Most improved sequel – probably. Game of the year…eh, maybe. Shooter of the year…hmm, could be. If you’ve been reading the site for the past two months, you might remember that I wrote up the preview of TimeSplitters 2, commenting on its improved features, newly focused gameplay, and other facets that improved upon the original game. Well, after spending a month playing through all three systems, absorbing every nuance and feature, I can truly say that Eidos has a surefire multi-platform hit on its hands, one that no gamer, I repeat, NO gamer should be without.
Disregard the original title’s lack of plot (actually a major critical gripe) because TimeSplitters 2 devotes quite a bit of attention to the single player experience within its Story mode. The evil TimeSplitters, a malevolent alien race, have stolen powerful time crystals and are traveling back into Earth’s history in an attempt to manipulate and destroy civilization. Space marines have been fighting what seems to be a losing battle to stem the tide of the historical onslaught with very little success. You (and a partner, if you wish to play cooperatively) assume the role of one of two heroes tasked with stopping the time traveling menace, retrieving the crystals and undoing any damage the aliens have done.
Creatively, when one of your heroes leaps in time, they take on the persona of someone from that time period. Ranging from a private eye and a gangster’s moll to a harlequin and a robot, the guises that you’ll don help you fit into your new surroundings. A summary of your “new” character and their personal objectives accompanies each time period leap. You won’t just visit the same place either. Instead, locations like 1895 Notre Dame and 1932 Chicago are two of the 9 times and sites you’ll explore. Along with looking for the time crystals, you now have primary, secondary and tertiary objectives within a level that you must complete. These objectives, as well as enemy and item placement, vary based upon the difficulty level chosen at the start of the game. So instead of breaking up barrels of booze in Chicago, for example, you might destroy boxes of explosives.
Most of the other game modes have returned with the same amount of creativity. Challenge mode, asks you to succeed at different tasks in a specified time limit, such as breaking glass panes or beheading zombies. Each level has three individual conditions that can be beaten for time records, trophies, and, more importantly, unlockable features. More than 90(!) characters can be found, including enemies and even characters from the original TimeSplitters game. You can also unlock new game modes that can be played in either multiplayer matches or the two featured Arcade modes. Arcade League offers different modes of play, ranging from classic mainstays like Deathmatch and Elimination to Escort and Last Stand. These contests are preset with characters, locations and items. However, for people who would like a little more control over their firefights, Arcade Custom allows you to designate options such as time and score limits, powerups, and weapon types. Considering that you can get up to 16 players in a multiplayer match, you can have the frag tournament of the century going on across multiple hardware-linked systems.
Speaking of weapons, you’ll never have to worry about taking people out with your bare hands (unless you run out of ammo). TimeSplitters prided itself on the variety of realistic and futuristic weapons, ranging from Uzis and pistols to laser beams and multiple target-acquiring rocket launchers. Many of these arms will make their destructive return in TimeSplitters 2, along with other items like flamethrowers, bricks and machine guns. While finding and using the items scattered around the levels are important, good level design is even better. TimeSplitters 2 is rather well designed, with large, complex levels that have plenty of nooks and crannies for enemies and items to hide in. However, inevitably even the best player will get bored with the stages found in the original title. This is where the mapmaker comes in handy. TimeSplitters 2 includes an amazingly simple construction tool, allowing you to choose between basic and advanced level design. If you know how to point and click a mouse, you know the essentials of building your very own stages. The mapmaking tool provides you with rooms, weapons and lighting schemes on a piece of digital blueprint paper. Once you’ve designed your level, you can take a quick tour through it to check out your handiwork, and when you’re finally satisfied, you can save it to a memory card.
Character models in TimeSplitters 2 have been dramatically improved, making a great visual impact upon gameplay. With very minor graphical differences amongst all platforms, Timesplitters is a feast for the eyes. Blood soaked zombies have a distinct gothic look that’s radically different than that of, say, ray gun wielding aliens or massive gun-wielding sentry robots. Plus, if you close in for the kill, you’ll also be able to detect grimaces or snarls on the faces of your opponents. It’s these touches that make the enemies seem more realistic and intelligent. Inverse kinematics have been implemented, a la Hitman, to affect the movement and death animations of each character onscreen. For instance, you can aim at and blow off an enemy’s arm, watching it stagger back with its missing limb, or you can take off their head, unleashing a spray of blood. Weapons are nicely rendered as well, with a unique design and animation for each. A Tommy gun, for instance, looks and acts completely different from a plasma autorifle. TimeSplitters 2 also does a phenomenal job of tracking particles and independent objects without any slowdown, so in thick gunfights, you’ll notice ricochets off walls and smoke from explosions, among other effects as your bullets fly through the air. Background textures are also amazingly detailed. Notre Dame’s stained glass windows and Chicago’s urban settings readily come to mind as standout levels with meticulous design elements. This also extends to the mapmaker mode, where you’ll notice items such as grates, steam pipes and boards placed around arenas. Add to all of this the fact that the game runs at a solid 60 frames per second, even during fast paced multiplayer action, and you’ll notice just how beautiful this game is.
Aurally, TimeSplitters 2 provides an immersive experience, with individual music tracks accompanying each mission. Ranging from the techno-infused uptempo music in Tokyo X to the jazzy downbeats in Chicago, the musical accompaniment to the onscreen action fits seamlessly. You’ll also notice ambient noises, such as growls, hisses, screams and other sounds that makes each level come alive. You’ll also notice that TimeSplitters uses the sound effects well in combination with the environments, so, for example, you might hear an enemy hissing from a darkened hallway half a second before they leap out at you. Plus, speech within the game, which can sometimes be the bane of any game’s experience, is actually well performed for the subject matter. It’s not Shakespeare, but then again, the next time I see Shakespeare holding a double-barreled shotgun or sniper rifle, I’ll ask him what he thinks…
But now onto gameplay, where I’m going to do something I don’t usually do. I’m not going to talk about how challenged you’ll be by each difficulty level, which should provide ample hours of entertainment to anyone from the largest first person shooter newbie to the most experienced veteran. I’m not going to talk about the rock solid control scheme, which is not only easy to pick up and get into but incredibly responsive to any command. I’m not even going to talk about the incredible AI, which is phenomenally improved in every way from the original title, so that most enemies will attempt to hunt you down and destroy you the best way they can (and that’s an oversimplification on how the AI works!). Instead, I’m going to speak about the lone problem that all three systems share, one that keeps this game from truly being perfect. That problem is the lack of online play which this game seems tailor made for. Indeed, there actually was an online feature included during the development of the game, but it was removed to focus more on the single player modes and the other sections of the title. While I applaud what the developers have done with the game, I still think some version with online play seems needed. Considering the number of hidden characters that you can play with, couldn’t you just imagine large, sixteen player filled matches with zombies, cowboys and space marines? Huge clans springing up based around time period characters? I can, and unfortunately, we’ll never get to see these kinds of destruction without a ton of friends gathered around multiple TV sets and systems. Secondly, it would seem that with the ease of the mapmaker tool, entirely new arenas could be spawned and uploaded to servers for everyone to share, allowing for a huge TimeSplitters community to spring up in the console space, a thriving aspect of PC FPS titles.
Hell, even without the yearned for online feature (please include it for TimeSplitters 3! Oh please oh please oh please…), TimeSplitters 2 is still a phenomenal title that you will want. With an improved story mode, loads of additional features and easy to learn controls, TimeSplitters 2 moves you past the trouble of having to learn complex rules and gets you right to the heart of the matter: fragging your enemies. This has to be one of the best titles that’s come out for every console this year, and you won’t be disappointed by slipping this game into your system. You may even find that it takes up permanent residence there.