Many are the games that tell you exactly what they are at first glance. Other games are more unique, requiring themselves to be explained either through cinematic intros or careful tutorials. Then there are the games that do nothing of the sort. TIMEframe’s description made me curious exactly what sort of game I’d be playing when I started it up. It took until I beat it to answer that question.
Let me be clear, you’re playing TIMEframe for the visuals. As I play a game, I try to remember to slap the screenshot button whenever I see something particularly striking or interesting. Sometimes I end up with too few screens to fill out the review. This time I was spoiled for choice.
The game almost looks like a mosaic, its imagery formed from interlocking triangles of subtly varied colors creating a sandy, desert landscape. The setting is devoid of people and utterly still, at least at first glance. A general haze causes all but the most significant structures to fade into the polygonal pattern until you get the sense that the sky from horizon to horizon is just a tiled dome sitting over you.
As you travel across jagged, low poly landscape, vast monuments emerge out of the haze, and gradually you’ll learn that things aren’t actually motionless, they are in fact moving extremely slowly. Fragments of a statue plummet over the course of minutes. Water at a mill barely ripples. Remnants of a civilization are scattered all around you, each rendered in faceted, minimalist fashion.
If there’s complaint to be had, it’s that very now and then you’ll encounter a hunk of the landscape that forms an odd divot, cutting deep in a way that seems more like a glitch than a choice. But seriously, you’ll have to wander the wastes for quite a while to find such a thing. Then again…
The only thing you can do in this game is wander the wastes. It is one of those titles that challenges the classification of game, forming more of an “experience” or “art piece.” Part of this stems from the utter lack of anything but you and the world. There are no enemies to defeat, no obstacles to navigate. You don’t even have a jump button. I’m not even certain anything in this game qualifies as a puzzle.
But that’s because the game itself is a puzzle.
You are given no introduction, no instruction. The world fades in from white and you are in a massive structure surrounded by plinths. Figure the rest out. In time you realize that pressing a certain key on the keyboard gives you an array of dots overlaid across the screen. In the distance you see some notable features. Best get to walkin’. After a while, you’ll notice a rather significant event going on at the molasses-in-January timescale of the game, and when it comes to fruition, it’s fade out, and fade back in, back where you started. It’s strange to say it, but this cycle, and the long distances you have to travel, create a remarkable amount of urgency. I actually found my heart racing a bit as I played.
When all is said and done, though, the game can be beaten—or at least a credit sequence can be reached. It took me three or four cycles, and once I was through, I can’t say I felt compelled to play any further. Unless you really enjoy exploring an artistically compelling world (and you’ve got good reason to) the replay value of this game is rather low.
A soothing acoustic soundtrack does a fine job building atmosphere and setting tone as each cycle progresses forward.
Since the game is mostly about discovering the story for yourself, I won’t go into specifics here, save to say that you are able to piece together quite a bit of the culture and history of the people of the setting by finding their artifacts and reading the associated inscriptions.
TIMEframe is, as I said above, more of an experience than a game. If you sprint through it you can probably have the game beaten in twenty minutes, but you’d be rather significantly missing the point if you did that. I don’t know that this is necessarily my sort of game. I do like a more interactive experience with better defined goals, but there’s something to be said about letting yourself get lost in a deep, beautiful world for a while.
8 / 10: Visually fascinating and an interesting concept, well worth experiencing.