Free Radical Design's new first person shooter completely delivers where its predecessor failed.
The first TimeSplitters was surely one of the best Playstation 2 launch titles, developed by a group of former Rare developers that had decided to create a new company on their own, Free Radical Design, based in United Kingdom. All Free Radical Design's founders were key components of the development teams behind Golden Eye and Perfect Dark for Nintendo 64, two games considered by many players the most well-balanced, convincing, amusing first person shooters ever to grace the world of console gaming, before and after Halo.
Free Radical Design continued the way of creating games that made of their previous efforts at Rare two worldwide successes. TimeSplitters was an amazingly fast, light at heart, simple yet effective game, capable of offering a memorable multiplayer experience. Unfortunately, Free Radical Design was unable, most probably for lack of time, to endow their first creation with a good single-player mode. The map design, the weak A.I., the lack of a decent presentation made of TimeSplitters one of those games "only" good at offering a solid multiplayer experience.
But this time, Free Radical Design did everything right. They had much more time to develop their ideas, to create the levels, to design and program the A.I. for their TimeSplitters 2. And the result is one of the most addictive, straightforward first person shooters in a long time.
Simple, fast, addictive like a drug, TimeSplitters 2 is one of those games were all the efforts, all the elements point just in one direction: giving the player fun, fun, and again fun. Playing TimeSplitters 2 is a bit like playing those 2D shooters of the 8-bit era: you just can't stop playing; you want to go on just because you're having fun. But the simplicity that makes this game so enjoyable is the result of a wonderful development work where every single drop of each gameplay element was surged to create an overall balanced experience.
Playing TimeSplitters and TimeSplitters 2 in single player mode is like playing two completely different games. TimeSplitters 2 drastically improves on almost any aspect of the preceding instalment, making of the 10 big levels of the Story Mode a source of great first person shooting action.
10 levels, but I should also say 10 completely different worlds and atmospheres, with different characters, different enemies, different weapons, and different difficulties. When the first TimeSplitters was in development, Free Radical Design revealed that they were trying to give each of their levels a sort of "B-Movie style". TimeSplitters 2 does what TimeSplitters was unable to do; from level to level you'll actually sense the atmosphere and the style of different cinematographic genres, thanks to improved graphics, sounds, but first and foremost to the excellent work done in map design.
The story behind the whole game is bland, and on purpose. You have to face the TimeSplitters, the usual evil aliens with the bad desire of destroying humanity. Travelling through time and space, the TimeSplitters want to destroy humanity's past, present and future. That's why you have to travel through time and space, taking the role of a different hero in each mission. The first level takes inspiration from all those action/horror movies where the hero must stop some kind of evil research conducted in a secret base located in some place on earth, possibly a cold, snowy one. You are in Siberia: it's the year 1990, and you are the heroine with the task of investigating a secret base where dangerous biological weapons are in development. In the second level you are at Chicago, year 1932. In the era of prohibitionism you take the role of a detective with the only purpose of killing a sort of Al Capone and destroy his illicit trade. In the third mission you are in Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, and you are a clown who has to defeat the cult of undead followers of Jacque de la Morte in the year 1895. The fourth level, clearly a parody of Halo's serious "humans vs. aliens" plot, puts you in the role of an intergalactic hero on an alien planet, in the middle of a war between two alien races. In the following levels you'll find yourself fighting in the future in NeoTokyo or in a Robot Factory, and in the past, with a great ride in the Wild West or in the Aztec Ruins in Guatemala. At some point, in each of these missions, you'll have to face the TimeSplitters, which serve more as an excuse to justify the change of time and place for each mission, than as a really strong storyline element.
The 10 levels are very linear in their structure; you always know where you should go next, and you never have to solve difficult puzzles or activate more than a couple of switches. Anyhow, the brilliance of TimeSplitters 2's levels resides in the variety they can offer to the player. Just to make this statement clearer, I'll take as an example the second level, the one where you are a hard-boiled detective in the prohibitionist Chicago. The level begins outdoors; using my dear "custom rifle" I snipe two bad guys, and then I take their ammunition and run into a building where other gangsters are waiting for me. I draw out my pistol and I start shooting at them, picking around the corners and crouching to avoid their fire. I'm finally in the street where I should meet my informer; all of a sudden, a car, filled with armed criminals, appears round the corner launched at full speed against me; I take the Tommy Gun from one of the gangsters I killed before and I start firing at the car until its engine explodes. And it's just the beginning. I finally meet my informer, but before escorting him to his apartment I must enter O'Leary's Bar and take care of two gangs of too noisy criminals. Now I can escort my informer; many guys try to kill him along the road and two snipers fire at him from the buildings. You need to be fast here. I take my Tommy Gun, and with the remaining ammunition I kill a couple of thugs; then I switch to my rifle and I try to spot the location of the two dangerous snipers: one on the balcony, low on the left, the other at the window of a high building. I kill them, and we enter my informer's apartment. The mission continues with this succession of ever-changing situations, in a mix of pure first person action and little strategy that characterize the whole game. It's important to highlight that each mission in TimeSplitters 2 involves a change in the gameplay. For example, in the Notre Dame level you don't have to frequently switch weapons like in Chicago, but you have to carefully aim and fire at the heads of the zombies before they kill you or one of the maidens you have to rescue.
The A.I. design is just brilliant, perfectly balanced to offer a solid but never frustrating challenge. The enemies can use objects in the environment to avoid your fire; they pick around corners and once they spot you they'll try to call all their nearby companions. Moreover, each type of enemy behaves in a different way. Gangsters in Chicago will often try to kill you firing from long distances, zombies in Notre Dame inexorably walk in you direction until you blast their head, aliens on Planet X will ignore you if there are aliens of the opposite faction in the surroundings.
There are other elements that add variety to the missions, like bosses, secondary objectives, and continuous references to movies, books or games we all know. It's usually not too difficult to defeat the bosses you'll encounter at the end of the missions, but these final battles are always extremely fun and really surprising. I don't want to spoil anything, because my jaws literally dropped when I first saw "him", but the first boss battle in the Notre Dame level was one of the most exhilarating I've ever experienced in a first person shooter. Each mission has also its own set of primary and secondary objectives; in Chicago you'll have to destroy all the barrels of whiskey, in Notre Dame you have to save maidens in danger, in Siberia you should destroy all evidences of biological researches conducted in the base, and so on. But what I loved in TimeSplitters 2 are the humorous references to books and movies that are thrown in when you less expect them. In Notre Dame you'll meet a funny version of Victor Hugo's most popular character, in the fourth mission you'll see many references to Halo, in NeoTokyo you'll feel like a hero from a Philip Dick's novel.
The Story Mode can be played in three different difficulty settings; according to the one you select, you can access to different areas of the level. Playing in Easy Mode you'll miss huge portions of the map that you can explore in Normal Mode. This adds replay value to the Story Mode, but TimeSplitters 2 features also other juicy modes created to enjoy the game in single player: Arcade, Challenge and the wonderful Map Maker.
In "Arcade League" you can play against pre-selected characters in many quick tournaments; basically these are deathmatches against A.I. controlled characters, in pre-selected locations. Thanks to the excellent A.I. developed for this game, all the games in Arcade League are extremely enjoyable. Depending on your performance, you can get a gold, silver or bronze medal. The better the medal you get, the more extras you can unlock. These extras include new characters, levels and cheats that you can use in multiplayer or in other game modes. In "Challenge" mode you must complete many tasks within a time limit - like breaking all glasses in the secret base in Siberia in less than 1 minute.
The Map Maker lets you create your own levels for the game, that you can play in single player or against your friends. This great tool, already present in TimeSplitters, can be fully controlled with the Dual Shock controller and can actually generate professional looking levels that you can save onto your Memory Card.
...and playing against your friends
Extraordinarily brilliant in single player, TimeSplitters 2 delivers the best not-online multiplayer experience in a first person shooter to date, surpassing any game currently available on any system. The graphic engine supports magnificently all the multiplayer modes, with a framerate that seems always locked at 60 Fps.
The first great way to enjoy TimeSplitters 2 with a friend is playing the Story Mode in co-op, fighting through the same levels available in single player, for hours and hours of fun. Gamers with a multitap can play four players games in split screen, but the game support up to 16 simultaneous players if you have the chance of creating a small LAN made of four Playstation 2 consoles and four TVs. You can link the consoles using iLink cables or the Network Adapter - either way, the result is the same. TimeSplitters 2 offer more than a dozen of fully customisable multiplayer game types including Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture The Bag, Bag Tag, Elimination, and more unusual ones like Vampire, Shrink, and Monkey Assistant. Most of these game types are playable in any of the 16 levels created only for the multiplayer mode. From a Mexican Mission to a Nightclub you can find any sort of map for your games. In order to unlock all the maps and characters for the multiplayer mode, you must play the game in Single Player and complete the Story Mode, the Arcade League and the various Challenges.
The only limit of Free Radical Design's game is the lack of online support. Many months ago Eidos announced the game would have been one of the first Playstation 2 titles playable online, but for some reason, it wasn't possible to include this feature in the final version; considering how great this game is, it's just a shame.