Updated Wed, Oct 26, 2011 by Stow
Time travel has always captivated us in the video game world. Platformers like Castlevania stop time outright and enable safe passage, or change the layout a castle by shifting to a previous era. Many RPGs such as Chrono Trigger have used time travel as a major plot device or even the whole focus of the game. Some strategy games have tried it, but the closest a Real Time Strategy game has come to proper use of time travel has always been the downright silly/awesome plot of the Command and Conquer : Red Alert trilogy. It even gave us Tim Curry's greatest line of his career, but I digress.
No one has even actually tried to implement it as a gameplay element however. What if you could move around in time, not only change the past, but shape the future? Enter Acheron, an indie RTS that takes the time travel concept and actually makes it work!
So how the hell did they make it work?! The best way to explain it to you is through a few examples.
See this gauge? Yeah, it looks like something they use on you after a heart attack at the hospital. Don’t be intimidated, but this is the ‘timeline’. You have a Chronoenergy gauge that affects your ability to make moves in the past. Note that I said make moves. You are free to jump around various points in time with no cost so long as you do not act. It is when you act that you begin spending energy.
Let’s start simple. Say you’re walking around with a raiding party and you waltz right into your enemy’s defenses/army on accident and your raiding party gets instagibbed. Well shit. Any other RTS and you would have set yourself back a fair chunk or possibly a fatal amount against an equally skilled opponent. In Achron, you say screw this; I’m going to undo my mistake. When combat and losses happen, you’ll see them show up on the timeline. So you can jump back a second before, 15 seconds, or even a minute or two and correct your mistake.
You correct your mistake by reversing your orders. Note that the game still saves every order you made. So if you have them moving east, and you give an order in the past to move west, they will still try to move east if you were following them and clicking east along the way. Those of you are that are super active players, Achron may be your downfall. But fear not! You can highlight a unit or group of units and delete all orders to a certain point the in the past… at a hefty cost of Chronoenergy, as shown by the yellow consumption portion in my example. Every single unit you order, including all of those selected in a group, costs additional Chronoenergy to issue an order to in the past. You can limit your costs, but also your flexibility, by setting platoon leaders and having units mimic their orders. That way, you spend a minimal amount of energy readjusting your army. However, if the leader is killed, all orders are lost! Guess who has to go back to the past and fix everything again!
Fear not, Chronoenergy is an infinite resource that merely takes time to replenish. But say you actually go back in time, and save that army from the previous example. Do they just show up instantly out of thin air, you might ask? Not quite. Take a look at the graph here again and note that it’s marked off into sections by fading color waves, like a sonar pulse. These are Time Ripples. If the continuum is changed and units survive (or are thrown back in time! Yes, your future army can go back in time and save your ass!) you’ll see everything ‘update’ when a ripple hits the Present. Time is still marching forward when you are in the past, and every minute, the entire game may change.
“Holy shit that is a lot to digest!”
Yeah. Now wait until you see it all multiplayer! Time travel aside, you have your standard RTS fare of air and ground units, with three sides that have standard builders, one that sacrifices workers to build buildings, and one that summons multiple buildings at a time if they so desire. Gosh that sounds familiar… but you know, I’m not going to give them shit, because the time system is the most innovative RTS idea since squad combat was introduce back in Kohan. The units themselves have a lot of unique abilities such as deploying into factories that can produce different units depending on what other types of units are doing the same nearby, so you've got some unique toys to go alongside your flux capacitor.
The Achilles heel of many indie games, and perhaps the one thing keeping Achron from feeling truly great…. It’s not pretty to look at.
One of the less inspiring settings. Note the complete lack of projectiles--very few units actually shoot anything at all, and you just see impact effects on your target. Booooring.
The game has an extremely dull color scheme and minimal effects. You can barely tell when units are attacking and being attacked due to the lack of particles or animation. The game could really freakin’ benefit from some lighting effects in combat, building, or otherwise. These flaws are pretty serious and you can’t go back in time to fix these. Also, the characters in the single player cutscenes look like DeviantArt fanfiction drawings.
Riveting dialogue punctuated by amazing sprites, right? Fortunately, you can skip all of these quickly when you're done laughing at them.