There’s nothing more painful in my mind than being painfully generic. See, I play a lot of games in this line of work and I’d be lying if I said I remembered half of them. The ones that do stick with you are either phenomenally good or utterly disastrous.
Those are the game’s that resonate with you long after the end credits have rolled, but the sad fact of the matter is that most games never quite reach those heights, falling into mental obscurity because they’re just nothing special. Maybe I’m weird but I’d rather play an absolute trainwreck of a game than one that’s painfully middling, not only because it’s easy to think of something to say for a review (maybe I’m too lazy) but also because at least that awful experience is a unique memory in my brain.
Yet a game like The Ambassador: Fractured Timelines is undoubtedly the kind of game that as soon as I’m done writing this review, will fade from my mind. Not because it’s bad it’s just…a competent bore. One that feels like it would have made an amazing Flash browser game thirteen years ago but nowadays just feels bland, uninspired and like a waste of time.
I can’t think of a single part of this game that doesn’t feel like a generic snore-fest. There’s a story about Ambassadors that guard time and your character, Gregor, just got accepted into the order and then something destroys your town and you get really mad about it so you head off to save the day.
It’s not memorable in the slightest with little in the way of lively characters, environments or plot points. The narrative is a structural tool to give the player a reason to progress through a variety of levels, each with different enemy types and general themes. You’d imagine there’d be room for plenty of creative opportunities, given you’re playing a so-called Ambassador of Time, yet every level is just a rinse and repeat case of vaguely different enemies running at you and dying.
You pick them off with your arsenal of weapons, none of which feel especially enjoyable to use due to the clunky mechanic of throwing weapons and drawing them back. The Ambassador wants to be a game hailed for its puzzle-like combat scenarios but since every level basically plays out the same, it’s an easy puzzle with a single solution: Just click the enemy and move on.
Which unfortunately just isn’t good enough in a market flooded with twin-stick shooters that have both enjoyable and dynamic combat scenarios. The big thing The Ambassador wants to lean on is the time manipulation or more specifically the ability for the player to slow down time in an area around Gregor to easily dodge attacks and dispose of enemies more efficiently.
Yet the mechanic that is introduced at the start of the game, doesn’t evolve at all during your journey, feeling less like an interesting way to interact with enemies and more of a gimmick to slap on the key points of the game’s Steam page. If anything, the slow down time ability makes the game an absolute pushover, especially considering that most enemies take a single hit to kill and those that defend against your attacks can easily be outpaced with minimal effort.
These problems of generic ideas carry over into The Ambassador’s presentation which, while initially charming, very quickly boils down into a retro style that has been handled far better by plenty of other games. In windowed mode, the game looks fine, but for some reason, the quality takes a dramatic dip in full screen, almost like it was designed to not scale.
The pixelated textures begin to look even muddier and I often found myself dying from enemies that just barely stood out from the background or attacks that were coming from off-screen which I’m sure I don’t need to tell you is super frustrating. Similar problems can be seen in the soundtrack which, despite having a separate release on Steam, is just bland retro fantasy tunes. Nothing special or unique and I just ended up turning it off to listen to a podcast instead.
It’s a sad reality that the twin-stick market is a little congested at the moment and while there have been a few games that have really placed their unique signature on the genre, The Ambassador: Fractured Timelines isn’t one. It commits the worst possible sin for an action game: It’s boring.
There are twinkles of a decent ideas here and there but none of them are explored in any meaningful way beyond an introduction. As I said above, as a browser game from 2008, this would have been pretty decent but even Flash games of old had more creativity than The Ambassador.
This a game that feels like an idea pitch that was thrown out into a meeting and approved despite very little thought actually going into how the game should play or stand out from the competition because in it’s current state, The Ambassador might be one of the most forgettable games of the year so far.
Last Updated: August 14, 2020