Reading, Jan 2020
Time Machine is definitely the first game I’ve seen that claims a 60 second time limit – but of course there’s more to it than that. The time-warping plot actually has a 90 min limit in total; I won’t spoil details of the 60 second thing, but it’s a smart idea that provides the backbone of a game that is structured as a series of shorter vignettes.
For disclosure purposes I should make clear that the owners of Deadlocked are good friends of mine, and knowing that Time Machine is their passion project it would have been unpleasant to have to give it a poor review – so I was relieved to find it original, quirky and huge fun.
Jumping around time and space and solving the problems you find there: the premise might remind you of a certain long-running TV show, and Doctor Who fans will indeed spot some affectionate nods to that franchise (as well as to other classic sci-fi). Much more than any overt references though, the cheerful mix of time-hopping adventure and breathless, swiftly-resolved peril captures the feel of being in a Who episode. It’s not exactly a Doctor Who escape room, but it’s certainly Whovian.
Also reminiscent of BBC sci-fi is the style of decor. Time Machine is an ambitious game that’s been built without the luxury of a budget to match, and has a clear homemade feel – though simultaneously that’s combined with some slick electronics. This includes some screen-based puzzles, which might be a negative for some players, but they’re well done and not over-used, and I think occur when there are other things to do in parallel, which keeps them from becoming a bottleneck.
A standout for me in the room design was a certain moment of real beauty, made all the better by the puzzle for which it was used – it was one of those moments where I could quite happily have spent time just enjoying the decor instead of rushing on to the next task.
The game’s structure communicates a clear narrative. Adding to the sense of story is the energetic and amusing welcome briefing and a varied cast of characters. Most prominent of these is Wexie the robot who doubles as the game’s hint system, and who is a chatty presence in the game whether or not you need help; but there are several others, and the interaction and especially the humour add a lot to the game.
As with Deadlocked’s previous games, I got the impression that Time Machine has been designed much more for enthusiasts than for the mass market. It’s not a huge space – the team size has a maximum of four for good reason – but manages to pack a lot of surprises and clever ideas in, with a fun, light-hearted tone throughout. And I really liked the central idea of the design: there is something hugely satisfying about the journey it takes you on, from cluelessness to knowing exactly what to do. It plunges you into an unfamiliar and confusing situation; and by the finish leaves you feeling like seasoned time travellers.
Disclaimer: We played this game on a complementary basis. This does not influence the review or rating.