Your time is gonna come.
Project Temporality is a third person puzzle game based on the manipulation of time. The player must guide a test subject named Subject 87 – the protagonist of the game – through a number of increasingly challenging levels. These test chambers are located within what appears to be an abandoned testing facility somewhere in space, in which Subject 87 is seemingly the last remaining human. Navigation of each test is overseen by a male character who offers instruction, encouragement and, as the player progresses through the game, astonishment at Subject 87’s continued survival. Initially the identity of this man remains a mystery, yet journals left scattered throughout the facility hint at a wider conspiracy that may explain why the space station the player explores is eerily empty.
If I could turn back time…
The opening levels of Project Temporality function as a tutorial, taking the player through the basic mechanics of pausing and rewinding time. Initially, this is to demonstrate how time can be utilised to correct mistakes such as going through the incorrect door, jumping onto the wrong moving platform, or falling off a platform entirely and plummeting to a grisly death. All of these instances can be erased by simply rewinding time. But Project Temporality doesn’t stop there. The central aspect to solving any of the game’s test chambers lies in creating ‘time clones.’ This is Project Temporality’s strongest selling point, allowing it to effectively position itself as a single-player co-op game. The concept of controlling a test subject through a number of challenging levels is obviously not unfamiliar.
The Portal series was clearly an inspiration to Project Temporality, but it would be unfair to dismiss this as a cheap clone (if you’ll pardon the pun). Similarly, the concept of creating clones to solve puzzles whilst being stranded on a space station has been seen before. In this aspect of its gameplay Project Temporality may easily be compared to The Swapper, a game also predicated on the idea of using multiple clones simultaneously to complete an objective.
In Project Temporality, clones may be used to achieve goals such as opening a door by pressing two buttons at once, or standing on a button to activate a platform which the player can then use to reach the next stage of a particular level. The game eases the player into the various ways in which clones and time may be created and manipulated to achieve a certain outcome. However, the manner in which time functions within the game becomes progressively more complex. The player must essentially create multiple timelines that run simultaneously to reach the end of each test, assuming control of each new clone while older versions perform previously recorded actions. Things get even more complicated when the game then throws a curveball into the mix relatively early on. This comes in the form of temporality fields, areas in which certain objects cannot be affected by manipulating time, adding a whole new level of strategy for the player to think through.
Time won’t let me.
The result of all these various time-bending elements is that there is a lot of trial and error involved when playing Project Temporality. It is to the game’s credit that this doesn’t get too tedious. I found that completing the first few levels and becoming familiar with the game’s mechanics was not enough to simply stroll through the tests that followed. While Project Temporality did a great job of instructing me what I had control over and how I could advantageously utilise those elements, solving the puzzles that followed required a lot of thinking through, a lot of trial and error and a lot of rewinding time.
Structurally, each test chamber is divided into separate sections. Completing the first puzzle allows the player to access the next area of the level, the whole outlay of which is displayed via a mini-map in the top right hand corner of the screen. Project Temporality is a game that runs in sequences, and it quickly becomes apparent that timing is absolutely crucial to solving each puzzle. Certain buttons function in certain ways: some require a clone to remain standing on them in order to maintain a certain function, others require just one press, and some can only be pressed once before being rendered permanently out of action. Some buttons and doors have timers on them, meaning they will only stay open for a (very) limited period of time. This requires the player to carefully plan and execute their strategy. For instance, I found that opening a door on a 10-second timer would reveal two keys, which unlocked two different doors. I would then need to collect one key and leave, rewind time and create a clone, before going on to collect the second key before time elapsed and the door shut for good.
Good times, bad times.
Project Temporality also doesn’t just ignore the wider context of its abandoned space station setting, instead exploring this setting through journals, notes and data entries left behind by the station’s crew. Interestingly, Project Temporality primarily uses these items to consider the ethical and moral implications of the station’s wider purpose. Some station employees express outrage at the use of human test subjects, while others believe there is a conspiracy at the heart of their mission. Certain members of staff come across as cold and detached, fascinated by the science at the heart of the project they are involved in.
As the game progresses the player learns that as a result of what has happened to the human test subjects, several crew members have started a protest demanding to be returned to Earth. While the game hints at a wider conspiracy at the heart of the station’s function, it is up to the player to interpret the various messages encountered in each level. In turn, the information provided by each memo adds just enough to allow the player to piece together the various strands of conversation. I found that this added an extra incentive to complete each puzzle, as moving onto the next level would invariably allow me to uncover new logs to read.
While every second counts in Project Temporality and the test chambers are certainly challenging, completing each level never feels completely out of reach. As such, there is a great deal of satisfaction in solving a particularly difficult sequence. While there are a lot of mind-bending time-tricks on offer, the controls remain simple to use. I took advantage of Project Temporality’s gamepad support and found navigation to be, for the most part, pretty seamless. While the game lacks Portal’s fantastic character and narration, and doesn’t have quite the same atmospheric depth as The Swapper, it still retains a sense of originality through its clean design, thoughtful story and spectacular puzzles.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.