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I got a PlayStation 2 two or three years after it released and the first game I got for it was TimeSplitters 2. I played that shit religiously for the longest time. My friend acquired the sequel, Future Perfect, for GameCube and we would play that often but I never actually acquired it, myself, until a few years ago. I think TimeSplitters is often considered one of, if not the best first-person shooter franchise for consoles. They contain plenty of content, a MapMaker, story mode, customizable arcade mode, and a diverse array of weapons to play around with. Developed by Free Radical Design and published by Eidos Interactive, the original TimeSplitters was released exclusively for the PlayStation 2 in October, 2000 and was a launch title. I never did play the original back in the day and only acquired it within the last year or so and that’s because I could never find a copy. I could have ordered a copy online but I just didn’t. I was in a retro game shop and saw it sitting on the shelf so I picked it up immediately. TimeSplitters would be the start of a franchise that has sadly not seen a new entry in over ten years.
Now I know there are storylines in the sequels and was sad to learn that there’s basically no storyline here. There’s no real narrative, no character development, no cut scenes, nothing. You can read a briefing in the Story mode if you pause the game during gameplay but you basically just go from level to level retrieving items only to bring them back to specific locations. Once you obtain the objective items, enemies known as TimeSplitters spawn or teleport in and try to kill you as you make your way to your destination. The levels are set in different years and time periods so there is some kind of time travel going on but as far as I know, there’s nothing really connecting the levels together or any kind of explanation as to what the hell is going on. If there is, it’s never made clear in-game. This is an arcade shooter at heart and I question why the developers even bothered including a “story” mode at all. They could have called it anything else because that title alone is deceiving. However, you will want to play through the story because that’s how you unlock things.
The story mode consists of three difficulty modes – Easy, Normal, and Hard. You must beat one level to unlock the next and after choosing the level, you get to choose the difficulty, your character, and off you go. And I will say this game is quite challenging. The first level alone, even on Easy, is noticeably difficult. Maybe I’ve just grown accustomed to newer games and hand-holding but I honestly didn’t expect to get my ass handed to me in the first level on Normal. But I soon realized there’s not that many levels in total. If you can memorize the level layouts and enemy placements, and basically know what you’re doing, you can probably beat the story mode within an hour. Hell, within a half-hour. I think you can beat most levels in under three minutes. The sole objective is to acquire something and bring it to a specific location. That’s it. The objective item may be in a different spot, depending on the difficulty. You may have to activate something along the way but you’re objective is essentially the same in every level. There’s no boss fights or scripted sequences. You run around the environments looking for the item you need, fending off bad guys, hoping they don’t kill you before you can get to it. There are health packs and armor pickups lying around but surviving will rely on repeated attempts, memorization, and quick reaction times, especially on the harder difficulty modes. It should be noted that your time is recorded and you can set record times for each level on each difficulty.
Beating levels in the story mode and on each difficulty will unlock various bot sets, characters, and levels for the Arcade mode. It should be noted there are more Arcade levels than Story levels. Beating the story mode in general unlocks the Challenge mode. The Challenge mode is basically a series of random scenarios that require you to do something specific. Some of them are just game modes seen in the Arcade mode. These Challenges will really put your skills to the test, especially because you can’t choose the difficulty in this mode. You’ll have to escort characters and keep them alive, one challenge requires you to destroy all the glass in a level before the timer reaches zero, and another has you shooting bank robbers before they can get away. There’s even a Shop ’til You Drop type of challenge. While some of these are fun, I think the real reason to play these is to unlock the numerous playable characters and cheats for the Arcade mode. The unlockable in-game cheats apply to both the Story and Arcade modes but turning on cheats for the Story mode will halt any progress you make until you turn them off.
The Arcade mode is the real meat of the game and is probably where I spent a majority of my time in the sequels. The Story and Challenge modes feel like a necessary evil just to unlock everything. The Arcade mode is all about fun and even supports multiplayer. You can choose the game mode, decide what weapons spawn, the bots, set score limits, time limits, handicaps, if you want friendly fire on or off, and other stuff. It kind of reminds me of Unreal Tournament in how much control it gives the player. You can select from multiple pre-set bot and weapon lists or set up your own custom lists. You can even set each bot’s individual difficulty and what team they belong to if you’re playing a team-based mode. There’s six game modes to choose from, some of which are only available for certain levels. Deathmatch is your typical every-man-for-themselves mode. You can also set up a Team Deathmatch by turning on teamplay. In Escort, you need to escort an NPC to their destination and protect them from enemies. BagTag has everyone searching for a bag and whoever holds onto it the longest by the end of the match, wins. In Capture the Bag, you need to acquire the other team’s bag and bring it back to your base to score a point. In Knockout, you need to find one of the bags in the level and bring it back to your base to score a point. And the final mode is LastStand where you’re restricted to a certain area of a level and must defend bases, which are just objects, from waves, or phases, of enemies. At the end of a match or level in any mode, you can view your stats and any awards you’ve earned.
It is obvious that this game does place a heavy emphasis on multiplayer but what I really like about the game is that it offers a great deal of content for both single player and multiplayer. I spent a majority of my experience playing Deathmatch since I found it to be the most enjoyable out of all the game modes. In the story mode, enemies will shoot at you, throw grenades, and duck behind objects and blind fire. In the Challenge and Arcade modes, the bots do perform well and will actually attempt and sometimes succeed at completing the objectives. My only real issue with them is mainly isolated to the Arcade mode; if you configure the match so you always start with a gun, it either doesn’t seem to apply to bots or they just don’t use their starting weapon. They usually start matches just running around looking for a weapon. It’s odd. Bots will often cluster together in narrow corridors and get stuck, which can also block your path if you’re on their team, and I saw one bot get stuck in the environment. Other than that, if you leave their difficulty on the default, they run around and shoot at each other and you, and they can hit you with what sometimes feels like pinpoint accuracy and drop you in seconds. I would say most of the time they’re well behaved and perform as above-average AI allies and foes. I really love the amount of customization the game gives you because you can essentially tailor the gameplay to your liking, at least in the Arcade mode. It’s just a shame you have to force yourself through the Story and Challenge modes to get the full experience.
No matter what character you play as, they all play the same. Because of all the time travel stuff, you’ll be exposed to all kinds of weapons – past, modern, and futuristic. Some can be dual wielded and some have alternate fire modes. For example the rocket launcher can fire a single rocket or multiple. The grenade launcher can launch grenades that explode upon impact or timed grenades that will bounce off surfaces. The Sci Fi Auto Rifle can fire bolts of plasma or some kind of explosive projectile. In addition to these, you’ll get your hands on tommy guns, rayguns, a blunderbuss, remote mines, timed mines, TNT, sniper rifles, an uzi, assault rifle, M16, assault shotgun, and you can even dual wield miniguns. It doesn’t get more badass than that. The roster of weapons is impressive as is the roster of bots and playable characters. You’ve got everything from zombies to robots. Sometimes you’ll have to contend with turrets in the story mode but every standard enemy you encounter can be unlocked for the Arcade mode. In the story mode and some challenges, many of the undead enemies can get back up after being shot so you’ll want to shoot their heads which will come flying off. Unfortunately, because the story is basically nonexistent, none of the playable characters are particularly memorable so you’ll probably base your likes and dislikes on their appearance and/or wackiness. I would say the game is comedic in tone with a cartoon-y style even in levels trying to capture a darker tone like the Mansion filled with undead enemies. But the tone and style works well and the gameplay is fast, fluid, and fun.
The levels across all modes are well designed for the most part. I think I got lost or just didn’t realize where to go in one Story level but that’s it. Memorization of the levels is key. It’s key in the Story mode just so you can beat it and to set record times. It’s key in the Arcade mode so you know where objective items like bags are, where the spawn points are, and of course where the weapon, health, and armor pick-ups are. You’ll traverse through a variety of diverse locations across all modes including a tomb, mansion, some kind of alien planet, chemical plant, castle, mall, docks, and bank among some others and each level has its own unique look and feel. The levels are open so you’re free to roam around them as you see fit. Obviously, in the Story mode you’ll want to find the quickest routes so you can set record times. The Arcade mode is where you’ll probably get to do the most exploring, even if it’s just to get a feel for the layouts. There’s plenty of rooms and branching paths, you may find vantage points, shortcuts, and in some levels are crates and barrels that will explode when destroyed.
The MapMaker is one of the coolest things about this game and the series in general. You can create your own maps for the Arcade mode. And thanks to the intuitive user-interface, anybody can figure this out. It’s very user-friendly. I know I spent hours creating maps in TimeSplitters 2 way back when and as soon as I jumped into the MapMaker here, it all came rushing back to me. You’re provided preset tiles that can be placed, rotated, and connected to each other, and some of them have stairs that can lead up or down so you can create multi-level maps. You can set the color of lights, their pulse rate, spawn points for the different game modes, set where the weapon, health, and armor pick-ups are. Unfortunately, you can’t place any static objects to breathe more life into your maps, which can make them feel kind of stale sometimes but it’s really a non-issue. You can decide on the music, theme, and when you’re all done, you can preview your map by navigating around it which is perfect to see what you may want to tweak. Then you give your map a description and name, save it, and it’s ready-to-go. The MapMakers in the sequels let you do a bit more but this is actually quite impressive, especially for its time.
You can tell TimeSplitters looks dated but the character animations are solid and many of the visual effects look pretty good. These two things alone actually make the gunplay feel satisfying. The textures can appear blurry by today’s standards, you won’t see any hands holding the weapons, the reload animations are basic, and I’ve read that the developers opted not to use anti-aliasing in favor of a higher frame rate. The weapon sound effects are loud and satisfying. Every weapon sounds like it has a punch and you’ll constantly hear bullets ricochet during hectic firefights. Enemies will moan and scream as they take damage and die and I felt that most of the music was easily drowned out by the sound effects. Many of the songs match the theme of their respective level so you’ve got songs that sound haunting, electronic, futuristic, and I would say most of the tracks are actually pretty good. The game ran smoothly throughout most of my entire experience, at least compared to other action-oriented PS2 games. The frame rate will dip when there’s a lot of characters, explosions, smoke, and action on-screen. I also noticed it dip when roaming around the larger outdoor areas like in the Planet-X level but most of the time, the frame rate is solid. I do question the placement of some of the configuration options. For instance, you can’t change the controls until you start a match or level.
I had a blast with TimeSplitters but I realized very early on that the sequels are far superior. They expand upon everything established here and in a big way. However, this is where the series got its start and I would say it acts as a great foundation for future titles but sadly, didn’t seem to have an influence on the industry or genre. I mean how many games give you this much content, this much control, with decent enemy AI, and provide both a fun single player and multiplayer experience? The only games I can think of is the Unreal Tournament series. Granted, I didn’t get a chance to play the multiplayer in this game but I have in future titles and considering that this is from some of the same people that brought us GoldenEye, I would be surprised if the multiplayer was anything short of fantastic. And it’s also worth mentioning that this game includes stat tracking. It’s a small thing but I love when games have it. This might be one of the greatest launch titles for any system ever.
I don’t know what the hell is going on with this franchise that there hasn’t been a sequel in so long but if someone was to tell me there’s no audience, I would immediately call that out as bullshit. I refuse to believe that. As of this review, I believe Crytek owns the rights to the TimeSplitters franchise and I know there’s been talk of TimeSplitters 4 and fans were given permission to develop a game which I believe is or was called TimeSplitters Rewind. Crytek needs to get the fuck on a sequel or reboot or hand the franchise over to a developer who will because it’s honestly baffling that there hasn’t been any new games in so long. Either they give us a new game or somebody or some team needs to create a spiritual successor. Just something. I would absolutely recommend TimeSplitters to anyone interested in the first-person shooter genre or action games but I will also say that TimeSplitters 2 and Future Perfect are better in almost every way. Still, it’s cool to play this and see how it all began and while it has some quirks, it’s still one of the best first-person shooters for the PlayStation 2. It’s also the only title in the series that’s exclusive to the console.