TimeSplitters Playstation 2 Designed by Free Radical Design Released in 2000
My parents have always been supportive of my gaming hobby and as a ten-year-old nothing was more amazing than my old man coming home bringing a new game. While it’s fair to say he wasn’t always aware of what was popular, the games he brought were rarely boring. On one peculiar day he brought home two: in the one hand he had Pikmin, the latest cutesy puzzle game from Nintendo, and in the other he carried TimeSplitters 2, a zombie-infested shooter. I still wonder if he ever figured out or cared about the age ratings.
Where is the story?
While I have played TimeSplitters 2 and Future Perfect plenty of times, the first entry in this mad series by Free Radical Design has always eluded me. Finally getting this game in the mail was satisfying, but when I popped it into the Playstation 2 and started up the story mode I was in for some weird surprises.
TimeSplitters has no story. The franchise does; in fact, I really enjoy its sci-fi space drama about time-travelling aliens seeking to undo all of humanity’s achievements, but this first entry does not have a plot. The so-called story mode is a collection of missions set in different time periods, ranging from the Wild West to future space battles, but these missions are provided without context. Once you select a mission to play you are dumped into the map with no introduction cut-scene, no dialogue, not even a pop-up telling you what to do. You have to hit start to even see what your objective is supposed to be.
Each mission in a simple fetch-quest. You go through the level, retrieve a goody at the end, then run back to the start of the level to deliver it. Later levels mix it up a little bit by moving the finishing line somewhere obscure, but generally speaking it’s the same objective set in a different-looking environment each time. There are also no fun character bios and not even the manual has any fluff to add to the presentation, making the story mode a pretty boring ordeal.
This is further worsened by the cheap nature of the difficulty. Whereas I know TimeSplitters 2 handles difficulty levels excellently, this game just adds extra hallways to each level and nothing else. Enemies are pretty dumb, but even on easy completing the levels is made into a challenge by the level-design. Enemies are positioned in corners or immediately behind entry points, allowing them to score free hits. The muddy textures often make it hard to spot foes, even when you are looking directly at them, and the game is not above spawning in additional bastards where you are unlikely to notice them unless you know from experience where they’ll spawn.
That is not to say the game is particularly hard or not fundamentally fun to play. Especially when you hit up the multiplayer TimeSplitters shines due to its quick-paced movement and auto-aim that helps alleviate some troubles that traditionally harm console shooters. You and the enemy both go down pretty fast and respawn just as quickly, turning the average match into massive shoot-outs in small arenas where points rack up at top speed.
The weapons from different time periods are varied and efficient, though not always balanced. While a pistol shoots slowly and isn’t too powerful, it reliably hits at long range, but the average shotgun is also pretty capable of murdering everybody in the middle distance. I prefer using the futuristic weapons whose bullets are colorful lasers that ricochet around the battlefield. A huge plus in the game’s favor is its wide customization options. The rules of each match can be tweaked quite far and you can set up and save custom weapon and bot sets for later use, in case the pre-made standards don’t appeal.
Completing the different difficulty modes of the “story” levels and the various challenge missions unlocks more bots, characters, and maps to play around in. If this were a standalone game, I would have rated it quite highly for this, but with the knowledge of how much TimeSplitters 2 improved on this aspect, and everything else in the game, I must say this doesn’t change much. If you like the idea of a well-designed, often chaotic, multiplayer blast, then either 2 or Future Perfect are much more likely to sate your need.
Story & Gameplay score: 3/10
How the standards for visuals have changed
While doing research on games I review, one of the first steps I take is to read the reviews written at the time. This helps me sort of immerse myself into the thought pattern needed to understand the historical context of the game, but what I found particularly interesting this time around is how people praised the game’s visuals. TimeSplitters came out the same year as the Playstation 2, in fact it was a launch title for the US release. Perhaps in those early days of 3D modelling I could have understood the praise, but to say the visuals have dated would be an understatement.
Displayed on the front-side of the game’s PAL box are examples of the many deformed characters you will be controlling. There is no better way to say it: the character models are ugly and the cartoon-like aesthetic they went with still tries to be too realistic, making the deformed models look muddy and dull. Since the game also lacks character bios and only has one voice quip per character, there isn’t really any reason to prefer any of them.
While story mission are boring series of hallways, the multiplayer stages fare a lot better and actually don’t look too bad. There’s some color to them, the design isn’t too shabby, and once you get in there and start tearing up bots and other players the fun comes naturally. The soundtrack also adds some nice atmosphere and the last mission in particular had some catchy music to it.
Presentation score: 3/10
On the double now
The main incentive to replay stages and challenges is for the scoreboard. Each time you finish anything the game is sure to let you know how long it took and encourages you to try again, as shown by the fact that the X-button doesn’t continue, but restarts; the button you are most likely to press. Getting through missions is surprisingly brief, maybe 4 minutes each not counting possible restarts, so even if there isn’t much to them, they can be fun for a quick speedrun.
Besides that, there really isn’t that much to see here. Multiplayer lasts as long as you care for it, but there is little to actually relive in this game.
Extras score: 4/10
Perhaps, TimeSplitters had impressive visuals at the time of its launch, but the relentless march of time has not been kind to it.The game feels soulless. It has no storytelling to call its own and only offers a competent first-person shooter to play with your pals or against bots in its multiplayer mode. In this regard it has been surpassed, both by its own sequels and by the FPS genre in its entirety.