Timekeepers review – A poor use of the Stargate license – WGB


Let’s get this out of the way: I’m a huge Stargate fan. My dad raised me on a diet of sci-fi from Star Trek to Farscape, and a staple of that diet was Stargate in its various incarnations. The exception is the original Stargate movie which I simply don’t care about. But I’ve watched Stargate SG-1 and its spinoff Stargate: Atlantis somewhere in the region of half a dozen times each, and read quite a few of the novels that continued the stories from where the shows left off. I’ve always been a little baffled by the lack of video games based on the Stargate license, so Stargate: Timekeepers was an exciting prospect.

First things first, what exactly is Timekeepers? Well, it’s a stealth game, at its core, tasking you with guiding four squad members at a time through levels crawling with enemies. Based on the currently mixed Steam reviews, it seems a lot of people didn’t know they were embarking on a real-time adventure and left negative reviews based on the fact that they don’t enjoy stealth. So let me make it very clear: it’s a stealth game. You can shoot some stuff up, but most of the time you’ll be sticking to cover rather than raining down bullets. In a lot of ways, this does mimic the shows where it was usually small teams infiltrating locations littered with Jaffa, Replicators or Wraith. Of course, massive firefights weren’t out of the question.

Still, I’ll be the first to admit that stealth-tactics isn’t exactly what I picture when imagining a Stargate game. an FPS maybe, or even a full-blown RTS, but not a tactical stealth title. It certainly doesn’t help that last year saw the release of my beloved Shadow Gambit, a vastly better game in the same vein. Stargate: Timekeepers really struggles compared to that game or even a lot of other examples in the genre.

Available On: PC
Reviewed On: PC
Developed by: Slitherine
Published by: Slitherine

Review code provided by the publisher

Timekeepers opens during the climactic Battle of Antarctica from season 7 of Stargate SG-1. While the legendary team SG-1 attempts to secure the knowledge required to defeat Anubis, Timekeepers introduces two new characters:  Commander Eva McCain and sniper Max Bolton. Both find themselves near SG-1’s location and hatch a plan to help destroy some of the Kull warriors besieging the team, thus inserting themselves neatly enough into the existing Stargate canon.

After that, though, Timekeeper’s connection to the broader Stargate universe is negligible at best, and at worst an incredibly lacklustre use of the license by developer Slitherine Games. At the least, you might expect a Stargate game to involve actually using a Stargate, but you only ever see them in the background. While I don’t have any issues with the game steering clear of having SG-1 or any of the major characters appear because it would be weird having them without their original actors, it’s odd that Timekeepers doesn’t even let you visit Stargate Command or perhaps utilise some of the franchise’s lesser characters.

Without going too far into it, Stargate Timekeepers feels like it has the thinnest layer of Stargate paint slapped onto its surface. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it feels like the game was designed without the Stargate license and then given the coat of paint at a later date. That is, of course, pure speculation, so suffice to say that if the Stargate license was stripped out of the game it wouldn’t make much difference.

If you aren’t familiar with Stargate lore, then you’re going to have a bad time. Timekeepers are not interested in helping onboard newer fans, never once stopping to provide even the vaguest explanation about who Anubis is, why the Earth is at war, what a Stargate is, who the Jaffa are, what SG-1 is or anything else you can imagine. However, I don’t think this counts as a negative: it’s a game aimed at Stargate fans, and I can respect the choice to focus purely on that fact, even if it doesn’t do a great job of using the license.

Once the opening mission is out of the way and a tenuous connection to the greater Stargate universe is established, Timekeepers sidles away into its own story involving small-time Stargate villain Moloc doing some small-time villain stuff. Eva and Max get joined by a few more characters as well; there’s A’ta, the rebel Jaffa that is trying very hard to be a female version of Teal’c; Sam, an alien languages expert; and finally Derrick, a nervy scientist with a penchant for drones.

There is, in theory, some sort of story explaining why you bounce from planet to planet, with each mission being prefaced by a slightly odd “now on Stargate Timekeepers!” cutscene that’s meant to provide some context for what’s happening. Except it doesn’t. These mission intros talk about things that never happened when you were playing the prior missions, making for a confusing mess.

While I do appreciate the attempt to make the levels feel like episodes from the TV show using this format, it really doesn’t work. The voice acting is iffy at best and the writing utterly forgettable, and by just a few missions in I had already lost interest in what we were supposed to be doing and who was who.

It’s the same story in the missions, too. As you sneak around Jaffa and set up ambushes there are ample chances for the characters to banter, but Slitherine rarely take those opportunities and when they do the back and forth is lifeless, and doesn’t help develop the different personalities. Jaffa resistance fighter A’ta suffers the most from this as the writers clearly attempted to mimic Teal’c from the show, painting her as a stoic warrior. But while Christopher Judge’s natural charisma helped ensure Teal’c was an engaging on-screen presence while his stoic outer layer was peeled away, A’Ta comes across as bored and bland. The rest of the cast doesn’t do much better, from the cocky sniper Max to the crazy scientist who tosses out drones. Stargate as a whole is defined by its characters, almost all of whom are interesting and charismatic, but Timekeeper’s is defined by cardboard personalities.

The gameplay hits all the main staples of the genre, right down enemy’s cones of vision that must be carefully skirted around to the ability to pause the game, queue up commands and have them executed. Each of the five playable characters comes with a small selection of unique skills designed to let them sneak around, knock out guards or occasionally just murder whatever gets in the way. A lot of your time will be spent carefully eyeing up patrol routes and picking off guards by smacking them in the head, hogtying them and then tossing the body in a hedge or off a cliff.

While Shadow Gambit had large areas and a sense of playfulness in approaching situations, Timekeeper’s is a lot more linear. Its levels are tight, and there’s a sense that you’re attempting to find the intended solution through trial and error rather than coming up with crazy methods. That isn’t to say there’s zero room for experimentation – I’m pretty sure one or two of my barmy plans weren’t what the developers envisioned. Still, for the most part, it felt like I was slowly puzzling out how Slitherine wanted me to move forward.

It’s actually reasonably challenging in some ways as there’s not a whole lot of room for error. Some complications are thrown into the mix as well: Jaffa wearing their helmets can’t simply be knocked out, instead, they have to be scouted out by Eva McCain first or else just avoided. Special drones hovering above the ground can also see you hiding in bushes and can only be destroyed by using an energy-based ability followed by a lethal attack, meaning some character combinations can kill them outright. Clever use of skills is vital, then, whether that’s Sam’s handy ability to disguise himself as a Jaffa and saunter around or judicious use of stun grenades to take out multiple foes at one, or dropping decoys to lure in unsuspecting chumps. While they might be lacking in the personality department, your squad do have some decent skills at hand they make them all play reasonably differently, though I typically found A’ta to be the least useful and interesting of the bunch.

It’s quite satisfying when you pull off daring plans or only just make it into cover before a guard spots you. Quickly ordering the squad around and figuring out the best combination of abilities and moves feels great. But compared to other games that do similar things, Timekeepers struggles to set itself apart in any meaningful way. I hate to keep going back to the well, but Shadow Gambit offered up a crew of colourful characters with fascinating abilities, much like Desperados 3 did, and compared to those games Timekeeper’s gameplay is kind of uninspiring.

The AI isn’t really up to snuff, either. You can knock out a whole group with a stun grenade and when they wake up they’ll go back to standing in the same spot, completely ignoring the fact that six of them were rendered unconscious at the same time by an unknown force. If you take out a guard who is conversing with a pal, said pal will continue to chat to thin air. If you are discovered and the alarm is raised, it’s very easy to gather up your crew and hide in a bush without much fear of being discovered.

It takes until the seventh mission for the Stargate Timekeepers’ central concept hinted at within its name to actually pop up. And just when it does, the game just ends. Yes, we need to talk about the weird structure of Stargate Timekeepers. What’s actually available to play right now is only half of the game, with another 7 missions coming later in 2024, though exactly when has not been announced. The good news is that the concluding 7 “episodes” are entirely free. The bad news is that without them, Stargate Timekeepers feels like…well, half a game. Because it is.

Exactly why Slitherine opted for this strategy is beyond my knowledge. Taken at face value, it makes it seem like the developers simply released an unfinished game like they were running low on money and needed to push something out of the door. The result is an unsatisfying end to the meagre and forgettable story, a jarring cutoff just when it seems like the plot might finally be getting somewhere. The sudden nature of the ending makes it feel like the developers didn’t originally plan to have the game released in two parts because it doesn’t even bother trying to set up some sort of mid-season cliffhanger that leaves the player wanting more. No, it feels like the devs picked some random, arbitrary point in the story and split it there.

In the end, I’m not sure who Stargate: Timekeepers is for. It certainly isn’t for anyone who isn’t already intimately connected to Stargate, that much is sure. But at the same time, it’s so loosely woven into the Stargate universe that it doesn’t feel like it’s for fans of the TV shows, either. As a huge Stargate nerd who went into this looking forward to finally seeing Stargate come back, I didn’t get anything from Timekeepers. It doesn’t tie in well with the existing lore, it doesn’t expand the universe at all and it doesn’t tell a meaningful Stargate story. That just leaves the gameplay, and in that area Stargate: Timekeepers is decent but forgettable, and vastly overshadowed.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

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