TimeSplitters 2 Playstation 2, Xbox, GameCube (reviewed) Developed by Free Radical Design Released in 2002
This review may be a little overdue, since we tackled the original TimeSplitters over two months ago now. I had that game on the Playstation 2, but my copy of its sequel was on the Nintendo GameCube, a system that I no longer owned. On top of that all the controllers I had for the system were shoddy third-party controllers that never worked well to begin with and the first GameCube I ordered online was broken as well. Anyway, two months and three days later I finally got to replay a game that, without any doubt, I would rank among my top ten favorites. Let’s go!
Finally, a story
Those who read my review of the first game may remember that one of my main complaints was the complete lack of a story. The “story” mode of TimeSplitters was little more than a series of themed mazes that got longer as you increased the difficulty, completely devoid of any sort of character, plot, or, indeed, context. It was a mess to say the least and boy did Free Radical Design learn from this.
The year is 2401 and humanity is at war with a race of aliens known as the TimeSplitters (yes, without a space). These aliens, as their name implies, travel through time and have taken over a space station with a portal for them to use. With this they intend to invade humanity’s past and prevent important events from ever happening. You play as Sergeant Cortez, who together with Corporal Hart arrives on the space station with the goal of retrieving the “time crystals” that the aliens use. When they are detected the Splitters quickly grab their crystals and jump through the portal, forcing Cortez to chase them across time and space to retrieve all the crystals.
Each mission in the game takes you to a completely different time period, stretching from the Wild West to a robot war in the distant future. This time each mission is preceded with a cutscene that establishes the character you’ll be playing as and the overall goal. Hopping from character to character wasn’t that interesting in the first game, but now that they all have cool personalities and interesting designs it does work spectacularly well. You’ll find yourself playing as a noblewoman in the guise of a troubadour seeking to fight the evil taking hold of Paris or a robot built for war that seeks vengeance against the man trying to restart a conflict that cost him many of his robot buddies.
You also get mission briefings on the mission select screen that help paint a picture of the interesting world this all takes place in and you can go to the gallery where there are small biographies of the characters you meet. My favorite missions out there include a raid on a zombie-infested Notre Dame where a madman has begun sacrificing young girls, as well as the fantastic opening level that is a homage to the first stage of the Nintendo 64 classic Goldeneye. Both the missions themselves, as well as the overarching story, enjoy a really good setup with plenty of surprises strewn about. It’s not just a massive improvement over its predecessor, it’s just a fantastic story in general.
Story score: 10/10
Difficulty that is worth the struggle
Unlike its more linear predecessor, TimeSplitters 2 is a much more open first-person shooter that involves a lot of decision-making, attention to detail, and tact. Already in the first mission you are tasked with taking out a communications dish and if you don’t find it or can’t figure out a way to take it out, then even if you do every other objective in the stage, including the optional tasks, the portal back to 2401 isn’t going to show up. This can lead to annoying scenarios where you are backtracking through a stage with the constantly-respawning aliens that sometimes show up after defeating the boss tailing you throughout, but I like that it challenges the player to pay attention to the world around them instead of letting them mindlessly blast their way through.
Not that mindlessly blasting your way through isn’t fun, of course. The controls of TimeSplitters 2 are satisfying to play with, with the shooting sporting an auto-aim that is neither too imprecise or too easy to work with. In fact, it’s such a good auto-aim that you’d almost forget it’s even there as it still demands a sufficient amount of skill to hit your target. You can also manually aim, which comes with the benefit that you can line up headshots that are often essential to remaining in stealth or when dealing with undead enemies. Besides shooting you move and aim with the two sticks and you can interact with buttons and the like with the A-button. B makes you crouch, Y reloads, and most weapons have an alternative fire mode that is mapped to Z.
What really elevates TimeSplitters 2 to what, in my opinion at least, is a hallmark in game design, is the way it handles the difficulty modes. You can play each mission on easy, normal, or hard, though you need to finish them in that order to unlock the next, higher difficulty for that mission. You’ll probably assume that the higher difficulty modes feature stronger enemies and, yes, you are correct about that. More importantly though, they also completely expand the scope of the mission. Taking the first mission as an example, if you go from easy to normal, then that big dam in the background is not just scenery, you actually go up there and have to complete a number of tasks, and the portal won’t just spawn right behind you after the final objective, you need to fight your way through a mess of two enemy factions that are fighting both you and each other to reach it.
This is such an ingenious way to handle it and it completely excuses the fact that the campaign itself is only a few hours long otherwise. It feels fantastic to find locked doors and see walled-off areas that become accessible when you replay the campaign. Lit windows you thought were just for creating a city atmosphere will suddenly house enemy snipers, cameras are more plentiful, and you’ll discover a lot more story than you would playing on easy. You can even play the entire campaign in co-op mode with a friend, which is an absolute blast.
The only negative I can name for the story mode is the NeoTokyo level, which is all about stealth. While the temporal uplink, a radar of sorts, helps out by showing you the range of cameras and positions of enemies, the mechanics of TimeSplitters 2 don’t really lend themselves that well to sneaking around. There is no indication of how close you can be to your target and some parts of NeoTokyo force you to get really close to them. One misstep and you need to do the entire, slow process all over again due to the lack of a checkpoint, which isn’t an issue anywhere else in the game. Trying to get two people through this stage is just not going to happen.
Finally, I wanted to praise the weapons in this game. While each mission only offers a handful of time-period appropriate arms, when taken as a whole the arsenal does not disappoint. Strong and accurate revolvers sit besides space-age plasma blasters and tommy guns straight out of the mafia scene. Weapons don’t just differ in power, but also feature alternative firing modes and have other unique traits, so you are certain to find some you like. Pro tip: take the timed bombs and stick them to enemies. It’s a risky tactic, but I guarantee you the results are hilarious.
Gameplay score: 9/10
Animated and improved
While the original TimeSplitters received completely unfounded praise for its character designs, I must say that in this regard Free Radical Design really turned around as well. The visuals of TimeSplitters 2 aren’t just good, they are a fantastic sight, featuring an animated style thick with personality and expression, as well as a great sense of design that results in memorable characters and stages.
Characters in particular look great and actually make me wish there was even more story to this game to really make them shine. Designs like the female troubadour Viola and the 1930’s detective Jake Fenton are eye-catching and make me want to know more about these people. Some of these characters wouldn’t look amiss having their own games, I’d love an L.A. Noire-like crime thriller with Fenton in it for example. Random pedestrians may still look a tad undetailed and the game blurs at times when there is too much happening, but besides that I really can’t complain.
The time travelling shenanigans of the Splitters also lends itself excellently to the theming of stages. While some of the futuristic ones later in the game allow some boring, grey corridors to sneak into the game, the rest of the missions are atmospheric and diverse. From the snow-covered reaches of Siberia to the creepy tunnels underneath the Notre Dame where the chants in the music send shivers down your spines and all the way to the cheesy American Wild West, this game has it all and the variety leaves you rarely feeling bored with the presentation. Music, sound-effects, the weather, everything sets a tone perfectly fitting for the time period and place you are in. it’s just a shame that sometimes the place you are in isn’t that interesting or happens to be NeoTokyo.
Presentation score: 9/10
It’s never enough, is it?
Whereas I found that praising the character models in the first game was kind of ridiculous, the gaming critics at the time were even more baffling when they argued that TimeSplitters 2‘s greatest weakness was the lack of online multiplayer.What? You can play the game with up to 4 players, 8 if you use the iLink on PS2, and you have hordes of completely customizable bot players. I might not be that big on online multiplayer, but I really don’t see how omitting it from a game that already offers this much multiplayer flexibility is fair, especially in those days when online multiplayer was still in its infancy on consoles.
Leaving that aside, the multiplayer mode in this game really is spectacular and I still regularly set it up for when I receive visitors. You can completely customize the rules, the bots, and available weapons to your liking or choose from a number of presets. Even better, there are a lot of game modes to choose from. This of course includes the respectable classics like Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Capture the Flag, as well as some unorthodox ones like Virus, wherein players must avoid infected players who try to spread the virus and strive to be the last uninfected participants in the game, or Assault wherein an attacking team must face overwhelming odds to complete a series of objectives while the overpowering defense team has to stop them from doing so.
You can play these games solo as well, using bots instead of friendship, or you can try your hand at the arcade leagues or challenge missions. The arcade leagues feature variations on the multiplayer modes where you receive trophies for your performance that then unlock new characters. The challenges are a different kind of mode entirely where you take on other strange tasks, like breaking as many windows as you can in a short span of time or collect bananas. Add in the very replayable campaign mode and you’ll find that TimeSplitters 2 can hold your interest for a long time.
Extras score: 10/10
TimeSplitters 2 is one of my all-time favorite games and I hope this review has made it clear why I feel that way. There is so much to this game, so much replayability and finesse, a game whose story I can enjoy solo or with a single buddy, or entertain a whole crowd with. It really is a game for everyone, since the wide roster of characters is always certain to have a few designs that people like and it’s an easy game to learn how to play. Besides a few small issues, the only change that would make it better is if it was available for a newer console so that I don’t have to explain the GameCube to my little nephews when that time comes.