|Format played:||Sony Playstation|
The President’s daughter has been kidnapped (again)! Only one man can save her…blah, blah blah.
Yes, we’re back in familiar Bruce Willis / Arnie / Sly territory as you single handedly tackle unfeasible odds to rescue the girl and bring order and justice to this crazy world.
First seeing the light of day in the arcade, this first person ‘on rails’ shooter took the Operation Wolf template and updated it for the modern generation. Rather than just panning across the screen, you progress ‘into’ the level, using a pedal to step in and out of cover to hide from incoming fire and reload your weapon.
Hitting the Playstation in 1997, the pedal mechanic naturally gave way, instead this was to be the first game bundled with the Light Gun accessory, buttons on the side of the device mirroring the cover system of the arcade original.
The Time Crisis series was an enormous success. It spawned four direct sequels, Time Crisis 2 adding a two player option, whilst console exclusive off-shoots would follow with Project Titan, Crisis Zone and Razing Storm. Mobile versions were also released in the shape of Elite and 2nd Strike.
To some extent my expectations going in are skewed. Despite buying this many years ago, I never played it, instead spending time with Time Crisis 2 on PS2. As such, reverting to the earlier hardware was always likely to be something of a let down.
But let’s try and judge it on its own merits. The game opens with a cut scene, outlining the basic plot and introducing the protagonist and the nefarious evil-doer who has taken the President’s daughter hostage. The rotten fiend! It’s nice enough and gets you in the mood but at this early stage some cracks appear. Characters are a messy blend of jagged edges and blurry faces whilst speech seems to materialise out of thin air, either that or these bad guys double as ventriloquists at the weekend.
Whilst the jagged lines are a feature throughout, this is far from ugly and you will quickly forget about any flaws. A stab of the button sees your character step out of cover fluidly, cracking off shots in all directions. The enemy grunts line up to take their medicine, a variety of goons including foot soldiers, sword wielders and bazooker wielding mad men. In truth the differences are largely superficial, a blue suited goon little different to an orange suited goon, but it adds a splash of visual variety.
The interface is clear and doesn’t get in the way of the action. Front and centre is the timer for each level, driving you on to complete the mission before the clock hits zero. Your pistol has unlimited ammo but your clip shows at the edge of the screen giving a nice clear guide as to how many bullets sit in the chamber. It is simple and effective, giving you the information you need without ever getting in the way.
Messages flash up throughout too, letting you know if you need to reload or if there is a specific danger to watch out for, such as a low hanging metal hook or a rampaging car. It all adds to the adrenaline fueled atmosphere that the game seeks to create.
The game is split into three missions, each in turn consisting of three sections, which act as checkpoints. The rule of three continues as you are granted three lives (or five on easy difficulty); lose them all and you get a handful of continues that let you carry on from the beginning of the last section. Run out of continues and it’s game over.
By default, you start in the cover position, pressing the button to move out. Whilst under cover you are impervious to any attack but don’t take too much comfort, the clock continues to tick away, forcing you to step back into the firing line.
With only occasional exceptions, enemies take a single hit to kill. They don’t just stand around waiting to be shot though, they will duck in and out of cover but there is no intelligence behind their movements, instead operating on a pre-defined set of instructions. This works to your advantage though, allowing you to time your reloads and ducks for cover, popping back out when the coast is clear, picking off enemies with a well timed shot as they rush at you or lob projectile weapons.
Speaking of which, there is little variety in enemy deaths. In something like Uncharted, the game rewards you for accuracy with one shot kill headshots. Here it doesn’t matter; as long as the guy is blasted, he’ll hit the deck, regardless of where he is struck. It is understandable for pacing reasons but the absence of sophistication is notable. Still, much of that is forgotten as you build up momentum, dropping grunts with casual ease, barely stopping for cover, driving the story forward only to turn the corner and come face to face with a squadron of soldiers like Han stumbling across Stormtroopers on the Death Star.
Level design is strong, each section judged well so that you feel challenged but rarely overwhelmed, driving you on to reach the next checkpoint. Your interaction is limited of course. Critics may rightly point out that effectively all you do is point at the screen and shoot like a more violent version of whack-a-mole, the game taking control of your progress through the level. But that is to miss the point. This may be limited but it is thrilling. The game places you round corners, behind cars, behind boxes, on stairways and all manner of other vantage points from which to strike. Once a round of enemies is dispatched, you move forward to the next position, the clock continuing to tick down second by excruciating second, each second saved giving you an advantage in the next section.
And just when you feel you’ve got its measure, something new pops up. As you happily blast away at enemy grunts, suddenly an explosion goes off, rocking the whole building, or a car comes bounding at you at high speed, forcing you into cover or else knocking you down and costing you a precious life. Some of the soldiers hide behind shields, your bullets bouncing off harmlessly until they poke around the edge to try and take a shot at you. And at the end of each three section level, a boss character must be beaten before you can proceed, throwing up another challenge, the final boss encounter a thrilling ‘throw-the-kitchen-sink-at-you’ affair.
Given the scripted nature of its set pieces and pre-defined enemy routines, longevity is inevitably an issue. Play it long enough and you will figure out where enemies will appear, ready to shoot before they have even taken up position, the chance to shave seconds off your best time little motivation to return for another attempt. That said it is tough, enemies coming at you thick and fast, the difficulty curve swerving sharply in the later levels as you soon start ploughing through those continues. And it is at these moments the lack of weapon variety hurts. As the enemy start firing machine guns and bazookas or jump into mounted gun turrets the game cries out for more substantial firepower. Fun as it is, it borders on the farcical as a gun-toting helicopter bears down on you, spitting hot lead in all directions as you pop out from behind the scenery to take it down with your pistol.
I wrote about the music in Time Crisis 2 as part of this feature and, whilst this never quite manages to reach those heights, the sound is once again an absolutely integral part of the experience.
Things get off to a good start with the well voiced cut scenes setting the stage but as the game begins in earnest, it is taken up to 11. The music thumps along in the background, sweeping you up as the excitement builds, periodically punctuated by in-game speech as the game blares out ‘ACTION!’ each time you enter the fray, ‘RELOAD!’ or ‘DANGER!’ to warn you to take action whilst enemies will shout to each other as they take their positions.
It is good stuff and an essential part of the overall experience, driving you on to the final encounter until you are played out with a more gentle piece over the end credits cut scene that has more than a touch of the John Woo’s about it.
Whilst the home experience misses out on the cabinet and pedal of the arcade original, this is more than compensated for by the inclusion of a separate game mode.
An altogether tougher mission, this sees you try to take down some nefarious villain or other by storming a hotel. Starting out in the car park, you work your way through the lobby, up the lifts and onto later floors, blasting no-good bellboys, concierges, weird looking spider tanks and everything in between.
Whilst it is broadly more of the same, it has a different vibe to it, including some neat sections where enemies hide behind destructible glass that you can blast them through.
It is a real bonus and adds genuine value to the overall package.
It has its limitations, sure; clunky graphics, linear gameplay, lack of longevity, minimal variation. But this slaps on the Fun Factor 50, straps you in to the front seat for an adrenaline fueled ride and doesn’t let you out until just before the metaphorical jeep goes crashing off the side of the cliff to explode in a fiery ball of debris.
It has been bettered by its sequels but it is no less enjoyable for all that. Switch off your brain, grab a lightgun and set your target to fun. This may not keep you hooked for long but while it lasts, this is an absolute blast.