Time, for the mortals amongst us is a forever draining bastard. It makes body parts sag, it makes people look at you like you’re one of those people that TV warns them about should you go see an animated film and it also makes you late for work when you’ve been sitting play Zeit2 all day. Time travel however is fantastic, as long as you obey the rules of course. Films have made some great use of it as a story telling mechanic, so it’s understandable then that games have given the old paradox inducing time travel a whirl, some with greater effect than others. Thankfully Zeit2 is one of the few games that pull off time travel greatly.
Zeit2 sees you take control of a ship in a see through a prisoner like bubble as you jink and shoot through an impressively dynamic group of enemies, using both time travel to rewind and speed up to add to your score. Zeit may not look like much visually and you would be forgiven for thinking it’s just another arcade shoot em’ up. But developers Brightside Games have crafted some unique and fantastic gameplay for their title. There is one hitch though, the game will set the controls to inverted or un-inverted depending how you have set up your Y-Axis in the Xbox 360 profile with no option to change it in the Options section of the game. However a quick change through your Xbox guides settings menu and a reset later will have you good to go.
What makes Zeit2 is its enemies and the way it tackles your health. Around your ship is a giant blue bubble representing your health, getting greater or smaller depending on your current state. One of the most important elements of the game is keeping your health in check, you don’t only have to worry about enemies depleting your health as simply firing your lasers will also cause a drain on your life force. The enemies themselves may not be the prettiest or vibrant bunch but the way they affect the gameplay is unique and impressive.
For the most part the enemies will simply fly past with the exception of the few that will attempt to crash into you or fire at you, but it’s the way the enemies are set up that changes things. Glowing enemies when they pass will suck health from you through a white aura where as non-glowing enemies that survive to the other side will damage your multiplier. Zeit2 is all about the high score so judging whether to sacrifice portions of your health to take out non glowing enemies and preserve your multiplier or give up on the multiplier all together to survive a little longer can be key.
What’s also impressive is the variety of modes the game offers, with up to seven to eventually choose from you will need to unlock them by competing in the other modes first. Arcade mode offers five stages; four as part of the main arcade experience and a final bonus stage with themed levels the end. Each stage has four levels and at the end of each level two you will face a mid stage boss leading up to the final stage boss at the end of level four. The stage two bosses will be the same for the most part in its looks and indeed some of its attacks but it will gain a new attack and a change to its attack pattern each time you square off against it. Destruction of both mid stage and final stage bosses will grant you an upgrade, there are six upgrades to be had with the Beam Shot being a saviour more than a few times. As the stages increase the patterns of enemies and the eventual inclusion of mines and turrets are perfectly designed to overwhelm you, which is when you turn to trusty old father time.
When you reverse time a black shadow will represent your movements and continue the attacks that you made in the present, this allows you to move to the other side of the screen to blast any enemies that you may have been about to miss. Reversing time is also the only way to damage certain enemies that hide in space time, appearing dull in normal time but glowing in the reversal of time. The most useful feature of the shadow though is to move backwards as you reverse time which will place your shadow directly in front of you letting you shoot lasers at it, doing this will cause the shadow to blast lasers across all corners of the screen and can rack up huge scores as well as saving you from hordes of enemies.
As you upgrade your weapons a shockwave will also be added to this manoeuvre which will clear the screen of all enemies. This becomes a life saver in the latter stages, once acquired firing your Beam Shot into the shadow will also make it emit the beam across the screen vertically wiping out any enemies that pass through it. Reversing time however has a limit of 4.2 seconds, this will regenerate over time naturally or by collecting power ups but fast forwarding into the future will also speed up the process. Fast forwarding into the future will also grant you huge score bonuses for your lightning fast reflexes and destruction of enemies.
All of this is vital to surviving and generating as high a score as possible through the Arcade mode and it can be hard to master at first, especially in the later levels when you have to dance through obstacles as well, but stick with it and Zeit2 will reward your progressing skills. The Arcade itself is challenging if not the most frustrating game available on XBLA (see Super Meat Boy) and your first play through should offer up enough swearing through gritted teeth to keep you going. This game though is about high scores which along with the gameplay is enough to make the Arcade mode very re-playable even without the other six modes on offer.
The other modes that can be unlocked are Wave, Time Attack, Survival, Tactics, Score Attack and Challenges. For the most part those sound exactly what a gamer would expect but as with the shoot em’ up genre Zeit2 offers a few nice twists on these traditional modes. Wave mode sees you take on waves of enemies with the screen split vertically into multiplier sections, ranging from no multiplier to a 4x multiplier. At the far left of the screen is a red barrier that should an enemy pass through will cause a game over which makes time travel your best friend again as you dance through the multiplier areas and fend off any that slip through.
Time Attack is exactly what it says on the tin, rack up as high a score as possible within the time limit with death penalising any massive multiplier you’d been building. Survival again is more traditional, survive as long as possible scoring as many points as possible but with Zeit2 forcing you to attempt to kill almost everything to protect your health another nice spin is placed on it. With each medal your score climbs to a damage multiplier is added to the enemies forcing you to move and kill faster to stop the enemies drain from wiping out your health in seconds.
Tactics though was my own personal favourite of the modes and sums up Zeit’s overwhelming gameplay perfectly; each level begins with certain types of enemies entering as usual from the right of the screen if you let them pass through without destroying them they will return from the right again as a new enemy type which may offer more or less points for destroying. All the while the enemies will still drain what little health you have or attack you. Before each level begins you are shown a sequence to memorise of how the enemy types will change either offering greater or lesser scores depending on the change, some enemies however won’t change. This then forces you to think fast and react faster as the enemies come in deciding when, which and how to kill for maximum scores while avoiding others but as usual juggling your health, meaning at times you have to kill some enemies you would rather let pass just to stay alive. The object of each stage is to reach a gold medal but really it’s the platinum you’re aiming for, this means replays of these short levels and developing a system of attack to chain up multipliers also becomes a priority. Tactics mode for the combination of sheer fun, thinking and the demands it puts on you was at times more fun than the Arcade mode and is easily the most replayable until you reach platinum.
Score Attack mode sees you replay any of the levels from the arcade mode while attempting to set the high score on Live for each individual level. The twist on this one though is that before each level you’re given the option of choosing the level of upgraded weapons you want to use with the lower the weapon level making things harder. Challenge mode offers up randomly generated scenarios designed to give gamers the opportunity to complete the in game challenges on offer from general play, some of which also give you achievements. It’s a nice idea but for most of the challenges I think gamers would rather achieve them while they try to smash some high scores than through this mode.
Despite the variety of modes at the games core it’s the gameplay that holds this whole perfectly honed experience together. The only slight issue I had with the gameplay is that at times when your focussing on what’s coming ahead it’s easy to forget that the giant bubble encompassing your ship can’t take damage from lasers or obstacles, this can see you instinctively dodging what would be safe attacks or mines only to weave into another hazard while your prioritising enemies. This might explain why I had more joy during the final boss fight when my health was as less than 5% and my bubble was non-existent.
Zeit2 is another very good XBLA game that rewards a gamer’s skill and ability plus giving a genuine sense of achievement for each level or high score. The game is hampered only by small niggles and with a little more attention given to the presentation of visuals and sound this could’ve been one of the great XBLA titles. But under purely gameplay focussed scrutiny it’s unique and at times offers a near perfect shoot em’ up experience, giving frantic and always engaging gameplay with plenty of replay ability. While a shoot em’ up focussed on high scores and leaderboards may not be the flavour of the month at the moment this game deserves success and the attention of gamers even those who may have moved away from the genre.
Brilliant and unique gameplay mixed into a variety of modes makes this one great XBLA title.