Time Splitters 2 had some enormous expectations to live up to. Amazingly, Free Radical was not content with meeting these, but instead chose to surpass them by a great measure. Don’t have TS2 yet? Come see why you need to get with the program!
"With Time Splitters, we were just finding our feet. Now we can go to town and show people what we're really capable of doing. Time Splitters 2 will be an exceptional game." –David Doak: Managing Director, Free Radical Design (May 2001).
Time Splitters 2 (TS2 from here on) was announced with some very bold claims. The TS2 design team, with ex-employees from Rare’s Goldeneye and Perfect Dark teams, was unmistakably picking up the gauntlet thrown down by Rare’s last two first-person shooter efforts. I’m happy to report that Free Radical Design (FRD) has lived up to David Doak’s self-proclaimed goal. TS2 is definitely an exceptional game.
What really stands out about Time Splitters 2 is not the gobs of stuff they’ve thrown in, but that each gob is so well crafted. With TS2 you get the whole package and then some. First, you get a complex story mode with optional co-operative play. Second, you have a multiplayer game that puts most stand-alone multiplayer FPS titles to shame. Third, there is an interesting challenge mode that uses the game’s FPS engine to engage players in such activities as throwing bricks through windows and perfecting the stealth take down of certain areas from the story mode. FRD has even included retro/modern updates to some classic games, which are playable after you find the hidden cartridges. Anaconda, for example, pits up to four players against each other in a bid to gobble up the most X’s. Of course, each X makes your retro serpent more difficult to control due to its increasing size. Unlike the classic that the mini-game is based on, the anacondas have analog control, which results in a unique and welcome update to a game that would not be marketable today in a stand-alone package. Then there’s the map maker!
Now for a more in-depth look at the story mode. Although TS2 only has ten levels, the levels are very large and impeccably designed. As in Rare’s FPS duo, more objectives are added to each level for the normal and hard modes, but I’ve found the quality of these additions to be substantially higher than those in Goldeneye and Perfect Dark. I’d rather not spoil anything, but I strongly suggest that you play the game through the difficulties in order, starting with easy, no matter how good you are. You’ll find a smooth progression of difficulty and increasingly complex versions of the ten levels that reward your developing skills with fresh locations and challenges. Each level is also bisected by a checkpoint so that you can continue from the middle of a level in case of accidental death. This will become especially welcome in the higher difficulty levels.
As if the stellar level design wasn’t enough, the game also features a co-operative mode at a frame rate that is only slightly diminished from the solid 60 frames-per-second of the single-player mode. If there is one thing that has been sorely lacking since the dawn of 3D gaming, it’s co-operative modes; big points to FRD for effectively continuing Rare’s trend in this area. Some levels even have specially modified content just for co-operative mode.
Between missions, you can take some time out for the game’s challenge mode. With seven different events (glass breaking, zombie beheading, stealth take downs etc.) and three versions of each event, this can be quite entertaining, not to mention rewarding in the way of bonus characters and cheats.
Even after you wear out the above-mentioned content, you’ll still have plenty of game left. The “Arcade” mode provides multi and single player death-match gameplay with all the trimmings we’ve come to expect from a modern shooter (and a few that you wouldn’t expect). Here’s a not-so-concise list. First you can select the speed of your match, chilled, normal or frantic. Next, choose the type of match. You have four standard matches: death-match, team death-match, capture the bag (two teams) and bag tag (free-for-all bag hunt). In addition to this, there are twelve more variants which can be unlocked by playing the single-player-only League mode. After you choose the mode, choose from sixteen arenas (though only five are set up for capture the bag). Are you getting bored of these arenas? No problem. There are seven example maps that you can fire up from the map editor (not to mention the maps you can make yourself). Finally, you can customize settings (number of kills, handicaps, one hit kills, radar, scoring method and limit etc) and also bots. The bots aren’t quite as customizable as in Perfect Dark (no personality settings), but they do at least have five difficulty settings and the different character models have different speed, accuracy and health rates (this feature can be disabled at your option).
I have to give a specific mention to the new and improved map editor. The original Time Splitter’s map editor was revolutionary for a console game, but it was quite limited in scope. The map editor in TS2 is light-years ahead. The editor features four tile sets (themes) that have different looks and structures, a simple and advanced editing mode, seven example maps and even the option to create single player missions (complete with objectives and a level description). You can also edit the lighting (more options than before), item placement of your maps, enemy placement in single-player, bot setup for multiplayer and the background track. While the releases of most PC FPS titles are followed with a tools-release that allows the community of hardcore fans to produce complex extensions of the game, the tools are generally too complicated for most gamers. What TS2’s editor lacks in complexity it makes up for in simplicity. Though you can’t edit the individual tiles in a set for example, the ways in which they can be connected are many (especially in advanced editing mode), yet the editor is accessible to most gamers. The biggest strike against TS2’s potential editing community is the difficulty of sharing maps over the Internet (special hardware for transferring memory card data to your PC would be necessary).
Now that I’ve explained why TS2 is such a great game, you might want to hear a bit about the graphics. While the technology won’t knock your socks off, I think most gamers will find that the smooth frame rate, stylish artwork, and themes more than make up for it. That’s not to say that TS2 doesn’t have a few technical tricks up its sleeves. The game features anti-aliasing, tri-linear filtering, detail textures, specularity, reflections and probably a few other things that most games don’t have. Some of the textures appear a little blurry next to their detail-textured brethren, but this can be forgiven in light of the overall appearance of the levels and the smooth-as-butter frame rate. Animation is also notably appealing, though some character models seem to be lacking in detail. My only major gripe (which I’ve been noticing in a lot of FPS titles lately) is that there is no dynamic lighting from gunfire. Most people probably won’t even notice this.
The sound design in TS2 is above average. The guns make appropriately diverse noises, as do the various characters. The music is also a significant cut above the competition with quite a few of the songs sticking in my head and begging to be added to my mp3 collection.
And lastly, I’d like to mention the player interface. My only complaint about the controls is that the look control feels a little insensitive around the center position. You have to move it a little off center to get a response, and when you do get a response, it tends to jerk too quickly instead of ramping up slowly. I imagine this was done so that people wouldn’t accidentally turn as they walked forward, but I wish some compromise could have been struck (a threshold setting for the center position would have been nice). Other than this complaint, which falls away with practice, the controls are extremely intuitive and responsive. As usual, I give appreciation to developers that allow complete control customization (FRD even lets you set up different stick controls for aiming mode and non-aiming modes). Naturally, control settings are saved in individual player profiles for easy access during multiplayer.
If I haven’t convinced you by now, Time Splitters 2 may very well be the greatest FPS to hit GameCube. Ever. Barring a third installment to the franchise, I don’t expect the crown to be removed any time in the near future. Unless you have an aversion to really great games or first-person shooters, you should do yourself a favor and pick this one up ASAP.