Yeah, this is a depressing time.
While world leaders play Russian Roulette with their countries’ population as the collateral damage, it’s only fair that you look back to happier times, nostalgia and the like. Alright, maybe you could spend it with loved ones when the nukes drop, but that’s rubbish, let’s talk about something more comforting, the prime example being the TimeSplitters series.
Developed by Free Radical in the turn of the 21st century, the first TimeSplitters was made exclusively for the PlayStation 2 and released to extremely positive reviews, the worst coming from AllGame. That 7/10 is enough to nullify all of their future opinions, I’m sure, but it’s the 2nd TimeSplitters that received the most glowing reviews out of the 3 games released in the series, and with good reason. TimeSplitters 2 kicks more ass than any other game out there.
I’m not mincing words here, and the title of the Op-Ed should prove it, but TimeSplitters 2 is utter FPS perfection, dripping from head to toe in unabashed beauty. Every gram, every fiber of Free Radicals’ being came together to create a spiritual successor to the seminal titles Goldeneye and Perfect Dark, and it certainly shows. Nothing is sacrificed and nothing is left out, with it all resulting in shooting bliss.
The story of TimeSplitters 2 is simple in its endeavors. Yes, it’s to do with time travel, that can of worms that has more plotholes in it than a new Star Wars film, but TimeSplitters 2 escapes those issues by not being about directly changing history. You play as Sgt. Cortez, who with his brash female sidekick Cpl. Hart, have come to a space station to stop the alien TimeSplitters, from destroying humanity entirely via secrets they’ve learned from us in the past, with the Time Crystals playing a titular part as a MacGuffin.
Your job is to take the Time Crystals out from the periods that the TimeSplitters have hidden them in. From there, you have access to a time machine that can go anywhere, anytime. From the Wild Wild West to Planet X in the 2200s, Cortez will take over the body of a human in the vicinity, and search for the Time Crystals in whatever position they find themselves in.
I know the campaign isn’t what most people remember about the TimeSplitters series, but what they’ve forgotten is what made TimeSplitters so utterly unique. Yeah, the multiplayer kicks 7 shades of shit out of every other multiplayer-focused FPS out there, but the campaign manages to succeed in making every character showcased a fully fleshed out being, despite its sporadic nature. I mean, we’re talking about a studio that made a normal monkey, a prominent icon for their beloved series.
Name a character conceived for TimeSplitters 2, and you can bet your left asscheek that they feel more human than any of your average protagonist in any AAA game. Even the non-human characters like Handyman, a small biography goes a long way to make them 3-dimensional, and if you tell me that you don’t have an ounce of sympathy for Robert One-Oh-Seven? You’re lying.
From there, the “memorable character” roster only grows stronger. Viola, Gretel, Harry Tipper, Crispin, the Chinese Chef, Sadako, Kypriss, Braces, Henchmen, the Ozor & Meezor Mox, Venus Starr, Jared Slim, and many many more. Even the literal pallet-swaps of normal Russian soldiers have more personality and effort attached to them, than your standard sidekicks and enemies in other titles.
Of course, Future Perfect had a much bigger roster, filled with more creative characters, but that works against the game if you ask me. Future Perfect relied too heavily on comedic efforts than a strong story, and when a joke missed it hurt more because you knew that it was the sole objective of the writing. In 2 however, the balance was obvious and didn’t suffer from being too serious or goofy, respectively. Let’s call it the Saint’s Row 2 of the 6th generation of gaming, a perfect wavelength for any player to strap into.
From there, the game only becomes stronger, with the levels being designed by the architectural God himself. Enemy placement worked perfectly, the pacing was pitch perfect, the tone was immaculately executed, and the genre shifting of 1920s film noir, to Victorian Gothic horror, was a seamless switch that you couldn’t complain about. Free Radical had a Royal Flush of opportunities and made every beat hit.
Every level also has a rather brilliant amount of world-building behind it, even with their passing nature. The NeoTokyo level springs to mind for being this moody, atmospheric maze of unequaled gloom. However, in the case of the NeoTokyo level, a well-known complaint comes through the woodwork, that complaint being the mission design sucking pretty hard.
You see, NeoTokyo is the only level that employs a stealth objective as its main objective on every difficulty, and because it’s a spiritual successor to Goldeneye and Perfect Dark, made by former Rare devs, one cock up means an entire restart. However, I’m going to cut Free Radical some slack here, as even though old habits die hard, some of them have waned away.
In terms of mission structure and design, the former devs of Rare have definitely learned something, even if it’s only a small step forward. Goldeneye had some miserable escorts quests, along with quite maze-like design, whereas Perfect Dark was easily a more hardcore rendition of James Bond’s adventures, with the game expecting a lot more of you. Here, everything is a bit fairer in difficulty, as it’s only the NeoTokyo level and “Return To Planet X” that suffer minor hiccups in design.
However, that’s not what people are here for. You can talk about the coop all day, but it doesn’t mean shit if the chicken doesn’t lay eggs. With that absolutely crap metaphor, I mean the combat, with the multiplayer and incredible MapMaker, being an extension, and by Jove, the combat kicks ass. This is what people remember the TimeSplitters series for, and thankfully, I’m not looking through nostalgia-tinted glasses when returning to the game, this gunplay is still superb.
Part of that is due to the number of varied weapons, both historically and mechanically. From bricks to fire extinguishers, double-barrelled shotties to AK-47s, and plasma rifles to Electrotools, the number of ways you can dispose of your enemies is a definite improvement on the original, and even Future Perfect. Yeah, Future Perfect had a ton more weapons, but a lot of those were re-skins that had the same DPS and accuracy, so what was the point?
When it comes down to it, everything in TimeSplitters 2, from the story to the multiplayer, it was all polished to a mirror shine, and it couldn’t be more evident with the plethora of game modes on display. You’ve got Thief, a Deathmatch where the points come from collecting coins that dead players drop, Virus, my first experience with the Infected game mode that Halo later popularized, and Assault. Good lord, Assault is a magnificent run.
Imagine a prototype (yet superior) version of Overwatch, and boom, what you have is the most frantic mode in the game. In 2, you have 3 maps of varying objectives, with the A.I. putting up one hell of a fight, fully utilizing all of their abilities, as opposed to just spawn-trapping you and your teammates. From there, it’s a manipulation of the map itself, as you take down turrets and finally do that Iwo Jima-like push to the final objective.
You don’t like any of the maps that TimeSplitters 2 has to offer? Well, make your own! With the incredibly robust MapMaker, anything is possible, from story missions to simple deathmatch maps. Admittedly, I didn’t utilize the full potential of these custom maps. All I did was recreate missions from Goldeneye and Perfect Dark, some of them taking me months to recreate to perfect standards.
However, none of this would be as memorable without such a good soundtrack, which TimeSplitters 2 also provides. A lot of it is Industrial Dance Music, but you’ve also got a few sinister cuts sneaking in. From “Siberia” and its espionage-tinted orchestral movement, to the grating and abrasive beats of “Scrapyard”, there’s so much variation here, and that’s what TimeSplitters 2 was all about: Variation.
At the end of the day, with just how sublime TimeSplitters 2 was, the sad thought was that the only way Free Radical could go from here, was down, and to be fair, they didn’t completely fuck up with Future Perfect. The gunplay was still there, the camaraderie Cortez had with his brief partners was superb, but something felt off. Maybe it was the whole Third Sequel Wackiness Syndrome that plagued this game, and much other game series afterward.
What’s my point with this Op-Ed? I don’t know, maybe I want the early 00s console-FPS to return. A return to the couch sessions and late night craziness of TimeSplitters, Perfect Dark and Goldeneye. Instant frantic fun from the touch of a button, which is something that Halo, Call of Duty, or any other modern FPS couldn’t provide. Yeah, maybe I’m being a snobby bugger, but come on. You saw the title, what did you expect?
As for the future of TimeSplitters, it’s looking miserable. As much as I want to see the fabled TimeSplitters Rewind project see the light of day, I don’t see it happening now. Which is a pity since Crytek, the owners of the TimeSplitters have no idea what to do with– Actually, there’s another point that brings my blood to a boil.
TimeSplitters 4 was canceled because Crytek couldn’t find a marketable face for its front cover. No, seriously, it’s documented, and also kind of amazing to think about, isn’t it? I mean, here you are, owner of a lucrative and much-loved franchise, and apparently, you couldn’t find a single character to put on the front of the cover? From 150? I mean… whatever. Goddamn you, Crytek.
Look, however you can, or whenever you can, if you haven’t played it yet, go out and try and grab a copy of TimeSplitters 2, or Future Perfect. Hell, maybe even emulate the bloody thing, because this is essential for anyone who either plays or wants to get into FPS’s because it hasn’t gotten better than TimeSplitters. If you can’t? Well, one can only hope Crytek reveal something sooner or later, that isn’t a xenophobic piece of shit.
Owner of the largest collection of indie games in the Western Hemisphere, and TimeSplitters’ biggest fanboy.