When Sony launched the PS2 two years ago, one of the standout titles featured for the fledgling system was TimeSplitters, a first person shooter whose fast-paced action and imbalanced focus on multiplayer made it an instant hit for adrenaline junkies. Considering it came from former designers of Goldeneye, solid level design mixed with addictive gameplay practically ensured that mayhem would ensue in deathmatches. Additionally, its mapmaking editor allowed budding level designers the ability to quickly construct new arenas for battles with minimal expertise or planning. Now, almost two years to the day after TimeSplitters debuted, Eidos and Free Radical get ready to release TimeSplitters 2 across all platforms.
The most immediate difference that will be noticeable for fans or owners of TS2’s predecessor will be the obvious focus upon the single player experience. TimeSplitters was rather notorious for being a little, shall we say, “skimpy” on storyline or a plot. Basically, your objective was item retrieval, running from point A to point B in a given themed level and taking enemies out along the way to your prize or extraction point. Quickly accomplishing these missions unlocked other gameplay sections such as the challenge and arcade modes as well as additional multiplayer bot opponents. While there was quite a bit of exchanged fire between you and your enemies, levels could quickly become repetitive.
This monotony has been addressed in TS2, with a definable, if tenuous plotline. Evil aliens have stolen time crystals and are traveling back into Earth’s history in an attempt to manipulate and destroy civilization. You assume the role of one of two heroes tasked with stopping the time traveling menace, retrieving the crystals and undoing any damage the aliens have done. This involves leaping in and out of numerous time periods of the past and future, with locations like 1895 Notre Dame and 1932 Chicago. Creatively, when one of your heroes leaps in time, they take on the persona of someone from that time period. For example, in Chicago you become a well-known, hard-boiled private eye chasing after a gangster. A summary of your character and their personal objectives accompanies each time period leap.
Instead of looking for items, you now have primary, secondary and tertiary objectives within a level that you must complete. Additionally, each difficulty level affects each time period differently, creating new objectives to be completed and reordering placement of enemies. So instead of breaking up barrels of booze in Chicago, you might destroy boxes of explosives. Changes like these provide an additional challenge to gameplay. Plus, if you get a little bored with hunting down aliens, you can hunt down cartridges that are placed in each level. When the cartridges are inserted into a character’s PDA in their inventory, it unlocks classic minigames like Lunar Lander or Snake. While not a necessary discovery, it provides a break from the destruction you wreak through each level.
The Challenge game mode, which added a new spin to first person shooters by requiring you to fulfill tasks in a certain amount of time, have returned just as creatively. Small descriptive plots for each activity provides a little background info about what you’re tasked with. There are seven kinds of challenges that can be discerned, from breaking glass panes to beheading zombies. Aside from a specific time limit, each level has targeted time levels that can be beaten for trophies that you can display on an inventory screen. You can also earn trophies in the Arcade mode, featuring Deathmatch or Elimination-style matches against bots. These levels also have plotlines, such as taking out a group of hostile monkeys as the level burns down around you. And for those of you who adored the chaos of the multiplayer experience, it’s back as well, with the same features you’ve come to know and love.
Like any other first person shooter, you’ll never have to worry about taking people out with your bare hands (unless you run out of ammo). TimeSplitters prided itself on the variety of realistic and futuristic weapons, ranging from Uzis and pistols to laser beams and multiple target-acquiring rocket launchers. Many of these arms will make their destructive return in TS2, along with other items like flamethrowers, bricks and machine guns. You’ll typically find these items scattered around levels, but if you don’t like a certain stage or arena, jump into the mapmaker and see if you can do better. Creating levels was always easy with the original title. TS2 builds upon this construction kit, allowing you to choose between basic and advanced level design. The mapmaking tool provides you with rooms, weapons and lighting schemes, all of who can be manipulated with the click of a button. Plus, once you’ve designed your level, you can take a quick tour through it to check out your handiwork.
Graphically, TS2 has received a massive overhaul, with many more in-game cinematics included to help tell the single player experience. Character models have also received a massive boost in polygons, resulting in a much smoother, more realistic design. Additionally, inverse kinematics have been implemented, a la Hitman, to affect the movement and death animations of each character onscreen. Level designs have also benefited from the additional attention to detail, with items like snowflakes, rainfall, or smoke particles assuming a more realistic pattern of behavior. For instance, shooting holes in barrels will result in a stream of liquid, and breaking a window will shatter naturally.
From the number of improvements over the original game that I’ve seen, Eidos and Free Radical could have another hit on their hands with TimeSplitters 2. The game hits shelves later this week, and the expanded single-player mode, challenges and arcade settings, multiplayer matches and mapmaker tool provide something for every gamer. Check back here soon for a complete review.
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