Warning: Spoilers for ‘The Asylum’ Scenario.
I understand the look on people’s faces when I say each mission of T.I.M.E Stories can / should only be played once. “You’re bloody throwing money away you idiot!” Their furrowed brow screams at me. Well actually I received a copy of T.I.M.E Stories for my birthday so I didn’t throw any money anywhere, someone else did. The idiot that they are.
Just before it drives me mad, I’m going to put a stop this ridiculous charade of writing ‘T.I.M.E Stories’ as though people are meant to say ‘Tee-Eye-Em-Ee Stories’ in their head. I hate it and I hate the developers for doing it…
Top bits! Man did you see the quality and quantity of those bits!
Right down to the little poles that supposedly do nothing other than remind you of which colour your larger pole is!
Not only are there top bits, it also comes in a Top box with which to store said bits!
Everything has a place and they even go to the effort of providing some pieces of cardboard to hold some pieces in place to save your progress.
I only mention the box because I’m used to dealing with the Lovecraftian nightmare scenario that is the Mansions of Madness box and the eldritch horrors that lay in the dark abyss of that unsegmented void.
This is not a good manual. We actually ended up making a pretty heinous, game-breaking error in our first loop. It was boringly long-winded and poorly written. The mechanics are actually very simple but the path the author took to describe them was overly convoluted to the point of confusion.
The core mechanic is well executed and fits the narrative perfectly! You and your buds are entrusted with the mission of stopping baddies across the ages from BREAKING TIME.
To achieve this relatively simple goal, you are put in a ‘Transfer Caissons’ (Shit name, it’s just a pod) which transfers your consciousness into the body of someone in that time and place. You can then commit mass fuckery of that timeline to your giddy heart’s content but only for a set amount of time. After that, you are brought back through time and space and awake in the ‘Transfer Pod’. Rinse and repeat until you succeed or fail the mission.
The characterisation of Bob, your instructor, is comedically abysmal.
Not only is the name ‘Bob’ itself comedic (almost any other name being a better choice), but his dialogue is an awful blend of military sergeant and ‘guy you meet down the pub’ so that none of his lines land properly. The first time we encounter Bob is:
“Hey, guys! It’s not that we’re in a hurry, but don’t drag your feet!”, barks Bob as a greeting.
You can see the card below. Bob looks like he’s got a heavy snark on but he is supposedly ‘barking’ this at us? Everything Bob says is oddly written and doesn’t fit the emotions on the card. It sets the tone for the game as ‘confusing levity’. I actually thought “Oh, I thought it was a serious story, guess I was wrong?”. The game swiftly realigns itself to serious as it progresses but every time you return to the base you encounter ‘Bob the Enigma’ and the tone is ruined again. It feels like the mission you have undertaken isn’t at all serious, that it may all just be a simulation?
Your AI boss is also a decidedly shit character. Her first encounter is no less annoying than Bob’s:
“You are 42 seconds late. Try to manage your time better in the future.”
Which sets her character up as robotic, which makes sense for a robot. But all her other dialogue is exceedingly human. Every sentence is so filled with descriptive and evocative language that I feel like even if she had been a dreadlocked performer at a Slam Poetry night, and not an AI in charge of a mission to halt the destruction of the entire universe, I’d still think her dialogue was out of character.
The narrative was incredibly enjoyable and paired nicely with the mechanics of looping and exploration. That is if you ignore the ‘space base’ sections.
There was a scene where you meet a character who leads you down a secret passage, opening up a shortcut to a new area. Later you find out he’s one of the baddies and because you already know where the secret passage is, next time you loop you run straight to his office, twat him into the bookcase obscuring the passage and sprint down the stairs. It’s an enjoyable experience even if you do immediately get lost in the secret passage.
The rule about not directly reading the cards your character sees was a small thing that really added a lot to the experience. Instead of just showing each other the cards and deciding things as a group you digest what you’ve done and then paraphrase it back to the others via your ‘telepathic link’.
All of the art on the cards was top notch. It was really a pleasure to unveil the next scene’s cards and scour them for clues. Which makes it all the more a shame that the core mechanic of the game discourages frivolous exploration. It’s odd for a game built around investigation and exploration to actually reward seeing as little as possible of the content. Because we were so bad we managed to see almost anything but had we been better the set dressing would have suffered from the lack of optional extras (Time wasters) that we fell for every single time.
Being discouraged from looping obviously makes sense mechanically and thematically but I feel like there is perhaps another way to judge and reward player skill other than how much of the content they got to see and whether or not they could sus the designers’ intention behind red herrings. A bloody impossible feat to perform consistently. You are effectively trying to guess whether this clear red herring is actually a bluff! Or a double bluff! Or a triple bluff! etc… There’s almost no extra data given to make the distinction between good choices or massively time wasting ones. And there’s always the possibility that an ‘obviously’ bad choice that encourages you to waste more and more time might actually have something incredibly important at the end! Which some did! While others didn’t!
I have already bought another expansion because I bloody loved the experience but the price point is considerably higher than I expected. Luckily the price difference between eBay and the local game shop was not large enough to overcome my morals of supporting both developer and game shops. But I did look, and I normally never do.
The developer/publisher can obviously charge what they like but I find it to be a confusing choice. I assume they have done the maths though and this is the correct decision.
I realise there is a fair bit of red in the above but the green sections cover about 90% of the playing experience. The mechanics, art and narrative were all pretty stellar with only minor exceptions throughout. The fact I have already bought another expansion and have made concrete plans to play it next weekend is really all the review you need for what an enjoyable experience playing this game is.