I am going way back with this one. During the mid 90s there were a lot of fluctuations in the console market. As CD format consoles started to appear we had a period where the console war exploded with multiple platforms.
While most gamers know about the Nintendo 64, Sega Saturn and the Playstation, Panasonic and Atari also tried their hand with the 3DO and the Jaguar respectively. The best way to describe the 3DO would be the middle child between the SNES and the Playstation. The 3DO only lasted a few years and during its last year, they released the game: Killing Time.
Killing Time is an unusual game in the fact that not many people have played it. There are no gamefaqs for it, or walk-through videos on YouTube. This is a shame as there are several things to like about the game, but sadly they were overshadowed by major issues. The fact of the matter is that this is a case where a great game was made on the wrong platform and time.
The plot which is one of the game’s strengths is that you play an ex-Egyptology student in search of a mysterious Egyptian water clock. The story is that the clock can grant immortality and was lost in the 1930s. The last known whereabouts was on the private island of Tess Conway, a socialite obsessed with mythology, danger and high society. Everyone on the island including Tess disappeared one night leaving the island estate abandoned.
Your mission is to explore the island and figured out what happened and hopefully find the water clock. The game world is open ; once you get into the mansion, you’re free to wander around looking for clues and weapons. Spirits in the form of Tess can be interacted with to watch a brief FMV sequence of the major characters in the game. Some of them show a scene from the past while some have them talking directly to you.
Killing Time is one of those games that had style even for being from the 32 bit era. The soundtrack had several arrangements that sounded like they came straight out of the 30s and it also had a very catchy end theme. The game may also win the award for strangest ensemble of enemy characters in a game.
Here is a brief list: duck hunters and ducks, smoking skeletons (smoking as in smoking a cigarette),giant slugs and cockroaches, maids that punch you, old ladies that throw whiskey bottles at you and clowns that I believe attack by groping you (I’m not kidding.) Also it was one of the first open ended FPS that came out. Sadly while the game sounds great so far, it has several things standing in its way of greatness.
Killing Time as mentioned is one of the first original FPS on the console market. Because of this, it came out before analog sticks were popularized and on a system before they were invented. Playing a FPS using a directional pad brings back memories of a special kind of hell. Movement is very jerky and even with strafe buttons, not easy to avoid attacks. Sadly that’s not the worst of it when it comes to technical problems.
The frame rate takes a dive when there are several enemies moving on screen, making the jerky movement worse. Because the 3DO wasn’t exactly a powerhouse, there are very few room templates, and many areas feature the same exact corridor designs repeat constantly. If the game didn’t have a mapping feature, I couldn’t see a way not to get lost.
The gun play is not that good, and there were times that my shots were missing even though I was aiming dead on at the enemy. Speaking about the enemy, another old convention of FPS design, were mindless enemies. Every enemy follows the same pattern of wandering around and attacking a few times.
While the game is open world, the level design really gets in the way of exploring. Killing Time came out during the time where FPSs were about huge sprawling levels with no realistic design. Areas are made up of twisting corridors and there are a lot of places that seem to have nothing important in them. The problem is that you are going to explore them anyway, not by choice.
Keys are hidden around the world which opens up further areas. However instead of lavish areas or recognizable spots to find them, expect to find them in one of the many room templates that are copy and pasted. I literally stumbled on one key while just wandering around a sewer area checking every room.
It’s a pain to be going through multiple areas to only be stopped by a door and have no idea where the key is. The in game map only works for the current area and there is no major map of the island making it easy to get lost. Even stranger with the level design, I noticed how some areas have two paths to the same area, with one being the more annoying way.
For example, one puzzle requires the player to turn on the correct sequence of switches to get through, but doing that successfully takes you to the same place you would have gone anyway. Another weird example is where one area has a maze where taking the wrong way warps you back to the beginning. However, the path right next to it will bypass the entire maze and take you to the other side.
The difficulty of the game feels imbalanced to me. The settings mainly control enemy health and damage, along with how much ammo and health you get back from picking up power ups. On medium and hard, I couldn’t even get through the second area before running out of ammo. Combined with the technical issues, makes playing the game on medium or hard a greater pain then it should be.
Topping off the issues with the game, there was supposedly a bug that happens in the later levels that required the developers to reprint CDs. However, so few people actually played the game that far (including me,) that those bug free discs are hard to find. As a quick side note, I did actually get a reprint for another 3DO game: Brain Dead 13, but we’ll save that game for another time. After the 3DO went under, the game was ported over to the PC and given a drastic cosmetic change to the graphics and combat system. Still, it did not find huge success even with the enhancements.
Killing Time is an unusual circumstance, on paper the game sounds like a winner:” An open world atmospheric FPS where players must solve a mystery.” However, the 3DO was just not the right platform for this idea. If it would have been developed either directly for the PC, or just a few years later when the analog stick would become standardized, things could have been different.
True open world FPS are a rare breed, with the only other ones that comes to my mind would be the Stalker series and Farcry 2. With the popularity of HD remakes these days, I would love to see someone take a crack at Killing Time, as Stalker has shown that the open world design can work on the PC. We may never get the chance to blast evil clowns and maids to the backdrop of a 30s party again.