Killing Time, released in 1995 for the 3DO and later, with “improved” conversions, to Windows and Mac OS in 1996 and 1997 respectively, is nominally a first person shooter but much like one of the numerous enemies featured in the game, this is very much a two headed beast.
Being a 3DO title, you’d naturally expect live action video to bulk up the disc and yes, that’s exactly what you get. From the opening narration and video montage, the scene is set perfectly. You are a former Egyptology student who, after his professor regales him with tales of a sacred water clock said to grant immortality, attempts to solve the puzzle of what happened to the clock. You see, the professor discovered the clock at a dig site where it disappeared after a visit by the excavation’s sponsor, Tess Conway, a rich heiress with a penchant for partying and the occult. After returning to her home on Matinicus Isle off the coast of Maine, she held a party on the Summer Solstice of 1932 and promptly vanished along with her friends and staff. You’ve rocked up to the Isle decades later with a gun and a keen sense of curiosity. This can not end well.
As introductions go, this one is very good, with its Indiana Jones style map work and a mixture of old movie footage and live action cast. The one small niggle I have here is the pace of the narration. Were they paying the guy by the second? Breathe, dear boy, breathe…
After the intro, we’re into the game proper and this is where the “power” of the 3DO comes into play. Sarcasm, you say? You’re right, but only a hint.
Graphically, it’s pretty much what has come to be expected for a 3DO first person shooter. Think at the level of an enhanced Wolfenstein 3D game and that’s pretty much it. The game moves smoothly enough most of the time but character movement can be jerky and that doesn’t help with your aiming. Objects and enemies are sprite based which look quite good in the middle distance (there is nothing past middle distance, the “gloom” betrays the lack of that 3DO power), but once you get up close and personal, they look terrible. In some areas, with numerous enemies and gunfire on screen, it actually looks quite the colourful mess, but this does not help you survive for long. It can also be quite dark, and if you’re playing in a sunlit room, forget about it. Of note, however, is the ability to look up and down, though that controller set up makes it a bit of a faff.
However, that’s not all Killing Time has to offer. No, Siree, Bob! There are video sections within the gameplay, and this is where Killing Time takes on the appearance of something like The 7th Guest. These video sections are located around the levels and play as you approach them. Move past them and they fade away, and if you miss something, you can always walk back a view them again. Surprisingly for a title of the period, these clips are well acted and move the story along brilliantly. Through them, you meet a cast of seven characters that give you snippets of the story over time as to what happened in the mansion. The clips are not overly intrusive and add much to the atmosphere.
The sound design is good, though it can get repetitive (those bloody zombie ducks!) and the in-level music is worthy of the name. Comment must be made on the song that plays over the closing credits – it’s period perfect and funny to boot, almost up there with “Still Alive” from Portal. You can find the soundtrack on YouTube and I really recommend listening to it just for that song.
What about the actual gameplay, I hear you ask?
Well… it’s alright. I mean, it’s a challenging game, even on the easy difficulty setting, and it’ll take you a while to finish it, mostly because there are certain sections that hammer you into the ground. The first crypt is one such example, where you enter a room full of rolling mucus balls (honestly, that’s what they look like) and you have to shoot them to get them to stop rolling and then you have to shoot them again to kill them. The best tactic (that took a few deaths to figure out), was to run down the stairs, shoot a couple then run back up, then repeat until the room was cleared. The alternative was a quick death. The issues of controller response, screen update and short draw distance became evident here, with difficult aiming and stop/start motion. Coming so abruptly near the start of the game, it did sour my experience a bit. Fortunately, you can save your progress in game.
The level design is maze-like, much like other first person shooters of the period, and although the map will be a great help, the relative lack of environmental textures does make traversing the areas a bit of a chore. Samey corridors and open areas that you can’t see the end of do become tiring, even if the manual does try to use the short draw distance as a benefit to shooting enemies before they see you.
Speaking of enemies, there are more than a few here and they are varied enough to give you some bother. The ducks, you can just stand on, but some of the later ghosts are down right vicious. You do have a choice of five weapons to deal with them though and those too are varied in use. It’s just a shame that the jerky movement makes accurate aiming difficult and means the same enemy type can take between one and four rounds to kill – and at times, ammunition is hard to find.
There is not just weapons though. You also have collectible powers that, in all honesty, I kept forgetting I had, so make of that what you will.
What impressed me most about this title is the presentation and whilst that’s mostly down to the live action video, there is a decent shooter attached to that schlocky 1930’s style. And this is the thing. It’s that daft story and slightly OTT presentation that kept me playing. I can forgive the performance issues and the janky controller input – come on, the 3DO pad has never been brilliant, though I do wonder what the Flight Stick would have brought to the experience – because what we have here is the perfect approach to presenting this particular story. From the overly quick introduction to that brilliant closing song, Killing Time nails it.
It’s a shame then that this game never truly gained a wider appreciation. By the time of its release, the 3DO was fairly up against the PlayStation and Saturn, and live action video in games was going the way of the dodo. Not even those re-made versions for Windows and Mac helped, though there is still a fan website here that is a lovely epitaph, even with the early web design style.
Killing Time, then, is a combination of average shooter and intriguing mystery adventure game. It has a cracking sense of style and as that style was a key reason for me to keep playing, I’m giving it the score below. To paraphrase Stalin, style has a substance all of its own (on this one occasion).
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An above par video style presentation and over the top story encapsulate an average shooter for the period, but it’s one hell of a ride.