You might not think that time travel, dinosaurs, Nazis, and kittens have anything in common, and until the release of Zombie Cow Studios' Time Gentlemen, Please!, they probably didn't. However, all these seemingly unrelated elements--and a whole lot more--show up in the indie developer's first commercial game. The new adventure builds on the story of its freeware predecessor, Ben There, Dan That!, and the result often shows impressive technical and storytelling ingenuity, although some obscure puzzles, particularly raunchy dialogue offered only in text, and the occasional pathfinding issue could mar the experience for some players.
TGP's story begins where BTDT's left off, but a nicely done comic book-style introduction recaps the previous game's events. In a nutshell, London roommates Ben and Dan were suddenly kidnapped by aliens after dangling a coat hanger out of their apartment window in an attempt to get better television reception. The duo successfully navigated a series of otherworldly dimensions in hope of getting back to their normal lives, but in the end, the pair discover they have to make one more trek before they can finally go home.
The after-effects of Ben and Dan's prior inter-dimensional jaunting form the backdrop for TGP's plot, when they realize that the "aliens" who kidnapped them were actually their future selves in disguise. The duo then hatch a plan to go back in time using a priceless piece of technology you'll come across in the beginning of the game. In so doing, they aim to stop the coat hanger from being invented in the first place, thereby restoring the balance of space-time once and for all. Unfortunately for them, the device malfunctions and eventually falls into the wrong hands, and Ben and Dan spend the rest of the game trying to get it back while the fabric of the universe unravels before their eyes. Time-travelling conflicts certainly aren’t original, but this is such a novel take on the premise that I was interested in the game from the beginning. And despite its heavy comic emphasis, there is a definite sense of panicked urgency brought about by the "fate-hangs-in-the-balance" plot, a feeling that intensifies as you progress through the story.
The game's ten major locations are quite diverse, including a dense jungle, a jail cell in the Tower of London, and even the game world described in a text adventure players come across in another location. It’s not just the “where”, however, but the “when”, as the locations exist in a few different timeframes--for example, during the final days of World War II or all the way back to prehistory. Together they feel eclectic and (purposely) mismatched, and help to underscore both the gravity and the absurdity of the situation Ben and Dan have gotten themselves into.
While the focus on time travel and multiple realities provides an intriguing setup, it also causes some of the game's problems. The plot is mostly linear, but it's not always clear what the immediate goal is. Because the universe is collapsing and the normal flow of time has been disrupted, things you do in one location can sometimes affect the situation in others in ways that aren’t intuitive, creating a sort of "butterfly effect." Because of this chaos theory-inspired structure, I sometimes found myself wandering around aimlessly, checking if things had changed in the other locations or if characters had anything new to say. Ben and Dan at times offer subtle hints through conversation between themselves and with other characters, and once I discovered a solution to certain problems, I sometimes remembered a line of dialogue or object description that alluded to that solution subtly. Still, players need to be on their toes and pay closer attention to their surroundings than they might in other games, and even then it may not always be enough.
The game's puzzles are mostly of the "use-X-on-Y" type, but there are some dialogue and item manipulation puzzles too. While the solutions are mostly “logical”, that word isn't used in the strictest sense, as sometimes they only make sense after solving a puzzle. For example, you’ll need to open a corked bottle at one point. Naturally, you don't have a corkscrew. However, according to "TGP logic," something that vaguely looks like a corkscrew will do the trick. Some challenges require the use of a time machine to return objects to a former state or "age" them to a later one, and there's also a puzzle that requires you to open a door by pressing buttons in a particular sequence.
I figured out the solutions to most puzzles on my own, but had to seek help a few times. The game's more obscure challenges aren't necessarily unfair, but players have to be willing to think in unorthodox ways. This is certainly in keeping with the game's wacky premise, but I occasionally found them too obtuse--I'd think "That couldn't work, could it?" only to have the idea I brushed off as too implausible be the very solution the designers had chosen. Having said that, despite their far-fetched solutions, some puzzles are decidedly clever. For instance, Ben has to open a locked door by fooling its DNA sensor into thinking he is another character, and he and Dan get the genetic material from an unlikely source that we won't soon see again in a game.Continued on the next page...
What our readers think of Time Gentlemen, Please!
Posted by Antrax on Dec 21, 2013
TGP is a wonderfully-executed old school game. It's done well enough that it doesn't fall too short of the obvious comparison to Day of the Tentacle. The game is absolutely hilarious. Dialogue is top notch throughout. Moreover, there's a lot of attention to...