Review by Denouement
"Steady gunnin'...Keep 'em bustin at them fools, you know the rules"
Rare was the first-person shooter juggernaut of the 1990's, coming out in that time with perhaps the two greatest FPS games of all time, Goldeneye 007 and Perfect Dark for the Nintendo 64. But as it became clear that Sony's next-generation console, the Playstation 2, would come out nearly a year before Nintendo's GameCube, a faction of Rare splintered away to develop for the PS2, and secured a publication deal with Eidos. That faction became known as Free Radical, and the game they produced for the Playstation 2's launch is called Timesplitters.
Recently, in a frenzy for realism, many first person shooters have taken on a darkness that seems to contradict the fundamental meaning of what a video game is. With deep, involved plotlines, heroic player-characters, and villains with world-spanning ambitions, these games try to immerse you in a world that is all to real. But we play games to escape reality, don't we? Timesplitters takes this escapist path, aiming not for realism but for fun. Throughout the violence of the game, you retain a casual shoot-em-up feeling. On the negative side, it lacks the emotional and psychological impact that some modern FPS have attained. But on the bright side, Timesplitters returns to gaming the feelings that made Doom and Duke Nuken so much fun. The world of Timesplitters is so far from real that you can just sit down, play, and relieve your stress in a hail of bullets, rockets, and laser beams.
The heart of Timesplitters is its intense multiplayer. The thing you immediately notice is the speed of this game; FPS on Sony systems used to be a slow-paced affair, but the action in Timesplitters is blazingly fast. Utilizing the PS2's power to combine detail with amazing frame rate, even for four players (the frame rate is a constant 60 FPS according to the game's developers), Timesplitters has a multiplayer equal to that of Perfect Dark. With game types like Bagtag, Capture the Bag, and Deathmatch, plus Versus or Cooperative Team Play, there is infinite fun to be had here, and a wide variety of guns, like the Sci-Fi Autorifle, the Mini-gun, and Shotgun, add to this. A huge array of available options makes the game different every time. With a multitap, four player action seems to maintain the same graphical quality as the main, single player game. And in addition to four players, you can have up to ten computer-controlled bots in the arena with you. There are dozens of bot models to choose from and their strength is customizable to one of five levels. Arcade Mode also contains delights for the Single Player, such as the Escort game, and Last Stand, in which enemies just keep coming at you until you die. See how long you can last!
The single player Story Mode is where the game feels a bit rushed and incomplete. This mode develops through nine different levels, which are opened up three at a time. In each group of three, the is one ''ancient'' level, for instance in Ancient Egypt, one ''modern'' level such as a chemical plant, and one future level, with such names as ''Planet X'' and ''Spaceways.'' Each level is essentially the same; your player must fight his way through a level to retrieve an artifact, piece of equipment, or briefcase--an object supposedly essential to the fight against the Timesplitters. Once he acquires it, Timesplitters will start showing up, and your character must fight his way to an escape point. This surely sounds repetitive, and it is; in terms of variation of levels, Timesplitters is years behind modern shooters.
The plot of Timesplitters is, once again, pretty thin. Basically, it revolves around an evil race of aliens called the Timesplitters, and the gist is that you go to random places, get something, and then leave. Apparently the Timesplitters are after these items as well, though the reason is never made clear. (Don't expect the story to be further explained in the game--Story Mode does not have any actual story development). Also, the Medium and Hard difficulty levels of the Story Mode are excessively difficult; when they reach this point, a lot of players will complain about the difficulty. Nevertheless, nobody will have much trouble with the Easy setting, and completing Story Mode on Easy unlocks a third mode with yet more single player fun.
Challenge Mode provides special tasks for the single players, allowing you to show your brilliance by setting records, and often building certain skills with challenges such as ''Head-shot 50 zombies in 2 minutes!'' The challenges also allow you to unlock the vast array of hidden features in the game, mostly in the form of hidden AI characters and hidden playable characters for the Arcade Mode. There are twenty-seven challenges total, in which you must display your skills in all the Arcade Mode game types, as well as your shooting accuracy and strategy. My personal favorite is ''Flock Around the Dock,'' which demands that you kill 100 ducks in 5 minutes. The only disadvantage to all three modes is a control system that is somewhat counter-intuitive, as both the left and right analog sticks are used to control movement and aiming, not one for movement and one for aim. While this system takes a good amount of practice to get used to, it is also fairly simple and efficient once you catch the hang of it, and in this sense is no worse than any other control system.
As in the ''Flock Around the Dock'' challenge, the very idea that Duckmen are enemies in this game expresses one of its basic tenets; instead of going for the dark feeling that was often present in Rare's N64 games, Free Radical has made Timesplitters almost cartoonishly fun. Enemies and characters such as Zombies, Robots, Bunnies, Duckmen, Gingerbread Men, and the ever-lovable Robofish add a sense of humor to the game that makes it a lot of fun to play. However, all these characters, while far from ''realistic,'' are beautifully rendered and have excellent motion animations, so you aren't distracted by their weird appearance. The ''heroic'' playable characters of Story Mode are also a somewhat motley crew, foremost among them Captain Ash, the cigar smoking British leader of the troop. The levels have a unique flair to them as well, with strange colors and moody lighting providing the perfect backdrop for the action.
Sound effects in this game are what you would expect, with accurate sounds for the weapons and well-done laser sounds for the futuristic ones. Footstep sounds are provided as well, but the best sound is the noise made when enemies spawn near you, a ''whoosh'' that makes you feel good as you slaughter the as-yet-unarmed enemy. The music is the kind of frenzied, up-tempo stuff appropriate for this kind of game, though in some places a different, slower, and more ominous theme kicks in. All in all the audio effects are well above average, but not great. Windows break as well with a shattering of glass. This brings about some impressive sound effects as you spray machine gun fire through some of the game's huge bay windows.
If all this isn't enough for you, prepare for the best feature ever: ARENA EDITOR! Yes, Timesplitters has a fully capable map editor, in which you design your own arenas and save them to the memory card. You can edit not only the design of the map, but the colors and lighting, and of course you can place weapons, armor, and spawn points in your map. Lights are at your control also: you can make them bright or dim, steady or flickering, and can control the rate for flashing lights. They can be gray, green, red, lavender, magenta....you get the picture. Also, you can choose between one of a few styles for your map, which affect the general look of the Arena: possibilities include Gothic, Space Port, and Virtual. While not an amazing editor, your arenas can be huge--up to SEVEN separate levels, and floor space is limited only by the 8 MB memory card--and it is the best level editor I've seen on an FPS console game, with a consummate array of features and options.
Over 50 secrets provide a great deal for the single player to unlock, and the Map Editor will allow limitless replay value. However, the game truly shines in multiplayer; Timesplitters may have the best FPS deathmatch of any game, ever. This game is perfect in almost every dimension; I would be surprised if a better FPS comes out for PS2 before the arrival of Timesplitters 2!
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 06/21/02, Updated 04/10/03
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