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‘Zero Time Dilemma’: A Hard Pill to Swallow

If you’d watched the trailer for Zero Time Dilemma, like I did before volunteering for this review, you could be forgiven for expecting something a bit different. 



If you’d watched the trailer for Zero Time Dilemma, like I did before volunteering for this review, you could be forgiven for expecting something a bit different. While the trailer sells you on a balls-to-the-wall insane, survival-horror tinged, maddening, puzzle-solving, tour de force, the final product is something quite a bit different.

So, what the hell is this game, you ask? Well, Zero Time Dilemma can be a bit tough to sum up in just a couple of sentences, but let’s give it a shot shall we?

You’re gonna be looking a lot like Carlos here by the time this game is through.

So there are 9 people trapped in a desert base somewhere, and a guy named Zero wants them to play something called “The Decision Game”. It involves, you guessed it, making decisions! So this one element of ZTD, which comprises about 60-70% of the game, consists basically of watching cut scenes and making decisions every 5-20 minutes.

Unfortunately, these sections can be very, very tedious. Whereas the Telltale version of a game like this would have you constantly engaging in the conversation at least, you will honestly go up to 20 minutes, from time to time, without making a single input on your controller.

In fact, these elements got so irritating for me after a while that I began playing the game on silent, with subtitles, and just clicking past the dialogue once I’d read it. Making matters worse, even the skip element is kind of broken, as a single button press often led to 3 or 4 lines of dialogue being skipped, instead of the single one I was trying to skip.

You know those times in life when someone is explaining something to you in-depth, and you politely listen, all the while hoping desperately that they’ll get to the bloody point sometime soon? Well, get ready to feel that way a lot playing Zero Time Dilemma.

This might seem like splitting hairs to some folks, but it was the only way I could find the patience to finish a game that literally asks me to just stare at the screen while poorly-voiced (at least in the English dub) characters pontificate about increasingly vapid nonsense, and you’d better believe there’s a pile of nonsense in this game.

The fact that Zero Time Dilemma ditched the Zero Escape label (this is the 3rd game in a series) in most of its marketing led me to believe that a layman, like yours truly, could pick it up and play it without feeling completely lost but alas, this is certainly not the case. By the time characters start unfolding their entire back-stories at you, you’ll be so lost in psychic powers, time travel and the ability to shift consciousnesses with alternate reality versions of yourself, that you’ll have zero interest left in the new pile of information being shifted your way.

Hold on to your hats though folks because, while I have largely been negative above, you might recall that there’s still the other 30-40% of the game to consider. So what else is going on in this game? Well, the remainder of ZTD tasks different groups of characters with the challenge of figuring out how to escape from a locked room.

The escape sections are a breath of fresh air when they come along, but they can be very sporadic in showing up between acres of melodramatic exposition.

Luckily, these sections are far more compelling than the basic story elements. Though the puzzles you’re forced to solve to get out of the rooms can be a bit obtuse at times (figuring out to use iodine on potato slices to get a secret message is one example) they allow the player so much more freedom to finally do something that they’re a huge breath of fresh air when they come about.

Alas, though, since the game plays out almost completely random, in a totally disconnected series of 4 separate time lines (that themselves don’t even play out in order), you might play an hour or so straight of cut scenes before you find yourself doing some puzzle solving.

Overall, glaring flaws like this in the design philosophy of Zero Time Dilemma make its poorly-paced plot even harder to swallow, and by the time those credits roll for the 6th or 7th ending, you’ll be praying that it’s for the last time.

Mike Worby is a human who spends way too much of his free time playing, writing and podcasting about pop culture. Through some miracle he's still able to function in society as if he were a regular person, and if there's hope for him, there's hope for everyone.