Hazardous Software's Achron takes the real-time strategy (RTS) games and adds a whole new dimension: time travel. Set in the 37th century, starship commander Captain Holloway leads a troop of dispersed humans on a mission to fend off an alien invasion across over 30 levels.
RTS novices need not apply when considering Achron, anyone who has trouble with RTS mechanics like resource management and unit building will find the game's learning curve to be wildly steep. The tutorial doesn't come across as helpful, as many of the new concepts the game introduces take several sessions to even comprehend, much less master. However, RTS aficionados will feel right at home with Achron, especially once they learn the various uses of the time travel system.
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The time traveling mechanic can be accessed at any point during the game, provided enough resources are available. Players manage the ability to time travel through the Chronoenergy bar at the top of the HUD. This allows players to replay certain scenarios to avoid obstacles and ambushes, but also allows for other cooler features, such as sending future reinforcements into the past to help clear out enemy strongholds.
Throughout many of the campaign levels, I couldn't fully comprehend the time travel mechanic. I mostly made it through campaign levels by using the time travel mechanic as a safety net. If I walked into an ambush, I could simply rewind time and try again. If a battle didn't go my way, I'd retrace an errant command and erase it from the timeline.
However, erasing commands didn't feel like an intuitive process. This isn't a simple matter of going back in time and starting with a clean slate. In order to erase commands from the timeline, players must double-press the Undo command (defaulted to the Z key) after going back in time. Otherwise, history is doomed to repeat itself and units will walk right back into any traps. I found several points where the Undo command did not respond and I had to frantically issue new commands to prevent my forces from walking into the exact same ambush they did before. This problem only intensified in later campaign levels, once I was managing multiple units in multiple timelines. I quickly lost track of who was doing what and what orders I was supposed to undo.
Even with those misadventures under my belt, I didn't realize the full potential and chaotic nature of the time travel mechanic until I went into multiplayer. Multiplayer unfolds like any other RTS; however, the additional element of traveling into the past and future made for some truly wild battles. Time waves indicating changes in history run rampant in multiplayer matches and it's amusing to watch units appear and disappear from the battlefield. Several matches devolved into games of cat and mouse, with my few remaining units jumping across the timeline in an effort to escape the large number of opposing forces that remained. It was entertaining, but ultimately a futile gesture on my part.
Achron's temporal experience is difficult to describe in words, just because of the number of variables the time travel mechanic introduces. For RTS fans, it's the kind of thing that needs to be experienced firsthand in order to have a chance of understanding. Players that love this type of game will like what Achron has to offer, a decent RTS experience enhanced by a new concept.
Achron's normal RTS game mechanics are solid enough on their own, compared to some of the other RTS games currently available. Hazardous Software should be commended for taking a chance and rolling the dice the way they did. It's a big risk to introduce a huge variable like time travel to this type of game, something never before attempted. Hazardous did it in the name of creating something unique and entertaining. For the most part, Hazardous Software succeeded.