The Finnish developers behind the well-received Neon Chrome come back with another top-down twin stick shooter. At a quick glance, you'd be forgiven to mistake Time Recoil for some Neon Chrome DLC, but it turns out the game has an identity of its own. Time Recoil isn’t as much a blast fest as it is a thinking man’s shooter. At times, it could almost pass for a game of chess - deadly chess with bullets, explosions and time-warping super powers.
By the year 1978, a time-twisting mad scientist, Mr. Time, has conquered most of the Europe and has threatened the rest of the world. In 1987, the game’s present, a small resistance group learns how to manipulate time and send Alexa, a girl who used to be part of Mr. Time’s scientific team, back in time. In the past, Alexa had been exposed to a freak laboratory accident, gifting her with time-altering powers. Seeing her as a threat, Mr. Time locked her in a cell in a facility that time forgot. Following the resistance’s missions, Alexa hops back and forth in time through portable wormholes to thwart Mr. Time’s evil plans. All the rules of time travel fiction are both honored and twisted during the game's five chapters long story.
A funny thing about Time Recoil is that despite of playing in a minor league, it plays a lot like another Finnish time-warping action romp Quantum Break. In both games, the protagonist can bend time in an almost similar manner. Here, the time slows down temporarily when Alexa kills an enemy. The more she kills in a given time window, the longer the slowdown keeps up, ensuing special powers. After a double kill, Alexa can dash through thin walls and enemies. Four kills make the dash stronger, six kills give her a psy-blast and ultimately, after popping eight kills in a row, time itself will freeze under Alexa’s command. Initially, it’s cool to rush through walls and knock down kills in a stylish slow motion, but it’s more than a gimmick. Despite random pick-ups, the ammunition is so sparse you just can’t mow down your way through levels. Instead, you must take advantage of the slow motion, dodging enemy fire and making every bullet count, not to mention evening the odds with well-timed specials.
As it’s a one bullet ticket to the grave, you will die a lot - again, and again. The levels are small, and a death takes you back to their start. Instead of rage quitting, you have to learn from each failure and hone a choreography for a successful run. I must admit, dying time after time can get madly frustrating, but whenever I finally managed to pull out a complicated sequence of carefully planned movements to complete a level, it was damn satisfying. Considering all of Alexa’s skills, the game easily allows different approaches. I played perhaps even too meticulously while someone more confident with twin stick controls could rack up constant combo kills and time-dash through the levels, wrecking a beautiful havoc in Alexa’s wake. There’s a time attack mode for those crazy people who can come up with unthinkably creative ways of reaching the best times possible.
As a fellow Finn, I must point out a couple of details about Time Recoil which are probably alien to everyone else. These things caught my eye instantly when I was browsing through upcoming games in the Xbox store, and I realized this game must be Finnish before I even knew it. We Finnish are often called a windbreaker-folk to mock our supposed lack of fashion sense. Well, Alexa’s red jumpsuit resembles a lot of those cheap windbreakers sold by truckloads in local cash and carries. More importantly, with his bald head, firm eyes and signature glasses, Mr. Time is a dead ringer for Mr. Urho Kekkonen, who was the longest-serving president in Finland’s history. So, time manipulation, eh? That explains a lot of his record-breaking 26 years in the office!
While the moody synth pop driving the action forward is exceptionally good, the graphics and the narrative design are modest to say the least. Still, they’re sufficient enough for what Time Recoil sets out to do. As most Finnish indie games do, Time Recoil finds a comfort zone in a playful side of things, toying with an idea and then making it a plausible game mechanic. Here it’s time that matters, making some levels play out more like puzzles. I was most glad to discover how tactical the game was, which in my books is more fun than mindless mayhem. As challenging as Time Recoil is, it’s a bit on a short side. It takes only about five hours to complete the story chapters but as mentioned, the time attack mode adds replayability. With all its quirks and polished gameplay, Time Recoil is a nifty little game to kill time with – or in this case to kill with time!
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.