Image: Killing Time PC port boxart
Written by: Elijah Moon Blackwell
Spoiler alert: I love this game.
Also spoiler: This game sucks.
Right, so hear me out.
Killing Time was originally released on a console called the 3DO in 1995. It was released on PC in 1996. It recently got a digital release on GOG and Steam.
Like a low-budget horror movie, Killing Time is filled with gore and goofy tropes. It is the Friday the 13th of video games.
If it wasn’t for the PC release, Killing Time would be even more obscure than it already is. There aren’t many 3DOs floating around. I’ve only seen three in person. The digital re-release has also made it easier to play. No need to track down a CD or retro hardware to play it on.
The PC version differs from the 3DO. The graphics have been improved and the framerate is perfect; the map also got a revamp. I would argue that the PC release is the definitive version (I’ve played both).
On the CD-ROM Fossil YouTube channel I played through the game. I fell in love with Killing Time immediately.
The more I trudged through the dense and difficult areas, the more this love was tested. It’s a game that will try your patience but somehow stays charming. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let me first explain the plot.
The story is very creative
It’s the night of the summer solstice. The main character (who isn’t named) is a Egyptology student who is searching for the Water-Clock of Thoth. The student had a professor who had said clock but it went missing after a visit from Tess Conway.
Tess owns a gigantic estate on Matinicus Isle, which is a real place in Maine. The student goes to Matinicus Isle to investigate Tess’ estate because apparently no one has been to or left the place in a long time. The student wants that clock for some reason and to find Tess.
This is all explained in the opening FMV cut scene. Then the game just starts. You are on a boat with a revolver ready to go on a rampage.
But that’s not all! More specific plot details are told through in game cut scenes. It’s kind of hard to explain. In the middle of gameplay you can find scenes that happened before the estate went all demonic. I think they are spirits who are reliving moments from when they are alive? I’m not sure.
Regardless, these scenes give insight about what actually happened. They explore the drama between Tess and other characters, including a dude who really wants to be with her. It also sort of explains what the Water-Clock does and why Tess wanted it so badly.
They are completely optional to watch but they do help explain what’s going on and where you are. Remember that this a 90s first person shooter and graphics are limited. If you are unsure what building you are standing in due to the crude graphics, some FMV scene will explain (most of the time).
On top of these FMV scenes the enemies are related to the area they are in. Tommy-gun wielding goons are outside on the docks and in the gardens. Hunters with dogs are in the wilderness. Chefs are in kitchens. Maids are in the halls of the mansion. You get the idea. Sometimes the enemies are explained in the FMV scenes but their presence makes sense based on the surrounding environment. A lot of effort was put into making the world feel lived in.
And the world itself is huge
Doom has levels. The whole goal is to find key cards to access locked doors in order to find the exit or get to the final boss. Killing Time plays a lot like Doom. The controls and weapons feel very similar. The gun is in the center of the screen and typically you don’t look up or down. You also have to find keys or objects to unlock certain areas.
The major difference between the two is Killing Time’s world. There are no load screens or “levels.” You go from the beginning of the game to the end without seeing a stat screen or transitioning to a new level. You can go back to areas you have already been too. It’s like a small scale open world, which is impressive for it’s time.
Of course in the same year Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall released and it has one of the largest game worlds to date. However, not many games even tried a seamless world, especially not first person shooters.
So, what’s so bad?
The world is so annoying to actually play in.
On a first play through you won’t know where to go. You have to explore the entire map to piece together what you are supposed to do.
In practice this sounds like a good thing. Having incentive to explore is what separates good open world games from the bland ones. In Killing Time the need to explore creates a super frustrating experience.
As mentioned before, the map is pretty big. Even with a sprint function it takes a while to run from one side to the other. So picture fighting through a slew of enemies only to find out that you are missing a specific key for a door that blocks your progress. Now you have to sprint to the other side of the map to continue the hunt.
Once you do find the key going to the door you have to trek back to that spot. Remembering where that door was is the hard part. It makes the game somewhat boring in parts because enemies don’t respawn. So here you are, just running through an empty area trying to find that stupid door. It’s a bitter sweet experience. If the enemies respawned it would be more tedious but because they don’t it’s very awkward. You got fast paced jazz music playing but you are just running past a mass grave.
Not to mention the maze-like layout. Getting turned around is very easy. It’s also common to miss that one turn that leads to some item you need.
It’s an impressive map but awful to play on.
Then the the endurance round begins…the mansion
At first you are running around the estate grounds. You have to run to a lighthouse and then to a hunting lodge (I think that’s the correct order anyway). There are a slew of enemies in your path but most could be dodged by just running. Killing each enemy does make it easier to investigate the area, but it isn’t necessary.
Your main goal is trying to find an invitation to the mansion’s party. See, the ghosts are still partying and the spooky butler won’t let you in unless you bring your invite.
It’s a neat idea and honestly I loved everything. On the first play through I was enjoying my time. It felt like a shooter that was also a sleuthing thriller.
Once I find the invite and present it to the butler I crack my knuckles in anticipation. Surely the outside area was just a warm up. This is where the real game begins.
I was right. I also hated that I was right.
Every hallway and room in the mansion is littered with tons of enemies. I found myself frequently running away to find health or ammo. Loot doesn’t respawn. There is a limit to how much ammo you can carry at a time. So you can go back to previous areas to scavenge left over supplies. You’ll be doing this a lot.
Remember that this is before regenerating health bars was a common thing in video games. When your health goes down it stays down till you find healing items. A big slap to the face is health degenerating items. Blue orbs heal you but watch out, sometimes an enemy will drop a red orb and that one hurts.
Imagine running around killing enemies trying to avoid being hit. You kill an enemy, immediately run forward and BAM! Health is now gone.
I find myself running into a room and immediately running backwards as I shoot at pursuing enemies. Backwards is the best policy. No accidental red orbs.
Towards the end of the game there is a new mechanic introduced that makes the game even more of an endurance. I won’t spoil it. Let’s just say it’s something that just won’t go away till the end of the game.
Why I still love it
Killing Time has charm. It’s not another military shooter. It’s not really a clone of anything else. Sure it plays like Doom, but at the time that was how first person shooters were developed. It was kind of the standard.
The difference between a Doom clone and Killing Time is the unique tone. Killing Time took the standard of the era and morphed it into it’s own narrative.
The weird jazzy music is enough to make me want to play it again. The full motion video sequences act as proof that the developers were trying to keep up with the hot new innovations in gaming. A lot of love went into this game and it’s obvious just by the design of the game world.
Yes, this game frustrates me to my core. However, the game is something like I’ve never played before. The challenge also made for a rewarding ending. I survived Killing Time!
It is relatively unknown to the masses and that’s a shame. Play this game! Soon! Tell your friends! Investigate the mystery around Tess Conway and find that Water-Clock!
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