So, the second episode of the Timedancer series. I was pretty down on the first, calling it a “failure as a game, and not the most compelling of sci-fi dramas”. But developers Chaos Created seemed earnest in their desire to improve the series, and gave some compelling reasons to believe them: the question is, has their work paid off?
Firstly, this is still the same sort of game. Oddly enough, Chaos Created haven’t decided to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and this remains a live-action drama interspersed with interactive sequences. Similarly, they haven’t replaced the actors from the first game: there are three recurring characters that I noticed, all played by the same actors. Which, as it turns out, is a good thing – the actors are comfortable in their roles, and play them convincingly. One actor who I’d not found particularly inspiring in the first episode really surprised me, giving a far more convincing turn this time around.
Partially, this may be to do with the focus. The first episode flitted from scene to scene, never focussing on any one character for long, as though the game were suffering from ADD. This not only made the characters hard to identify with, it also meant the actors couldn’t really get into their stride, and any quirks and tics they displayed felt forced. The second episode is far more focussed, following a single character’s storyline. Being able to see the characters develop over several scenes makes a vast difference, allowing us to get close to – and even start to care about – them. John Moraitis deserves particular credit here, bringing a great tenderness and fragility to the role of Adam as he does.
The episode is still short – about six minutes long, not including the introduction. However, as with Episode 1, you’re expected to replay the game several times. Where it differs is in the nature of the branches: where in Episode 1 this amounted to little more than deciding what the camera man was going to look at, Episode 2 has you making choices on behalf of Adam. This makes your decisions a lot more satisfying – you aren’t just getting a different perspective on events, you’re actually altering them. Feeling as though your actions have consequence is a powerful encouragement to go back and explore your options. It doesn’t hurt that where the first episode included only one choice to make, with each branch containing maybe two minutes of unique footage, Episode 2 has an opening choice leading to a further branching point, meaning four distinct pathways through the episode, each made up entirely of unique footage but for the framing shots.
Unfortunately, the interactive segments have seen less improvement. The CG environments you explore still stick out like a sore thumb: this is purely a budgetary concession, and it shows. Some are particularly egregious – one involves scanning a CG cemetery for a gravestone: upon finding the correct stone, the game immediately jumps to a live-action cemetery. Why not just have a photograph of said cemetery to explore, so that the player doesn’t experience the extreme disconnect of jumping from one to the other? In future, I’d suggest Chaos Created consider having the player explore the sets that are actually used in the live-action segments, where possible.
Similarly, the puzzles are still of the simple and contrived variety – three are variations on the theme of altering tiles, including a direct copy of the colour-shifting puzzle of the first episode, and bear little if any resemblance to the actual plot. One, however, manages to make a degree of sense to the plot, and so marks a considerable improvement on the formula. Still an incredibly simple sequence, it sees you running the prototype Timedancer equipment to send Adam through time, overlaid onto video footage of Adam and the science team running the experiment. Succeed, and you follow the thread of Adam being a successful candidate; fail, and instead you see the results that a malfunctioning prototype have on him. The puzzle itself is no better than any of the others in the episode, but its framing, and the fact that it has a meaningful fail-state, make it a far more compelling experience.
In summation, then: Episode 2 goes some way to addressing the problems of the first Timedancer. It’s a much more satisfying drama – I’d even go so far as to call it compelling viewing – and gives the player a greater sense of agency and consequence, making much more use of the choice to make this an interactive experience, rather than a simple, linear narrative. However, the gameplay elements are still deeply sub-par, remaining overly simplistic and, with one exception, seemingly unrelated to the narrative. The game could also do with a little more copy-editing – some of the written descriptions are rather clunky, and there’s even the odd typo: a personal favourite being a section which informed me that “Ben has tracked down Anna’s location for Anna” – lucky Anna!
However, this is still a far more satisfying experience than the first episode, and we can only hope Chaos Created continue to improve the series as it goes on. For the moment, though: is it worth 99p? Yes, I believe it is.
Timedancer Episode 2 Gameplay Video
Timedancer Episode 2 Screenshots
Version Under Review : 188.8.131.52
There is NO trial version available and the full version is available for $1.29, but to get an idea of how the game works you can try Timedancer Episode 1
Our Rating for Timedancer Episode 2