First posted on 22 January 1998. Last updated on 13 August 2009.
Beyond Time has had a turbulent developmental history. The game is developed by Jones Square Multimedia. Completed in 1995 under the title Obelisk, the game is slated originally to be released by Virgin Sound and Vision. Unfortunately, Virgin Sound and Vision abruptly exists the publication business just as Obelisk is to be released. DreamCatcher Interactive, the company which now distributes Jewels of the Oracle, picks up the right to Obelisk and halfheartedly puts a sticker on the box as "Proudly presented by the publishers of Jewels of the Oracle". The implication, of course, is that Beyond Time is going to be a lot like Jewels of the Oracle. Do not be fooled, it is not!
The story of Beyond Time involves a group of thieves using time travel to steal artifacts from past civilizations. Unfortunately, the indiscriminate use of the time travel machine has weakened time itself, thus creating a dangerous time rift between past, present, and future. It is the duty of the player to stop such acts of aggression before the worlds of the different times begin to collapse among each other into different alternate realities. An excerpt from the novel Obelisk reads, "Inexplicable events have recently transpired. The World's museums cannot explain how or why ancient artifacts are vanishing into thin air. These priceless relics have disappeared from their pedestals, locked cases, and gallery walls. Even the most advanced security systems did not detect a single intrusion. The Director of a museum in San Francisco has sent for you. He wants you to solve the enigma behind the missing artifacts. This is probably the most baffling mystery of all time. One can only imagine where it may end."
Beyond Time uses static rendered scenes, a handful of QuickTime composites of live action with rendered scenes, and lots of QuickTime videos to compliment its gameplay. The quality of the rendering ranges from barely adequate to quite good. The barely adequate rendering is used for the puzzles while the quite good rendering is largely wasted on transition shots. The uneven quality of the graphics produces the effect of traveling first class from one cheap looking challenge to another. While the live action composites work quite well, most of them appear in the first third or so of the game. The majority of live action in Beyond Time shows up as QuickTime clips on monitors where actors tell the player the game's story. Music and sound effects are marginal to average.
The gameplay in Beyond Time is below average, even for a title that is circa 1995. The problems start with the storyline. No sooner are you told that art is disappearing that you are drop back into ancient Egypt where you are greeted by a phantom priestess and a pair of living gods—Isis and Osiris. Wow! You think you are just looking for lost art?! Wrong! What you are really looking for are crystals that are supposed to keep time itself from coming undone. Huh? Seems that the world is destined to blow up sometime in the future and the only way to preserve humanity's past is to travel back in time to collect great works of art. Unfortunately, traveling in time may be what causes the world to blow up or some disasters to happen in the first place. This complicated story is only told in the video clips and is in no way reflected by the gameplay. While the designers no doubt hope that the effect of watching lots of video journal entries may lead to a growing feeling of dread in the player as the truth emerges, it is more likely that the only feeling that will do any growing is one of impatience. We have all heard the one about the madman who kills off the unsuspecting members of the team; Beyond Time does nothing to freshen up this plotline. The game consists of clicking around ancient Egypt and then jumping in time to Tibet, Yucatan, and Atlantis in order to solve a puzzle or two and collect the crystals. Your only reward for wading through all this is a taunt from the villain that he has all the time in the world and that he will be back. Swell!
While this is just a hunch, Beyond Time feels like an attempt to rescue a project that has started out to be something else. The shift in production techniques from ancient Egypt to the other locations, the effort to "tell" rather than "show" the story, and the reediting of the game's opening video sequence all suggest a production in trouble or, putting it in a bit more generous perspective, a production in disarray. For those of you who own a copy of Beyond Time, try this--without starting the game, go to the first CD and play the INTROS1.MOV file in the MOV directory. In the game, INTROS1.MOV starts in San Francisco, but the file itself starts in Egypt and details about a murder which appears in the MAKING OF OBELISK documentary that is also on that CD. The effect of this editing is to conceal the identity of the villain--not a bad idea since knowing the identity of the villain makes sitting through the video journals intolerable. Still, this is the sort of decision that should be made at the script stage, not after the entire sequence has been shot, cut, and sweetened with special effects.
On the positive side, the system command interface (save, load, quit) is easily accessed through a right mouse click. Online hints, provided through this menu (Egyptian numbering system, symbol meanings), are also easily acessible. Once a video sequence plays, it can always be replayed by standing in the spot where it is first seen. A black and white colored Strategic Clues Booklet containing hints and maps is packaged with the game. The booklet is stapled shut so to discourage peeking. On the negative side, the navigational interface (up, down, right, left) is maddeningly inconsistent. Clicking on the left or right pointing icon sometimes means simply turning left or right while at other times it means turning completely around. Another fault can be seen in Beyond Time's very first puzzle which sets the tone for the rest of the game. A vital object can be seen from several angles but can only be picked up from one. The game is also fussy about what it considers a puzzle solution. Two different puzzles (the Snake and the Mandela) can be solved in more than one way, but the game only accepts one solution.
Overall, a plodding, chatty, confused storyline, clumsy navigational interface, uneven graphics, and several pointlessly quirky puzzles make Beyond Time fit only for the bargain bin. Put in another way, Beyond Time is the game equivalent of a dreadful science fiction flick that promises to make all its dentist investors rich but fail miserably in the end.