Zeit2 (Zeit Squared, not two) is a horizontal shoot ‘em up developed by Brightside Games and released on January 12th of 2011. What an unfortunate and tortuous story this game has! This is a review of a fairly “old” game by current gaming standards (over a year old) but, like I used to say, shooting games (or shmups) are like fine wine. Age doesn’t affect them as much as other genres so it’s never really too late to review a shmup.
The initial trailers showed extremely interesting mechanics that involved time travelling and a heavy focus on strategy to obtain the best scores. It was dubbed as an interesting mixture of Braid and Osmos in shooter form.
None of its positive aspects and flaws could overshadow the disaster that occurred upon release: it seems that to get it published on Steam they had to look for the help of a publisher. In their case, that publisher was Ubisoft. You know what that meant. The game launched with TAGES Solidshield and a 3-machine activation limit as the terrible DRM/anti-piracy system on top of Steam, which is essentially another form of (much lenient) DRM. Talk about overkill. This action alone almost condemned it to be forgotten.
Months passed, technology moved forward, and through the course of the year, a lot of people began to update their systems, abandoned XP en masse towards 64-bit OSes and, overall, improved their configurations. Everything pushed forward… except for TAGES. This little piece of horrorware eventually rendered the game unplayable as a gross, unforgivable validation error would prevent proper launch. The situation peaked two months ago where pretty much every legal customer was locked out of the game. This experience alone proved you just do not slap DRM to $10 independent games released on Steam, let alone a shmup!
Luckily, the developers took the chance after being alerted of this problem and managed to get TAGES removed out of the game! So we can say that you can play it safely now. It’s rare to give a game a second chance but I feel Zeit2 deserves it. Guess at least some stories can have a happy ending. And an example that should be remembered for the future.
That concludes the tragic background of this game. Let’s get back to the mechanics as there isn’t much to explain story-wise. The graphics are extremely abstract. Nothing out of the ordinary but they do their job. Everything is set in some sort of surreal space where you find yourself fighting a mixture of light faunae and strange ships. You control a small blob of light that can grow in size as you absorb power ups, face bosses and progress through the available stages. You have an energy bar that starts at 100% and depletes the longer you keep firing so it’s definitely not a game for the trigger-happy or those used to hardcore bullet hell shooters. Timed shots are usually a must. Moreover, your ship gets smaller and smaller as you life goes down, making you more vulnerable to collisions with the enemies. And once you die, it is Game Over, no lives involved.
You will instantly notice the horrible inertia that affects the movement of your surreal blob of light. It’s a typical tell-tale sign of what is often defined by the community as an “euroshmup”: an almost derogatory term associated to horizontal shooters developed in Europe that commit a series of “big mistakes”, generally avoided by their Japanese, more popular counterparts. This includes elements like health systems, inertia and extremely long stages, all three present in Zeit2.
The fact that you cannot really reach all the enemies onscreen even when you are at max power and the special weapons become available can also be disheartening at first. But that’s when the time travel mechanics come into play.
Time travelling allows you to fast forward or rewind the action on screen, accelerating the appearance of enemy waves or letting you go back in time for up to 4.2 seconds and catch up enemies that escaped. The rewind feature gets the spotlight. Each time you embark on a time travel, a shadow of your ship appears on screen to deal with whatever threats you were dealing, leaving you able to clear the remaining enemies and build up a combo multiplier. If an enemy escapes the screen, you start losing those multipliers so it’s vital to destroy everything that comes your way.
If you shoot your shadow, it’ll release a full screen spread fire that will boost your output damage. Shoot the shadow long enough and you’ll cause a bomb detonation that will destroy everything on screen chaining an extra series of point bonuses. Land where your ship was before the time travel and you will perform a Perfect Time Travel, another source of scoring! Hopefully, most of the scoring system is explained through a series of simple tutorials so there isn’t any sort of black magic or alchemy involved. After a while, you’ll get used to cleverly applying the time travel mechanic. It feels very good to go back and amend silly mistake as well as causing massive chain reactions.
As mentioned before, enemies come in all sorts of abstract shapes. Some are only vulnerable while entering the time travel mode. Others will require you to trigger a detonation in order to stop them before they can cause you a lot of damage. Some will probably drive you crazy due to their speed. There is a lot to fight against!
Arcade is the core mode of the game, where you fight through all the stages in succession. At the end of each stage, which are divided in several levels, you’ll face a huge boss that generally enters into the bullet hell territory. Clearing the game will unlock some extra levels. You can also compete against others and beat their scores thanks to the integrated leaderboards.
Being an XNA game, it’s ready to play with the 360 pad. However, it is recommended to play with the USB version to avoid extra input lag that can affect performance in later levels, especially with the inertia that affects the ship.
Sadly, the game is not without its flaws. The biggest of them is the music. You can count with one hand the amount of music present in this game. Most of the songs are decent but, overall, quite unremarkable and far from being engaging. The music suffers a common problem with people unfamiliar with the genre: they become mere background noise. And a very repetitive ones at that! Shmups are extremely action packed games, usually no longer than a regular album. When the music doesn’t transmit that kind of energy needed to encourage the player to keep pushing forward, the action starts getting stale.
The abstract graphics do not help to improve this effect. Sometimes enemy formations come in clever ways that force you to think the way you are going to approach them, making full use of the tools and weapons available. However, the other half of the formations is just random enemies thrown in very uncreative and repetitive patterns. Eventually, some levels become a test to your concentration until the occasionally well-placed enemy passes by to screw your multipliers and force a restart because you didn’t have enough time to get back and destroy it.
This leads me to the last of my complaints and what I feel might put off some players: the extension of the levels. A full run of Zeit2 can take well above 45 minutes! That’s a huge length for a shmup! With the lack of musical variety, the inertia of the ship and the repetitive formations, Arcade mode (ironically the main one!) can turn into an incredibly boring experience. Luckily the other modes offer an extra dose of variety.
Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?
At an asking price of $10 and with multiple languages available to increase its accessibility, Zeit2 can provide plenty of fun for your money. The game is crammed with game modes, score goals and over a hundred achievements, which essentially mean even more challenges! Good luck getting the Perfect Time Travel ones. You’ll feel at home if you like that kind of stuff and the time travelling mechanic is a pretty unique feature despite getting a bit repetitive after a while. However, for the seasoned players (who will instantly get alienated by its “euroshmup” qualities) or people that demand great graphics to make their rigs sweat, there isn’t much to look at here unless you want pick it during one of the massive Steam sales. I strongly advise to try the demo first if you have doubts. Without DRM, Zeit2 can now become a decent addition to your PC shmup collection.
The Braid-meets-Osmos of the shoot ‘em ups? Absolutely. An instant classic forever to be remembered in the Great Hall of STGs? Not so much. A decent shooter no longer plagued by terrible DRM and now worth giving a try? Yes, absolutely!
Zeit2 Technical Summary:
- Time Played – 17 hours
- Widescreen Support – Yes
- 5.1 Audio – No
- Bugs – None
- DRM – Steam
- Control Scheme – Keyboard/Mouse, Gamepad
- System Specs – Athlon X2 3600+, 2GB RAM, 1GB GeForce 220GT
- Game Acquisition Method – Purchased hrough GamersGate
- Availability – Steam, GamersGate
- Demo – Yes