Friday, 15 June 2012

Time Extended (Extend or Die) (PC)

One of the things I love about the indie game scene is the way it throws up surprises. I spend a few hours a week searching for games that are suitable for writing about here at RGCD and consider myself pretty-much on top of the day to day releases. However, when searching for something totally unrelated I accidently stumbled upon Time Extended (Extend or Die), a clever and well presented little arcade shmup released back in 2011 with virtually no fan-fare or press coverage - and it's a game that has quickly become one of my favourite finds of 2012.

The principle game mechanic is explained in the title - you play against a timer with enemy kills awarding extra seconds whereas contact with enemies, bullets or using your powerful secondary weapon deduct valuable time from the clock. Run out of time, and you explode. It's a clever amalgamation of old-school racer and shooter gameplay that I've personally not seen before and it works surprisingly well. Possibly too well - in fact I've not been able to put the bloody thing down for more than an hour before coming back for 'just one more go'.

From the outset, with it's fake coin-op ROM Check sequence you can just tell this is going to be special. Then up pops the game logo followed by a menu system that contains just about every option you could think of. As well as the expected sound/screen/controller configuration settings there's a whole load of other tweaks and switches here. Want to rotate the screen 90 degrees for an arcade cabinet? Check. Want to turn off the tutorials, or maybe activate one of the training modes? Yep, you can do that too. Online scores? Replays? Redefinable keys? Stage select? All present and correct, and if that lot doesn't excite you... how about the ability to import new ship designs by dragging and dropping a QR code into the game?

Yes - that's right. Time Extended supports special QR codes to import ships (called signatures here) into the game. The website already features a blue fighter in addition to the original orange craft pictured here - and if you check below you'll see that we've included an exclusive 'black' signature for you to download from RGCD courtesy of Atzel Lopez, the game designer and coder (thanks man). The new ships don't actually vary in any way other than appearance, but nonetheless it's a great and quirky little extra to include - it's this kind of attention to detail and support that helps to elevate a game from good to great here at RGCD.

Visually the game is actually much better than these screenshots suggest - the animation is really fluid, the artwork is consistently good throughout and there is a whole lot of weird polygon stuff and effects going on within the parallax scrolling tunnel behind the action. Likewise, the sound (which only activates after inserting a coin, just like a traditional 1980's arcade machine) is superb and really suits the gameplay, building up to a crescendo as a boss approaches or your timer starts to run low.

Talking of bosses, these are really fun to battle - especially the second stage which is basically a boss fight from start to finish, with you blasting away parts of a giant space dreadnought while swarms of bullet spewing craft emerge from its launch bays. The others I saw were impressive and well thought out too, with each having soft-points located at different areas as you break them down component by component and fighting back with intense bullet patterns. However, it has to be said that the real challenge here is ensuring that you blow away enough little fighter drones, constantly topping up your kill bar to gain extra time.

Sure, Time Extended will never replace my all-time favourite freeware shmup (Cho Ren Sha 68K forever!), but for now it sits up in my top five at least. I really wanted to give this game full marks, the only thing holding it back is that several people I've shared it with have had issues with the sound not working (I've only deducted half a point though because the three machines I've tried it on personally worked fine). According to the developer you need the latest version of DirectX installed on XP, although there's no mention of compatibility with newer systems. Perhaps you can give it a go and post your findings here? Oh, and spread the word goddammit - more people need to hear about this great little arcade blast.

Download the game here (from the Xretro website).
Download the exclusive 'black' signature QR code here.
4.5 out of 5