TimeSplitters Future Perfect
Only in the TimeSplitters universe can gingerbread men, flaming zombies and robotic cats co-exist in such harmony. Where else would you find a snowman on a flying carpet being chased by a monkey with a flamethrower? With so many games devoid of humour these days, TimeSplitters has always been a welcome bout of light relief. There have been so many generic shooters over the last five years, but Free Radical’s unique creations have always entertained. The third outing in the series, Future Perfect, is no exception.
Developed by many of the team who worked on the original Goldeneye, TimeSplitters returns with the same game modes that have featured before: Story, Arcade and Challenge. While the series has always been built around the multiplayer, the singleplayer is again prominent and has been improved, building on the lessons learnt from previous games.
TimeSplitters’s plot is shaped around time travel and those who practice it. You play Cortez - a Vin Diesel lookalike from previous installments - who finds himself chasing after the mysterious time crystals which grant those who hold them the power of traveling to any point in the past, present, or future. Along the way he meets various characters from other games in the series, visiting time zones ranging from 1914 to 2401.
Compelling and funny, the story is well written and ties each level together well, giving everything a sense of place. The cut-scenes are worth watching, not because of a gripping storyline, but because they’re well crafted and humourous. Each character is amusing and likeable in their own way, whether they’re an American teenage girl, a charming English gentleman or a laid-back ’60s cop who just can’t wait to save the world. Free Radical love to have a good dose of tongue-in-cheek references to Bond as well, this time including a rather familiar albino villain stroking a cat. The plot doesn’t take itself too seriously, but the characters and homages make it well worth the effort.
Each of the game’s levels is typically linear, driven by a number of set pieces and smaller tasks. The action is effectively conveyed through these, keeping any back-tracking to a bare minimum. Each level is well designed and differs in appearance and atmosphere, giving a decent amount of variety to proceedings. One minute you’ll be fighting zombies in a claustrophobic mansion, the next you’ll be holding off security teams in a futuristic skyscraper. Future Perfect also integrates the storyline with the levels more fluently this time around, linking in events with cutscenes as you go along. There’s also a commentary from your assistant via a radio, putting everything in context as you go along. These touches give it a more meaningful approach than previous games, resulting in an engaging plot that flows from one mission to the next.
Also new to the story is the notion of meeting yourself through the process of time travel. At certain points during the game, you’ll come across Cortez who is doing another part of the mission, but in the future. He will then join you for a section of the level, before going his own way. You’ll then find yourself helping out your past Cortez and completing the loop later on. While the other version of yourself is in fact scripted during these sequences and is largely unaffected by your actions, it adds to the interesting time-shifting nature of the game.
Vehicles also make their debut appearance in the TimeSplitters series in the form of occasional segments in some missions and on a few of the Arcade maps. Although they don’t add much to the gameplay, they do handle fairly well and prove useful in some of the larger multiplayer levels. There’s also a small selection of on-the-rails stages where you’ll find yourself shooting from a moving vehicle like a mine cart or a tank, which supplement the on foot sections well.
The environments you fight in are also distinctly more interactive than before. Computer terminals, for instance, can be used and have their own simple operating systems, allowing you to both play around with your surroundings and achieve mission goals. Another addition is an ever present hand-held device which lets you to pick up and throw objects remotely, which becomes useful when you need to retrieve objects like body armour or simply to fend off approaching enemies. It’s details like these that give Future Perfect’s levels a sense of depth and place.
A lot of people have been saying that the game’s Story mode doesn’t cut it at all, but the more I played it, the more I grew to like it. Unlike previous installments of TimeSplitters, Future Perfect’s Story is coherent and cohesive, driven by a plot which although lightweight, is humourous and informative. Flowing from one area to the next, it provides variety that few other shooters do. It may not offer a huge amount of replay value on its own, but that’s where the rest of the game comes into play.
Outside of the Story mode, the gameplay remains relatively unchanged, which is definitely a good thing. The controls have been kept very simple - the black and white buttons aren’t even used - and are completely customisable, while the Xbox controller is perfectly suited to the task at hand. One thing that people seem to point out a lot is that you can’t jump. Personally, I like the fact that you can’t, but some gamers won’t. Realistically, jumping in shooters should be a tool to get to unattainable higher levels, not used as a dodging device in combat. When people start bouncing around in other games like kangaroos, it tends to look ridiculous. With careful level design, players learn not to rely on it as a way of getting around and it just isn’t an issue.
Arcade returns again and is the centre of all offline non plot-based action. Thirteen game modes are available in total, ranging from the relatively simple to the frankly bizarre. The usual Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch accompany Capture the Bag which replaces flags with, you guessed it, bags. Assault is a one-sided base attack, Vampire has players stealing each others’ health, Eliminator is a deathmatch variant where players have a set number of lives, while Gladiator only allows one player to score and Thief involves collecting money off of the dead. Virus is like the school game of ‘it’ but with fire, Bagtag revolves around the total time you have a bag in your control and Zones is another time-based variant judged on each player’s control of certain points on the map. Finally, Shrink alters player size based on position (those worst off are smaller), while Monkey Assistant has the losing player given several simian allies to fight with him. However, this isn’t all though. Each game can be customised to a huge extent, so you could potentially have a Capture the Bag match where it’s ninja monkeys and dinosaurs verses security guards and soldiers, the only weapons are bricks and single shots kill. An interesting combination I’m sure you’ll agree.
Playable with bots or up to four friends on split screen, Arcade is also great fun solo as well. It may sound weird, but it’s actually a blast to play alone, even if you’re simply fighting bots. The levels are cleverly designed to accommodate all game types and are separate from their Story mode counterparts. There’s also a number of the most popular maps from previous games in the series, including Chinese, Mexican Mission and Training Ground. Arcade League is also attached to the main Arcade mode, comprising of a series of small situations based around demanding situations, with various trophies given upon their completion.
The mini-game delight that is the Challenge mode makes another appearance, this time featuring robotic cat racing, brick smashing, various monkey related tasks and a host of other funky scenarios. As usual, challenges are split up into groups of three, with each one in the series unlocked when the previous one is completed. Scores on each can also now be uploaded via Xbox Live and compared with other gamers and friends alike.
It’s the multiplayer that makes TimeSplitters really shine though. The Story mode is available in a two player co-operative offline setup, while the whole Arcade mode is available online and offline. Up to 16 players can play on Xbox Live, but even with fewer people the multiplayer is great fun. Matches are fast paced and at the time of writing, I’ve experienced no lag or connection problems whatsoever.
What Live play seems to do best is level the playing field to a certain extent; people who usually get frustrated with slower, more tactical shooters can come online in Future Perfect and have a much more enjoyable experience. This could be put down to the more casual attitude of those who play it, but I think the real difference is made by the fact that respawn times are always zero. This may not seem like much, but TimeSplitters doesn’t prolong the experience of being killed and make you feel like a loser; it lets you get right back into the action before you become irritated. You’re not punished with a time penalty for being worse than everyone else, but instead you’re given an opportunity to immediately redeem yourself. It may have a more psychological effect than anything, but this is the multiplayer’s tipping point; a small detail which makes the whole experience so worthwhile.
Most of TimeSplitters isn’t really groundbreaking, it’s just a highly polished and fleshed out version of what we all know, but it’s always jumped ahead of its contemporaries with its Map Maker. Allowing players to create their own Arcade and Story levels, it’s a genuinely unique feature for a console game and one that has been yet again improved for Future Perfect. With a simple interface and intuitive controls, the Map Maker gives you the power to do everything from simple tile placement on multiple building stories to Story objectives and advanced bot logic. There are both ‘beginner’ and ‘advanced’ modes, allowing players to get used to the basic principles before graduating to more involving stuff.
The Map Maker’s best new feature though, is the inclusion of online map sharing. Player-created levels can be uploaded to be played and rated by others, creating a huge wealth of new content available at your fingertips. Only an online game’s host needs to have the map for others to play it as well, so there are no compatibility issues that would see everyone downloading maps before playing them. Even now, there are already numerous enjoyable levels online, including a few decent replicas of Goldeneye missions.
It should be fairly apparent by now that Future Perfect’s lifespan is about as expansive as a shooter’s can be; TimeSplitters has always been big on depth and replayability, and the latest in the series reflects this. There’s a whole variety of gameplay experiences on offer here, from plot-driven levels and free-for-all deathmatches to amusing minigame challenges. Unlockable items also feature prominently, with new characters (from the total 150 available), weapons and cheats being rewarded for almost every notable success offline. Online, there are theoretically an infinite number of new levels and opponents on offer to keep you playing for the months ahead. Future Perfect’s lifespan is enormous, giving you more replay value than you could ever ask for from a shooter.
Visually, the game has kept up with the times, retaining its fast frame rate throughout. The only time I noticed any slowdown, on- or offline, was during a level-specific special effect in Story, which didn’t affect the gameplay anyway. The graphics are sharp and make use of the Xbox’s power, with widescreen support, some cool physics and fluid animations. Cut-scenes which appear during the story mode are especially well done, complementing TimeSplitters‘ humourous and slightly cartoony nature perfectly. It’s a shame really that many screenshots of the game - including ours - don’t do its visuals justice.
When it comes to audio, TimeSplitters steps up to the mark with Dolby Digital support for those who have the hardware to make use of it. Some excellent voice acting accompanies the Story mode, really bringing out the humour that covers the plot-driven missions. Sound effects are also decent and the music is well composed throughout, giving many levels a real boost when it comes to atmosphere.
I must admit that when EA took over stewardship of TimeSplitters, I was a little worried. They could have turned it into a series of annual updates, but it seems that Free Radical have been left alone to create the game that they’ve been meaning to all this time. Future Perfect feels more complete and comprehensive than its predecessors, a great all-round package in its own right.
I’d even go as far as saying that it’s as good as Halo 2, but in so many different ways. Bungie’s epic has the best use of Xbox Live anywhere, but then TimeSplitters has its awesome Map Maker and a great sense of humour. The list goes on, but the important thing to note is that all these wonderful games aren’t universally liked, but are instead enjoyed by different styles of gamers. Future Perfect may not appeal to the same audience that Halo and Half-Life does, but for those people who get easily frustrated with more competitive and unforgiving shooters, it can be a welcome relief.
Unique and entertaining, TimeSplitters Future Perfect pulls together everything that Free Radical have developed over the last five years. Its Story mode is distinctly improved, brought together by a plot which is well acted out and never ceases to amuse. The Arcade component returns with more refinements and online play, cleverly engineered to reduce undue frustration. Meanwhile, the Challenge mode and a host of unlockables boost its lifespan, which must be one of the best for any console shooter. Online play is slick and fun, but really stands out when coupled with the excellent Map Maker which will no doubt keep people playing for months ahead. When it comes to presentation, Future Perfect is no let down either, with smooth visuals and some superb audio. Free Radical always seem to go the extra mile to make what is, in the end, a hugely enjoyable game. The spirit of Goldeneye lives on.
Nine out of ten