You never quite know what you’re going to find on the other side when you step through the stargate, and when it came to Stargate: Timekeepers, I certainly wasn’t expecting a very competent stealth tactics game. All the same, slinking across varied alien worlds and setting up well-timed tactical ambushes ended up feeling like a natural fit for the types of budget-constrained capers SG-1 got up to in earlier seasons of the show. The story isn’t anything to report back to command about, but the vibes and presentation hit the spot.
Timekeepers definitely takes its cues from the Stargate: SG-1 television show – though it focuses on a completely new team of quippy characters. The slightly campy tone is pleasantly reminiscent of an era before prestige TV, when things were a bit less grim and serious and you might see United States Air Force officers knocking out alien soldiers and tying them up with ropes. At the same time, it doesn’t come off as overly goofy or comedic, striking what I found to be a good balance.
Stargate: Timekeepers Gameplay Screenshots
The fast-paced plot is set in the same universe as SG-1 and Atlantis, picking up during the seventh season’s climactic Battle of Antarctica, before following a parallel adventure completely new to Timekeepers. Therein lies a bit of a problem, though. If you don’t know anything about Stargate lore, the writers are basically hurling you off a cliff. There’s no effort made to explain what Stargate Command does, who the Jaffa or the Goa’uld are, or why Earth is currently at war with someone named Anubis. I had to go wiki diving to remember what was going on at this point, and I’ve seen the whole series multiple times – granted, it’s been more than 10 years since my last rewatch. It seems intended for existing SG-1 fans only.
The team I assembled across Timekeepers’ seven initial missions – the first half of what is planned to be a 14-episode «season,» with the second half coming later this year – is made up of soldiers and misfits who are a bit two-dimensional in their portrayal, but endearing enough. Each deployment can take anywhere from 45 minutes to a couple hours, depending heavily on how careful or aggressive I wanted to be. Our intrepid leader is Store Brand Samantha Carter: Colonel Eva McCain. No, I mean really – from appearance to personality, it seems almost like this character originally was intended to be Amanda Tapping’s Colonel Carter from the TV show. At least, they’re definitely cut from the same cloth. Not that I mind that too much.
We also have the too-cool-for-school sniper Max Bolton, a rebel Jaffa named A’ta who comes with her very own «Indeed,» and the nervous, quirky scientist Derrick Harper. The way they play off each other in dialogue isn’t especially impactful, but how their skills mesh together certainly can be. Timekeepers reminds me, more than anything, of now-defunct studio Mimimi’s excellent Shadow Tactics and Shadow Gambit games. Each area is a delicate knot of enemy vision cones and well-placed obstacles that I loved picking apart from the edges using each character’s abilities in combination.
Most areas can be approached with a range of playstyles. Eva is particularly good at a run-and-gun doctrine, clearing out whole squads with an exciting barrage of grenades and rifle fire. Limited ammo and the risk of alerting other nearby enemies meant I had to carefully consider when to go full commando, though. Alien expert Sam Watson, on the opposite end of the spectrum, can disguise himself as a Jaffa and even speak their language, keeping guards distracted with small talk while the others slip by. This mechanic is especially interesting as only enemies of lower rank will be fooled, so missions with Sam often revolve around looking for more senior warriors you can isolate and knock out to upgrade your disguise.
The handy Tactical Mode makes it easier to coordinate multiple characters. I found the ability to issue multiple orders and automatically sync them to happen at the same time especially useful, for instance, when you need to knock out two guards without either of them noticing. I was a bit disappointed there’s no action queue, however – though you can tell a character to move to a specific spot before using an ability. Selecting multiple characters can also be a bit of a pain, especially if they’re not standing close together. I would have killed for a Ctrl + A command to select all my units like in an RTS, or the ability to hold Shift when hitting the F1 — F5 keys to add a squadmate to my existing selection, instead of cycling through them one by one.
Also, for all the freedom of playstyle it offers, Timekeepers doesn’t really reward stealth or nonviolence in any particularly impactful ways. There are lethal and nonlethal attacks, and for the first few missions I tried to only use nonlethal ones. The Jaffa are just brainwashed humans, after all. But I was never even verbally commended for doing so, much less given any kind of mechanical reward. Decisions in one episode don’t seem to carry over to the next.
And while you will be told how many alarms you triggered at the end of a mission, there isn’t even any kind of medal or S-rank for going undetected. The only reasons to use stealth and nonlethal options at all, it seems, are to keep from alerting certain enemies who can call reinforcements – which will make the whole level harder – and the fact that ammo and grenades are a limited resource.
Timekeepers doesn’t look half bad, all things considered. The portraits, character models, and particle effects aren’t especially modern or detailed. But each level features rich and interesting alien environments, from a starlit forest settlement to an ancient jungle temple, with plenty of character to keep things from feeling repetitive. The level design also provided a satisfying difficulty curve, adding in new elements, like patrolling drones, at a steady pace and always making me think on my feet to adapt to the scenario.
I also really liked the mission intros, which are formatted like the «Previously on…» recaps from the TV show. A couple of them cut off awkwardly and seem like they may be missing some animations that were meant to transition seamlessly into a level. But it’s a nice touch. I feel like I’m playing through an episode of SG-1, and that’s a welcome experience for me. I also have to give a nod to the clean, readable UI and dialogue subtitles. The loading screens even show coordinates being dialed in on the stargate, which is pretty neat.
Things can go a bit sideways sometimes, though. In one mission, a patrolling enemy randomly found a body I had hidden something like 30 minutes ago and alerted all of his friends to come look for me. But we’d already left the area completely, so they were just running around randomly in a panic, bunching up on ladders, and completely breaking each-other’s AI and animations. What makes this worse is that you can’t save your game if there are any enemies alerted anywhere on the map. So I just had to hit fast-forward – a great feature for speeding up patrol cycles, and dealing with nonsense like this – and wait for them to calm down and go back to their posts.