Time Trials for each level, and online leaderboards to encourage speed-runs against your friends.
Overall, the game’s aesthetic direction evokes 80s hard-edged sci-fi (think The Terminator meets Aliens). Visually, the art style is at its best with the character portraits echoing 1980’s comics and the music recalls hard hitting synth notes of the period, giving a dangerous techno pulse to the mission. Graphically, the actual game is pedestrian and does just what it needs to do. At least it runs at a buttery 60 frames a second for maximum smoothness, essential for the genre. Also good on the performance is that load times are minuscule to non-existent, getting you right into the action and resetting immediately when you die.
As good as the rest of the game is mechanically, the presentation has some issues that nagged at me. Most egregiously, the thumping music is too loud, possibly too much so for those with sensitive ears. I personally had to turn the music volume way down to protect my ears and keep from disturbing the peace. While the music compositions are fine in their genre, it’s also super repetitive. Also odd is how the character moves opposite the direction you face in, and the act of aiming is a little rigid for my taste. It could be a learning curve, but other twin-stick shooters I’ve played didn’t feel so stiff when turning to aim.
Time Recoil offers a unique spin on the twin-stick shooter you might not be expecting. The deeper it gets, the more impressive the action becomes. But make no bones about it, things can get hard. Within its old-school arcade parameters it finds ways to keep the experience interesting with continuously updating powers and a surprise story with some twists. It lacks some presentation polish, but mechanically and conceptually, but for $13.99, Time Recoil is a fun lark in twin stick action.
Review code provided by developer
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