A key art image from Stargate Timekeepers

Review: Stargate: Timekeepers (PC)

Well this is a blast from the past.

8 mins read

Stargate: Timekeepers is not a great attempt at bringing Stargate to video games. I say this with all due respect to the developer and publisher in Slitherine, and in isolation, divorced from its license, Timekeepers is good fun. It’s just a very strange project and I’m not sure who it’s for, given that Stargate itself isn’t exactly the sci-fi zeitgeist that it briefly was.

In simple terms, the game is a riff on Shadow Tactics, where you take on a party of characters, each with their own special abilities, and need to carefully navigate them through a series of levels, without them getting spotted by enemies too often. Yes, it’s an isometric stealth game. Every level is carefully populated with enemies that move around the space in precise formations, the line-of-sight cones swaying with them menacingly.

Rather than engage these enemies in combat – limited ammo and squishy heroes make it clear you’re not meant to fight your way through most encounters – you instead need to ghost your way past them. One character can flick a coin to distract enemies by drawing them in the direction of the sound. Another can disguise themselves as enemies and engage them in chatter about the weather as the rest of your party creeps on by.

A screenshot from Stargate: Timekeepers

At any moment you can pause the game and issue commands to all of your units, who will all act them out once you un-pause. This is used in surprisingly complex ways at times, and across the seven hour-long missions that make up the first chapter of the game (chapter two coming later this year), there will be plenty of head-scratching moments that will make you proud of your complex tactical thinking once you finally figure your way through an environment.

I just wish that there was more creativity built into the encounters. This is a broader criticism at this entire stealth sub-genre, rather than a comment on Timekeepers by itself, but for the most part, there’s only one “right” way through an area. Rather than being truly stealthy and tactical, you’re solving a puzzle that the developers set you to figure out if you’re able to sort through the right sequence of events to find the solution. When you play Timekeepers, or any of the other games in this genre, you’re being treated like the crows that animal researchers get to solve puzzles to prove how smart the birds are.

Coupled with some decent aesthetics, and as far as gameplay goes, Timekeepers is a good use of your time. What I remain confused about now as when I first loaded it up is why this license. Stargate SG-1 – which this game is primarily based on – wrapped in 2007. Aside from the Stargate film, which has a couple of licensed titles on old hardware, Stargate is better known as a property of cancelled titles than anything else. As far as I can remember there was only one game that actually got out of development and into release (Stargate: Resistance), and that was an online game that lasted just two years before being shut down in 2011.

A screenshot from Stargate Timekeepers

Stargate: Timekeepers is the first Stargate game in 13 years, released 13 years after the last live-action Stargate TV series (Universe) was shelved. It feels strange to play because of this. There is no ongoing relevance to Stargate in modern popular culture, and while Stargate was smarter than many gave it credit for (after all, a TV show where the antagonists are hyper-aggressive militant aliens that just happen to be the Gods of mythology has genuinely got something to say), this game doesn’t lean into any of that. It’s not throwing up the “trolley problem” moral considerations of the Lifeboat episode. Like some of the lesser Star Trek games, Timekeepers overlooks the non-combat bulk of these shows to focus on the tiny part of action, and in doing so it largely misses the point.

Timekeepers also all-but requires that you know your Stargate well, since the action kicks off during the Battle of Antarctica, which was buried deep in one of the later episodes of SG-1. It assumes you know the reference material and the significance of this moment, though, without so much as a backgrounder for people who are not Stargate fans.

At the same time, the license didn’t extend far enough to cover the cost of licensing all the actors from the show, so your party of heroes are like the B-team that tags along. It’s essentially a fan service project that wasn’t able to get the part of the show that people were the biggest fans of – its excellent cast and its great dynamics. The stand-in group of homebrand characters have a voice cast that does a decent enough job, but every step of the way they remind you how B-grade the project is from start to finish.

A screenshot from Stargate Timekeepers

On one level I am sure that there will be people that appreciate that, after all this time, they finally have a Stargate SG1 game. I just can’t help but see it as a missed opportunity on every level. Stargate was, at its core, a narrative-driven (not action) show about exploring the stars, meeting alien species and embracing science over religion. A more grounded take on Star Trek, basically. An isometric RPG in the vein of Disco Elysium would have certainly been harder to produce, but much more appropriate to the ideology and intent of Stargate than this stealth tactics title. It’s well-crafted and were it not carrying the license it would have been much easier to enjoy. Painted as it is, however, it’s far too dissonant and incoherent to be the celebration of the property that it needed to be.

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Matt S. is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of DDNet. He's been writing about games for over 20 years, including a book, but is perhaps best-known for being the high priest of the Church of Hatsune Miku.

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