Ok, let me get one thing clear off the bat. I am well aware that some people will skip straight to the bottom to get the “short version” and just read the rating but I am going to assume that if you have read this far, you are going to read the rest of the review! The other thing I want to say is that I liked Achron, but in what is fast becoming my fashion I will likely spend a large amount of time in this review poking holes in it. Don’t be discouraged though! For I have broken my spree of “games I didn’t really like” in Achron because I DID like it.
Achron is by far and away one of the most unusual games I have ever played. I mean the various parts of it are all fairly standard in games, but I have never seen this combination before in my life. A time-travelling RTS.
I know… let me give you a minute for that to sink in…
So it’s Doctor Who meets Starcraft (which is actually surprisingly apt given the style of the combat and units in the game). The Campaign is based around the exploits of one Captain Holloway of the C.E. Serratoga and his A.I.: Tyr. At the start you learn that the humans are losing a massive war against an aggressive invasion of aliens. Holloway goes down to a planet to rescue some survivors of the the alien invasion and in the process discovers some technology which makes time-travel possible. Not only that, but it allows the player (as Tyr) to look along the timeline of a game and change decisions at various points in the near past and future. From then on the story gets pretty much incomprehensible as you are thrown against humans and aliens in a bewildering array of places without really being told why or who they are. For example saying that someone is from this particular organisation CRE or something… Makes me no more inclined to kill them… Are they rebels? Rogue Government operatives? Space Pirates? WHAT?
Frankly though, the story isn’t what you play this game for, you play it for the mind-bending time fiddling.
I’ll try and explain it as simply as I can… but expect it to get a little confusing. Basically, say you have 5 marines (the human infantry… imaginative name!) in the middle of a map (position A). You send them off to the right and they walk for one minute. After exactly one minute, while walking past position B, a patrol of alien walkers come the fuck of nowhere and faceroll your men. That’s usually it, game over. You can however go back to say 0:40 seconds on the timeline, where you will see you’re marines walking unknowingly towards oblivion. You can then cancel their movement and avoid the patrol. So instead of being at position B at 1:00 minute they get to position B at 1:20 or whatever…
That’s simple enough… but it gets MORE complicated. You see you actually see on your timeline where and when you get damage done to your units and when your units damage something else. And you can jump around into the past or future to control your units for the fight. ALL this time the present continues to move forward at the same pace as the timeframe you are in. And it still gets worse… When you change something in the past it doesn’t immediately change in the present, you have to wait for these things called “time-waves” to catch up with your present for any changes in the past to suddenly become visible.
And then there’s actually LITERAL time travel. Not only can you change things on a timeline, you can actually eventually send units through time to fuck shit up completely (you can even cause clones of a unit by sending it back, say to around the time you created it…) which is quite simply more than my puny brain can handle…
Now I’ve described it pretty shitly, because frankly it’s really complicated! However let em also say it’s very clever, and once you get used to it it’s pretty damned awesome.
So the time travel is cool! The graphics are pretty awesome as well. Everything is all angular and futuristic. Not realistic to the level of Starcraft 2, but that doesn’t change the fact that it looks good. The combat is also pretty solid and really, I can’t think much more praise for the combat, because lets face it… you’re blowing them up and vice versa. It’s good but nothing special.
There are some irritations in the game. The time waves take waaay too long to get through time and so the you invariably end up sitting about for a fair while while waiting for the bloody thing to catch up. The “commands-travel-through-time” system, is one of THE biggest pains I have ever met in a game. Basically if we revert to the situation above involving the marines. If you jump back in time and tell them to stop moving right for a few seconds, they WILL try and keep moving anyway if you don’t cancel the previous commands back through time. However because you can’t actually change things too far back in time or change too much in time you invariably can’t actually cancel the moves and so the marines will KEEP trying to obey the command to go right…
Now this IS clever and probably is designed to be deliberately annoying. However, a wise man once said “that annoying, even deliberately annoying, is still just that… ANNOYING!”
There’s also a system of unit commanding called Hierarchy where you can give a bunch of units a commander and whatever you command the commander to go, they all copy him (move there, attack him, etc etc). At first this seems useful and innovative. After the first few missions you realise how actually annoying it is. You’re men drift ridiculously far from their commander, taking up space everywhere and sometimes getting far enough away that when they get attacked, NOBODY else joins in!
In fact, it’s not just that, the whole unit AI is ridiculously retarded. Give a unit a command to walk to a point, if there is an obstacle in the way, do they move round it? Noooooo… So you have to specifically tell them to move around the stupid rock standing in their way. They also take up SO MUCH SPACE. They get in the way of your other units, your buildings, everything! They spread out like a bunch of antisocial morons! Also, even though the combat itself seems well done, getting your units to start firing seems to be a little bit harder. I don’t know whether it was just me, but it seemed to take my units some time to realise “Oh hang on… should probably kill this guy who has been shooting me in the face for the last two minutes!”
This is all just nit-picking really because I did enjoy the game in spite of these faults. In fact if there is one problem I’d say with Achron that DID detract from the experience of the game is that it’s too fiendishly complicated. At first when you’re being told when to travel in time and what to do, it’s cool and easy enough. When it gets to the stage where you have to manage a base, fight enemy units with your, travel through time to change various mistakes and all this time the enemy is ALSO travelling through time and undoing IT’S mistakes. Then my brain went into shut-down and I gave up (it’s for this reason I haven’t tried the multiplayer).
So overall a solid game, a great idea and a lot of fun. I heartily recommend you buy this off Steam whenever you can.
P.s. I have actually recently decided to conduct an experiment. I am going to create a Mech unit, use the Mech to build a Chronoporter (time travel gate). Send the Mech back in time to when I created it. And use the time-travelled Mech to kill itself in the past. My hope is that the resulting Paradox destroys the Internet… I’ll let you know how it goes!
P.p.s. In the meantime check out me and Tim playing different levels of Achron!