Thunderbolt logo

TimeSplitters 2

Many games have tried to emulate the gameplay and success of Nintendo 64 classic Goldeneye over the years, but few have come close. Arguably one of the most similar and successful attempts was much-loved 2002 first-person shooter TimeSplitters 2, which is no surprise given the developers Free Radical Design were formed from a splinter group of ex-Rare employees.

screenshot

The first TimeSplitters game had a relatively speedy development, and launched alongside the PS2 in late 2000. It was a polished and enjoyable title with a wealth of excellent multiplayer options, but the lack of any noteworthy single-player mode was somewhat jarring, rendering the game very short-lived unless you had a multitap and access to up to three eager friends. So, first and foremost on developer Free Radical Design’s agenda with this sequel was to remedy this with a meaningful and engrossing single-player mode – something they cut their teeth on with a certain 007 game.

Theme WeekThis review is part of our inaugural “theme week” of content. Please click this link for more information!TimeSplitters 2 casts you as Sergeant Cortez, a futuristic Richard B. Riddick-alike soldier. The set-up sees Cortez – along with his partner Corporal Hart – assaulting a TimeSplitters space station in an attempt to retrieve the nine Time Crystals; valuable artefacts the ‘Splitters have stolen and intend to use to go back and change the past. However, arriving too late to stop them, Cortez has no choice but to pursuit the humanoids through the time vortex and stop them in the past before they can change the future.

The plot is rather flimsy and nonsensical, acting as little more than a knowingly-absurd justification to send you to a collection of historical and futuristic scenarios. You will travel across a variety of locations, from hunting down the lawless in the Old West, bringing down a 20th Century Chicago gangster organisation, to military facilities in 1990s Siberia, robot production factories in the future, and more. Some of the characters and levels are deliciously satirical (such as ‘70s moustachioed detective Harry Tipper and his SPECTRE-esque nemesis, Khallos), and Free Radical really cemented their obsession with monkeys with all manner of apes to play as and contest against (zombies, ninjas, robots…). In each time zone the ‘Splitters have allied themselves with powerful organisations, and it is up to you to take these corrupt establishments and the megalomaniac aliens down, and take back the Time Crystals.

screenshot

The level design is a little mixed. Some areas – Siberia and Chicago, for example – are very well designed, with a mixture of indoor and outdoor areas, plenty of opportunity for using all sorts of weapons and some incidental details (pool tables and phone boxes you can interact with, filing cabinets you can open; that sort of thing). Yet, some of the later levels feel a little unloved by comparison, leaning more and more heavily on fast-paced run and gun style of gameplay, and losing any and all sense of subtlety in favour of firepower. You can’t jump, although this is never really used against you like some games manage (Black, for example), and unlike many other FPS you can’t control vehicles, although you can occupy mounted gun turrets from time to time. Levels tend to be pretty large, requiring a good half hour’s play or more to get through on your first play, although each contains just one checkpoint and you can only save between levels, so progress can be slow and at times somewhat irritating.

One of the campaign’s strongest elements is that you can play through it with a buddy. Now, this may not seem particularly noteworthy in today’s gaming climate, but back in the early part of the millennium TS2 was one of the few console games to feature this element, alongside the likes of Halo. The smooth framerate remains consistent throughout (maintaining a commendable 60 frames-per-second) and there is only a little drop in detail, so this is a great way to enjoy the campaign. Furthermore, you can choose from your usual three difficulties, but playing on Easy will ensure you see less of the game than on Normal or Hard. By playing on Easy, the levels tend to end after about two-thirds their standard length, often omitting bosses or some interesting features you’d otherwise encounter. It’s a well-implemented system which rewards those prepared to slug it out at Normal or Hard – the only real difference between these two being the number of tasks required to successfully complete the levels.

The multiplayer modes are arguably still the game’s focal point. There is an absolute wealth of modes to play through, including your standard Deathmatch, Capture the Bag TM (Free Radical’s own take on Capture the Flag), and Assault Modes, as well as more unique types such as Virus (you have to pass on an infection as quickly as possible), Shrink (where the worse you are doing, the smaller your character becomes, making you a harder target) and Monkey Assistant (where a team of simians help the person in last place). All modes can be played with up to three friends, and include a collection of AI bots, so the maps usually feel populated enough and as hectic as any console multiplayer game out there.

screenshot

Multiplayer maps feature a mixture of indoor and outdoor environments, which often require different tactics and reliance on different weapons to succeed. If you are playing solo, you can still play these modes but with a collection of bots, and you can fully customise their appearance (there are dozens and dozens of character models to chose from once unlocked), their skill level, team, and so on. There’s an amazingly extensive wealth of multiplayer options, which theoretically could keep you busy for weeks on end. What’s more, you can create your own levels. The mode is comparatively basic and all areas are enclosed, but it is simple to use and means you can create & save areas to battle your friends in. You even dictate the lighting and where weapons/pickups are placed. Admittedly, most people won’t bother with this feature, but for those who give it a try it is an interesting and satisfying option.

Furthermore, the game holds dozens of madcap challenges to complete. These range from standard (assaulting a military base), to a little more unique (breaking windows with bricks as quickly as possible), to wonderfully bizarre (shooting monkey ‘bouncing bombs’ before they hit a dam). Some of the later challenges are absolutely rock solid to beat though, and it will possibly take you many months to succeed at them all. For the completists out there, TS2 has more than enough substance to keep you busy for a long while.

Graphically, the TimeSplitters games have always been some of the more attractive FPS on PS2, and this instalment is no different. The graphics are presented in an almost-realistic yet slightly exaggerated cartoon style, which fuels the comical stance of the game. The frame rate is rock solid practically without exception, and while it seems apparent in places that detail has been sacrificed in place of smoothness and scale, it is still one of the more distinctive and attractive shooters on the console. Loading is brief and fairly inoffensive, and each level is bookended by a short, succinct and often humorous cutscene. Aurally, the game doesn’t have quite the scale or sense of epic-ness so many other FPS post-Halo favour, but instead opts for a series of catchy, fast-paced synthesised tunes. It fits the action perfectly, and goes hand-in-hand with the game’s refreshing refusal to appear too serious.

screenshot

In an age when the likes of BioShock, Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4 rule the FPS genre there may not be much room for droll titles like TimeSplitters 2, but it still manages to feel unique and pertinent; an uplifting change to most of the market. The single-player is still not perfect and the lack of any online modes feels somewhat antiquated, but for a fast-paced, light-hearted and surprisingly cavernous First-Person Shooter, they don’t come any better than this.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in April 2007.

Gentle persuasion

You should check out our podcast.