Retro Rated: TimeSplitters

Factfile
Developed by: Free Radical Design
Released: Playstation 2
Format played: 2000

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Ruminations

Of the myriad FPS games to have been released down the years, there are no doubt better. Even from my own collection, the likes of Half Life 2, Bioshock and Killzone 2 spring to mind. Not to mention the classics I have never played such as Goldeneye, Crysis and the various Call of Duty instalments.

Matched against those, this pales by comparison. And yet, it holds a special place in my gaming collection.

As I detailed here, this is the game that convinced me to ditch my creaking PS1 and upgrade to the PS2, introducing me to the FPS experience for the first time. The leap was incredible, not just in the quality of the visuals but the speed, fluency and scale.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, the team behind TimeSplitters had pedigree having migrated from Rare, home of the aforementioned Goldeneye. The game would go on to see two further sequels, TimeSplitters 2 (which I could have bought for £5 back in the day but decided even that was too much given the size of my bulging, unplayed games collection) and TimeSplitters: Future Perfect. A fourth game in the series was announced but sadly cancelled following the closure of Free Radical in 2009.

All these years later, does TimeSplitters still have that ‘wow’ factor?

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Second Impressions

Given that we live in the HD era, it would be an impossible task to expect this to carry the same graphical punch that it managed in 2000, the PS2 well and truly surpassed in my household by the PS3 and PC. Set the phasers of expectations less to stun and more to realistic.

The front end is fairly uninspiring. It is on the lower end of importance for the quality of a title to be sure but I do enjoy a well produced menu and introduction that draws you into the world from the off. Without the benefit of the manual to provide some backstory, you have no idea what the point of the game is and why you should care.

Things quickly pick up as we move into the game. In the main story mode, you have a choice of two seedy looking protagonists to choose from, specific to the level in question, although it makes no practical difference to the game. Click on them and they perform a quick signature move, revealing some of the humour in the game that gives you a flavour of what’s to come.

The levels themselves are still lookers. Detail might be missing compared to the modern shooter but this is an attractive looking game. The levels cover quite a wide spectrum of time (more on that below) which offers a nice level of visual variety, from Egyptian pyramids, to underground bunkers to spooky villages. And not only do they look pretty good but they have a level of interaction too with glass shattering as you let loose a volley of gun fire to get to the goon stood behind it, or barrels that explode in a fiery ball of death.

And it’s lightening quick too. It is one of the hallmarks I remember from my first go round with the game and time has not dulled it’s impressiveness. You can really zip round the levels, the visuals moving smoothly with you with no noticeable glitches or missing frames.

Enemies are nicely varied based on location, with the exception of the recurring ‘TimeSplitters’ themselves, although to be honest you’ll be cracking off a shot in such rapid fire that you’ll be unlikely to stop and consider if the guy who just bit the dust was pixel perfect. Enemies disappear once felled, which can be confusing if you lose your way as you don’t have the benefit of a trail of carnage to tell you you have already visited that area, although levels are short enough that it is rarely a problem.

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Gameplay

There is a story that underpins the action and explains the whys and wherefores behind location jumps and enemies but given that it doesn’t bother to explain any of this to you in-game, I won’t waste your time with it here either.

You have a choice of story and arcade modes. In story mode you work through each of the levels in turn, starting out with just three available, two further sets of three opening up as you complete the previous batch. To continue the theme of threes, each level has three difficulty options with rewards granted for completing each.

The easy setting is initially a breeze, the number of enemies reduced drastically such that you can sprint round the first couple of levels with little regard for anyone else. Things pick up in later levels as enemies can be found lurking in sniper positions or coming at you from all sides so a bit more care is required, whilst the normal and hard settings ramp up the challenge accordingly.

The story mode is driven by a central quest to retrieve a specific item from various periods in time, then leg it back to your starting position to beam out. As soon as you collect the item, you are assailed by the ‘Splitters, who pop up randomly throughout the level to stop you in the tracks with an energy sapping blast.

To be honest though, there is no real story. Sure, there is an underlying backdrop to the whole thing but the individual levels are completely disconnected from each other. There is no overarching plot that plays out as you progress to tie everything together. It costs the game some atmosphere. But then this is not a tactical or cerebral shooter. This is not movie-esque in the style of Gears of war et al This is an all out run-and-gun-athon with fun the name of the game.

Any loss of atmosphere is arguably more than countered by the sheer joy of playing. Weapons are varied and fun to use and specific to their timeframe. Egypt sees you rely on a rifle of blunderbuss, modern day settings introduce shotguns and twin uzi’s whilst the future and alien influenced levels throw in RPGs and high-tech lasers.

With all felled enemies dropping a weapon, ammo is in plentiful supply so you don’t have to worry about conserving your bullets, plus some of the weapons have a secondary function for double doses of death. As soon as a grunt appears, give him a gut full of lead in his belly to take home to mama before setting off to find his mates. Don’t get too gung-ho though; this might be more of a bullet fest than some other shooters but rushing in all guns blazing is still the fastest way to a game over screen.

This simplicity extends to the controls. By default, your gun will target an enemy automatically, allowing you to shoot from the hip with nary a pause for thought. Cover is rudimentary and you can crouch, plus there is a target receptacle that helps with the sniper rifle in particular. But given that most enemies go down with a single shot, there is little need to hone in on a particular body part, headshot kills largely unnecessary. For a tougher challenge, switch off the auto-aim and this becomes a more skilled affair, albeit sacrificing some of the pace of the game.

Level deisgn is not especially sophisticated either but appropriate for its purpose. Bonus weapons can be found in the odd nook and cranny but this isn’t a game littered with pick ups to fill your trophy cabinet. Levels are short, allowing you to move quickly and memorise the path, an important factor given that you will need to head back the way you came to find the exit.

Finishing the story mode on each difficulty setting unlocks a number of goodies and game modes. The arcade mode is a collection of the usual multiplayer games with options aplenty for customisation. Choose from standard deathmatch, capture the bag, escort missions and last man standing missions amongst others.

There is also a challenge mode, which sets a series of specific objectives for you to beat. Finally if you are feeling particularly creative, you can create you own levels with the map editor.

Like most of the best things in life, it’s even more fun with a friend in either co-op story mode and especially the everyman-for-himself arcade mode. Rope in four of your buddies via multi-tap and this is absolute carnage, the one player experience, especially in an offline arcade mode, distinctly lacking by comparison.

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Sound

A pumping techno soundtrack accompanies much of the action with the music changing per location. In the arcade modes in particular it works well, matching the frenetic nature of the gamplay.

Weapons all carry a satisfyingly meaty blast to them whilst characters let off an anguished cry when hit and you get advance warning of the appearance of those pesky TimeSplitters as they warp into the room, giving you the chance to get your bearings and unleash some hot death in their direction.

It all fits together nicely. This isn’t a classic gaming soundtrack by any means but it captures the pulse-racing vibe that the game is aiming for and in that sense helps to accentuate the experience.

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Bottom Line

In some ways limited, what this lacks in depth and plot is more than made up for with the sheer fun to be had.

Good in single player and an absolute riot with up to four via multi-tap.

There is a reason this convinced me to buy a PS2.

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