Time: All Things Come to an End

by Andy Phillips

Time Travel

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I want to see this movie!, May 15, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF, Escape

Really. If there was a blockbuster version of this game starring a young Harrison Ford (or even Nicholas Cage, I've often thought the National Treasure movies were text-adventures in disguise.), I'd be standing in line to get tickets.

Run-down scientist with a time machine! A sinister femme fatale for a nemesis! Aliens mingling in human affairs! World War II!

One of those movies where you get a huge box of popcorn (I don't eat popcorn, but you get the image), set your brain to receive-only mode and just munch away. That could be a great cinematographic experience.
Unfortunately, the only way to get a tiny inkling of this experience in the game Time; All Things Come To An End is to have the walkthrough open and just hammer away at the keyboard.

It does a lot of things right though.

First, there's a ridiculously, comically easy intro-sequence. Really, you are fired when your timetraveling prototype device doesn't work, even after years and years of work. The stacks of notes are on your desk to prove it. And then, oops: (Spoiler - click to show)turns out you forgot to charge the batteries...

So after sorting that out, you decide to give your machine a spin. Whoosh! You are stranded in the future where you stumble upon some sinister conspiracy. With his dying breath, a vaguely familiar man asks for your assistance. Coincidentally, it soon turns out that gettting to the bottom of this conspiracy is also the way to get back to your own timeline.

In a big part of Time; All Things Come To An End, you are being chased by the bad guys. Even in the parts where you are not actively pursued, your nemesis (a delightfully sinister femme fatale) is around somewhere, ready to pounce if you should make a wrong move.

In keeping with this chase-theme, the game plays out on a series of small maps. Your objective is twofold: get the objects or information you need, and escape your pursuers to advance to the next map. This should aid in keeping the game tempo up. There are different modes of transportation between maps, giving a feeling of adventure and real action.

The writing in Time; All Things Come To An End is mostly good. Nice descriptions, well-written (if hardly interactive) dialogue, great cut-scenes (and death-scenes). The author does seem to be under the impression there is some sort of prize to be won for "Most uses of the word 'Evil' in a work of Interactive Fiction." I also think the author got tired near the end. The writing drops noticeably in quality, stock-phrases and clichés start popping up more.

All this could (should) make for a fast-paced chase-game where you feel your pursuers breathe down your neck while you try to figure out each area's puzzle and get to safety in the nick of time.

Alas! Time; All Things Come To An End falls flat in this respect. It fails to tie all the good things together in a fluid, fast-moving game-experience.

Some of you may remember a certain groundbreaking game from the late nineties where you had to move through a very specific sequence of moves to advance. (Spoiler - click to show)Spider and Web. If you deviated too much from this sequence, you failed. But! This particular game was framed in such a way that failing and retrying became an integral part of the experience, adding to the tension and the immersion. It also had the mechanics to back up this fail-and-retry design.

Time; All Things Come To An End is not far removed in time from this game. Here too, the player has to correctly execute a sequence of commands in the right order and , more importantly, in a limited number of turns. However, the only way to eventually get it right is to create tons and tons of save-files and restoring many, many times. These are out-of-game actions, leading to completely non-immersive learn-by-dying gameplay. It would not have been a great leap to add some sort of in-game mechanism to bring the PC back to the start of a challenge, given that the timetravel-premise is already in place.

Lack of time/turns is not the only reason why the player should have numerous save-files on hand. It is exceedingly easy to put the game in an unwinnable state without noticing it until one or more chapters later. Failing to pick up an object, or worse, leaving a seemingly unimportant object behind after a spot of inventory-juggling (yes, there's an inventory limit, at least in the first part of the game) wíll leave you at a dead end many moves later.

Now, after getting savvy to this and accepting that this is just how the game works, I managed to make quite a bit of progress on my own. Playing through a chapter to get the lay of the land and figuring out the death-points, then restoring and doing it right got me a good way into the game. But then the puzzles got in the way. And not in a good way. Many puzzles are extremely obscure, very underclued and with no obvious motivation for the necessary actions. Several times, the key to the solution lay in a location that was wholly unmentioned in any description.

Needless to say that after a few hours of this (this game is big, 2500 moves easy), my motivation waned and I started resorting to the walkthrough more and more.

And here I have to refer back to the beginning of this review: I want to see this movie! The story is great in a suspension-of-disbelief-turned-up-to-eleven kind of way. There are cool twists and turns, great locations in time and space, a real sense of mystery...

It's just not that easily playable as an adventure game.

Despite that, I had a lot of fun, and I recommend playing through it anyhow.

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Blake, May 15, 2021 - Reply
I recently completed this game to and found it to be very interesting. I solved the first couple chapters, but soon became so fearful of leaving behind key items that I compromised by solving the chapters and then confirming that I got the right items with a walkthrough. Towards the end though, man... I agree, you could tell Andy was exhausted. It's not just the prose that sinks - there's no clues for many of your late-game actions. I tried and tried, and then turned to the walkthrough in disbelief. Still worth completing for the story.

I'm so glad someone else noticed the Adventure Game elements of National Treasure! There's quite a few movies that show adventures that consist of non-violent exploring and solving riddles, and I love seeing them. A few other examples would be 2002's The Time Machine (the art design is very reminiscent of Schizm: Mysterious Journey) and The Librarian films (and TV show).
Rovarsson, May 15, 2021 - Reply
Where do I start? Yes to your entire post I think.

Once I figured out how easy it was to get into unwinnable terrain, I did exactly the same thing: check the walkthrough after every chapter.

I could as well have flipped a coin while writing the review. The Librarian also came to mind as a movie example of a text-adventure. I haven't seen The Time Machine though. I'll look it up now.

And indeed, I stuck with the game and bit through the frustration of later levels for the story, which is definitely worth it.
Blake, May 18, 2021 - Reply
The Time Machine is a mixed bag of a film. I have a strong fondness for it, as my late sister, my father, and I watched it several times, enjoying it together. It owes a strong debt to the Myst-like graphic adventure, and is generally an interesting movie, with cutting-edge effect (for the time) and set a record for most expensive prop: the time machine itself. It also features a rare leading performance from one of my favorite actors, Guy Pearce.

The downfall of the movie is towards the end. The film was actually directed by H.G. Wells' great-grandson, Simon Wells, who directed a number of wonderful animated films, including Balto and The Prince Of Egypt. It's his only live-action film, and it must have harder having to shoot on location and such, as he ended up having to bow out during the last few weeks of shooting due to exhaustion.

The photography was then finished by Gore Verbinski, who abruptly switches gears and turns it into an action movie. The climax is completely at odds with the rest of the film, and it's disappointing. I think it's still worth seeing, despite this (and a few other narrative niggles).

On the game here, it's reassuring that someone else had the same approach and experience - I was afraid I had lost my text-adventuring skills! It was right around (Spoiler - click to show)that business with the pipes, the crates, and the office on the ship that I had to abandon all hope and rely on the walkthrough entirely. I still have no idea how you are meant to deduce any of the actions (Spoiler - click to show)in the school. I can only conclude that that part of the game was not fully finished. When compared to the earlier parts of the game, (Spoiler - click to show)like the wonderful puzzles in the desert, it's clear that those parts are not all they were meant to be. Still, a fascinating experience.

Edit: I thought of another movie that reminded me a lot of the 90's graphic/text adventure - BBC's Dinotopia miniseries. The plot and setting are very similar to a number of games in the genre.
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