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What's more, the game is hugely linear, to the extent that it makes Call of Duty 4 feel like S.T.A.L.K.E.R. There's obviously a narrative hidden away somewhere, but the pieces all feel dislocated from each other, and while you go from level to level following a list of constantly updated objectives, it's hard to work out where you're going, what you're doing and why. Without the atmosphere of a Bioshock or Half-Life 2, all TimeShift can rely on is its action.
Yet despite this, it's an oddly gripping game. It helps that the pacing is excellent, with most of the levels having a nice ebb and flow of gunplay. The challenge level at medium difficulty is just about right, checkpoints are sensitively placed and you can also save when and where you like. There are a couple of useless on-rails shooting sections, but the game makes up for these with a nice stretch of racing through the mountains on a quad-bike. And the enemies, the settings and the weaponry get more interesting and more varied as time goes on - and we all know bigger, better games where that's not true. TimeShift isn't a very clever shooter, but as dumb shooters go it's meaty and solidly constructed.
And, as long as you like dumb shooters, that's probably what you should take away from this. In many respects, TimeShift is the FPS equivalent of the sort of low-budget action movie that used to star Jean-Claude Van Damme but now stars Jason Statham. You wouldn't buy it at full price over Call of Duty 4 or The Orange Box any more than you would choose to see Crank over The Bourne Ultimatum at the cinema, but if you saw it sitting at a bargain price in the local video store, you wouldn't be disappointed if you picked it up and took it home.
TimeShift isn't the game it could have been - but given its troubled history we can say that in both a bad way and a good way. It's not worth more than a seven for all the reasons stated above, but there are times when I got carried away playing it that I would have sworn it played more like an eight. If you've already worked your way through TimeShift's more accomplished peers, that's something worth bearing in mind.
It's unoriginal and does too little with its handful of good ideas to reach anyone's idea of excellence, but as a dumbed-down shooter TimeShift is actually an awful lot of fun. Buy it at a bargain basement price, then enjoy.