Have you ever dreamed of building a time machine and go into the far-flung future (or past) to marvel at the wonders of our planet’s existence? Actually, I misspoke. Replace the word “marvel” with “shoot the hell out of” and you’ve got an accurate description of Time Carnage VR, a wave-based shooter for the PlayStation VR. Designed with the panache of a B-grade, “Made For The Syfy Channel” television movie, there’s some fun to be had shooting things like robots and giant dinosaurs in the face. However, the wind is taken out of its sails as a result of surprisingly boring gameplay, which is crazy for a game that lets you fry robots with a flamethrower.
The B-movie flavor of Time Carnage VR comes through its silly, nonsensical story. As a faceless member of a technologically advanced organization, you work with your peers to manipulate time with the intention to make humanity better by futzing around with time. And by futzing, I mean visit different epochs to shoot anything that moves. The plot doesn’t make a lick of sense and doesn’t hold up under scrutiny--Why attack dinosaurs? What good does manipulating the future do in making mankind better? How does shooting armies of the undead suppose to stave off nuclear fallout?
It’s a good thing, I suppose, that inside the game, the narrative barely registers as a blip on the radar. The whole thing is pretty hilarious and I almost wish the game doubled down on its gun toting, Cave Johnson vision of time travel. I mean, from the moment we are introduced to Back To the Future, we are taught that time travel must be handled with kid gloves, that the merest trampling of a shrub or death of a butterfly could warp our present time into a world where dogs walk cats, newspapers read humans, and giant purple clouds create perpetual ECTO Cooler rainstorms. But with Time Carnage VR, time travel rules be damned! Grab that shotgun and murder your way through time!
Only by expressing your temporally protected second amendment rights will you survive the game’s wave-based combat. Time Carnage VR is comprised of four different eras, each with four stages set in different locations in those time periods. From the safety of your time bubble platform, the goal is to outlast ten waves of ever increasing enemies using a pre-selected loadout of weapons. At first, you’re given a basic pistol and uzi with which to defend yourself. As you complete stages, however, you’ll unlock new weapons to fill out four loadout slots. Weapons range from revolvers, assault rifles and crossbows to bolt action sniper rifles and flamethrowers. Guns offer a decent amount of nuance as each deal their own unique damage amounts and carry specific range, stability, and rate of fire values. While it’s nice to compare a magnum against an automatic pistol, I found that the more powerful weapons were best to use because they do a fairly decent job dropping targets in one or two hits. Ammo for each weapon is displayed as a counter on the rear end of the weapon and when you run out of bullets, reloading is easy as releasing your grip and let the gun teleport back to its loadout slot where it slowly refills bullets over time. I found this to be a fun and nifty approach to managing weapons and ammo because it strikes the right balance of keeping the player from being too overpowered and adds tension as you wait for your best weapons to fill up while a giant Tyrannosaurus Rex lumbers toward you.
Shooting enemies with virtual guns is pretty fun (although I find mercilessly slaughtering dinos to be more than a little upsetting) and as much as I enjoyed using the Move wands to aim and fire weapons, Time Carnage VR was a game I always dreaded to play. This is because the Campaign mode’s pacing moves slower than a snail. As you play through a stage, each wave consists of several small groups of enemies to shoot in between periods of waiting for something to happen. By my count, each stage takes about 20-25 minutes to play through and a good chunk of that time is spent standing around waiting for creatures to appear. Each era has its own reskinned enemy types, from small light monsters to huge, slow-moving beasts and nothing drove me crazier than having to wait for the slow monsters to come into view. The second level in the zombie epoch was the most notorious because I had to wait anywhere between five to ten seconds for the large green zombie monsters to finally shuffle their way into the play area. The same goes for the Triceratops in the Canyon stage of the prehistoric epoch, a creature you end up hearing far sooner than seeing it. I guess what it all comes down to is impatience. Time Carnage VR makes shooting fun but I just wish it would stop pulling me away from the action so much.
I was also really impatient with how the beginning stages of each era hold your hands too much. The waves and individual stages grow in difficulty by throwing larger and more diverse groups of enemies at you. And yet, when I started the first stage in the future epoch, it felt like the game was being far too lenient by holding back the number of attacking enemies which meant more standing around and feeling largely unchallenged against such meek hordes.
The Campaign mode is dull and arduous, punctuated by the fact that if you play once stage, you’ve played them all. No matter the context, every era is designed around shooting targets that spawn from three alleyways. The Challenge and Arcade modes do a better job of keeping the player engaged. Arcade lets you create your own combat scenarios by mixing and matching enemy types and locations, like battling robots and zombies together in the prehistoric epoch. You’re also allowed to use the Perks earned from the Campaign mode which add unique effects to the weapons, like laser sights and higher ammo capacity. Unlike Campaign, which you have to play through in order to unlock perks and levels, Arcade is an endurance test that challenges you to stay alive as long as possible. The Challenge game mode is an entirely different beast. A score attack-type game, you are placed into smaller, more condensed situations in which you are limited to a specific weapon and need to kill enough enemies to achieve bronze, silver, or gold medal score thresholds. Time Carnage VR’s campaign mode sucks but its other two modes are more interesting.
The nicest thing I can say about Time Carnage VR is that it does a good job replicating the experience of handling a firearm. The PlayStation Camera tracks the Move wands really well except for those moments it wigged out because I deliberately held them out of view in order to strike a cool (read: goofy) pose. The graphics are really good too. The guns show off a lot of character in their design, especially the cheeky ones with unique names and paint schemes. I was fond of a few of the game locations, like those found in the prehistoric era and the Blade Runner-esque future epoch. With these cool features to its name, it really sucks that the rest of the game can get so terribly bland and repetitive over such a short period of time. There’s already a really good foundation in place for something that could be really fun to play. Tightening up the gaps in between battles, opening up new environments faster, and redoing the level design would go a long way in making Time Carnage VR really cook.
Teen Services Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.