Timelapse: Ancient Civilisations

1996 GTE Entertainment
Designed by Ed Deren, Lori Nichols; Richard Moran, Sal Parascandolo
Reviewed 1997 August 8

Rating -1 Linearity narrow, branching
Reasonability deductive Connectivity minimal
Difficulty challenging Relevance weak
Interface 1st paned simple Real-time minor

Your friend, Professor Alexander Nichols, has disappeared from an archaeological expedition on Easter Island. You set out to find him. He has some academically unpopular theories concerning Atlantis and several ancient civilisations. You start on Easter Island, then seek after him in old Egyptian, Mayan, and Anasazi civilisations, and eventually come to Atlantis. The "good" ending leads on to a promised sequel.

If you thought Chariots of the Gods was fun, you'll like this backstory. Unfortunately, it gave little evidence (real or fictional) to support the professor's theories, so he sounds like a quack -- it spoils the mood. There's no developing story. It's just a trek through each site looking for the way out. The background of each site is revealed in Alexander's notebook, which you find on Easter Island. Alexander is the only live character you meet, and the character seems poorly written: his emotions jump all over the place from one sentence to the next.

Each site is a separate sub-adventure, with no connection between them. You first go through the three real sites, in any order, and then the finale in Atlantis. Easter Island, Egypt and Atlantis are fairly linear, but the other two are widely branching. There is little connection between the puzzles, although many are well connected with their environment: often you must find symbols or objects to solve a puzzle.

There are several good puzzles, usually requiring some form of symbol association (as opposed to inventory based puzzles). Unfortunately, there are also many tedious challenges, such as "find the hot-spot" (you must shoot an arrow just so) and some silly games. The biggest failing of many of the challenges is that they defy physicality: they could not be constructed in the real world, or would make no sense in the context of real people going about their lives. These kind of challenges destroy verisimilitude and immersion, screaming "this is just a game" at you.

There are a fair number of real-time challenges, but almost all are fair use: no frantic clicking is required. There is one annoying bit in Atlantis where you must defeat a "dæmon"; the worst of it is that you don't know there's a time constraint until it gets you, so you must restore. Even if there was some indication that I missed, it would be extremely difficult to accomplish everything you must do on your first attempt.

Most of the challenges are fairly easy, but there are several moderately difficult puzzles (time constraints aside). One puzzle, yet another silly sliding tile thing, has a bug: it's randomly scrambled and is not always solvable. You can simply restart the puzzle, but it's annoying (the odds are 50-50, but it took me five tries to get a solvable configuration!).

Timelapse is a very pretty game. The locations are nicely designed and rendered, with good ambient sound. The acting (you see several clips of individuals from the various civilisations) is mostly wooden, but it plays only a minor part in the game.

I noticed a few annoyances with the interface. Whenever you have to change the disk, it automatically ejects it for you. Under Windows 95, this caused an error (fixed by simply pushing it back in then ejecting it manually). The other problem was with saved games: wherever you are, when you start the game up you must insert disc 1 first.

Timelapse is more of a puzzle game (like The 7th Guest or Shivers) than a true adventure. While uneven, it does have some good puzzles, and they're wrapped up in an attractive setting.

Beware! Here are some spoiler-ridden notes on the game. They're only recommended for people who have played the game and want to see some of my rationale for my evaluations.
David Tanguay's Game Reviews
Here's a description of all the gobbledygook in these reviews. It's also a bit of an essay on the nature of adventure games.