After A Prophecy of Dragons didn’t quite hit the heights of the previous T.I.M.E Stories adventures, you’d be forgiven for thinking the honeymoon period was over, and the initial excitement of the game’s storytelling mechanics were starting to falter a little. My own concerns stemmed from the fact that the three missions we’ve already seen were written at more or less the same time, as was Under the Mask, so with no player feedback to go on I was genuinely doubting how well Under the Mask would go. Well, I needn’t have worried; the latest mission for our time travellers takes a huge leap back towards the top of the tree, and discovers the excellent story telling form we enjoyed from the Asylum and Marcy Case missions.
This time we’re leaping back to ancient Egypt, and if you’re thinking if picking this up then don’t panic, we’ve banished all spoilers from these pages so none of the story’s secrets or puzzles will be revealed. What I can say, however, is that Under the Mask feels quite laid back as far as a T.I.M.E Stories mission goes. We spent a long time just exploring, figuring out who to talk to, where to go, and which items to try and get hold of and effectively honing our final route in a far more relaxed way. There wasn’t the fear of experimentation that we’ve had before, and while there are certain risks along the way the level of combat and danger was relatively low. Also, the multiple run-throughs didn’t feel anywhere near as repetitive as previous stories, and with that being a bugbear for a few people who we’ve spoken to it’s great to know that even with three or four runs before reaching the end of the game you’re unlikely to recover much of the same ground.
On the same theme as things being a bit more relaxed, there’s also less puzzling to be had here, and instead of several puzzles chaining together we now have one overriding puzzle which builds up bit by bit throughout the story. There’s also a very cool new mechanic in the game which I won’t share with you, but only goes to emphasise already just how flexible and manageable the main game engine is – we’ve now had four stories, with extremely different scenarios, different rules and different mechanics, and the only thing which has changed has been the deck of cards. That’s pretty cool.
Those of you hoping to fire up an adventure with some younger gamers will be pleased to know that combat has taken a sizeable step back as well, and while it’s still not going to suit an evening with your five year old, running through this with your teenage kids could provide a whole new perspective on the mysteries you come across without the worry of anything too excessive cropping up throughout the game. It’s a pretty friendly length too, with each run through taking around an hour, and the final ending being reachable in 4 or 5 runs. That means you could casually get through it in a couple of weeks if you invest in some weekend time, or just hammer it in one long evening. Either way it’s an entirely sensible amount of time for the adventure to last, and still allows plenty of time to explore and investigate before you run out of time units and have to head back to the start.
And so we’ve reached the end of the initial set of four expansions for T.I.M.E Stories, and on the whole everything has been fantastic so far. Under the Mask shows a true return to form after the disappointing Prophecy of Dragons, and will prove to be a fantastic addition to your gaming shelves. The big question now, of course, is where do we go next? In this Quantum Leap style setup there are very few limits, especially with the developers showing they’re not scared to tackle fantasy settings. Are we going to the Wild West? Into space? An underwater city? You never know, we might even take a trip to the future. Wherever we end up I’m very excited to see what the next mission will be, and that’s all because of how much I enjoyed Under the Mask.
Review: T.I.M.E Stories: Under the Mask
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