Yes, yes, yes, I know it’s also on Xbox and Gamecube, but I’ve always thought of TimeSplitters as a PlayStation thing, so that’s where it’s getting categorised today.
Ahem. Anyway. TimeSplitters 2 is, unsurprisingly, the follow-up to the excellent TimeSplitters, a game developed by ex-Rare folks who previously worked on GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark on the Nintendo 64.
The original TimeSplitters has aged very well. Its sequel is even better. Let’s take a closer look.
For the uninitiated, the TimeSplitters series is a range of cartoonish first-person shooters that were among the first to get dual analogue controls “right”. The games are speedy affairs that don’t get bogged down in excessive realism, and are well-known for their impressively meaty gunplay, incredible customisability, huge range of appealing, stylised playable characters and enormously varied weapons. They were a mainstay of “multiplayer nights” for many people in the early ’00s thanks to their support for up to four simultaneous split-screen players — even on the PlayStation 2 thanks to the MultiTap — and remain good, solid fun even today.
TimeSplitters 2 follows the same basic structure as its predecessor in that there are three main components to the experience: Story mode provides a linear sequence of levels with three difficulty options each for either a solo player or two players in cooperation; Arcade provides the facility to play structured multiplayer games against human opponents, bots or a combination of both; Challenge makes use of the game mechanics in various creative ways to set you interesting and unusual objectives to accomplish against the clock.
The main difference between TimeSplitters 2 and its predecessor is the fact that each and every one of those modes has been fleshed out considerably from its prior incarnation.
In the first game, the Story mode drew pretty widespread criticism at the time of its original release for… well, not really having a story at all. Instead, each level was pretty much a case of “fight your way in, find a MacGuffin, fight your way back out again”. What we have in TimeSplitters 2, meanwhile, is something much more akin to the single-player levels in GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark: larger levels with more interactive environments, lists of objectives to complete, optional tasks to accomplish for additional credit and a surprising amount of variation between difficulty levels. Oh, and cutscenes with some seriously cool facial animation on the cartoony characters.
There are ten levels to challenge in Story mode, each unfolding in a different time period. And this is for more than just show; the different eras provide you with not only different weapons and enemies to fight, but also a distinct “feel” to the levels you’ll be exploring. The first level, for example, unfolds on and around a Siberian dam and is a direct homage to the team’s previous work on GoldenEye 007 — right down to the similar-sounding music (once again composed by Graeme Norgate) and pre-mission cutscene where the camera pans around before zooming “into” the protagonist’s head for the player to seamlessly take control.
Later missions include a film noir-style level set in Chicago that involves some light “investigative” gameplay as well as the standard shooting; a Gothic horror level set in Notre Dame that sees you fighting off a giant demon, rescuing large-breasted maidens and battling the villain of the piece on the roof of the cathedral (in the rain, naturally); a beautiful, neon-soaked, Blade Runner-inspired level, and plenty more besides.
The story levels themselves feel much more like “worlds” than the rather “gamey” environments of the first game, and this is helped a great deal by the significant amount of interactivity and attention to detail there is to enjoy and appreciate. In the aforementioned Chicago level, for example, one of your objectives is to drain a series of illegal whiskey barrels. This isn’t a simple case of shooting them until they smash; shooting them causes the whiskey to leak out of the bullet hole you leave, but the game keeps track of the “liquid level” inside the barrel, even though you can’t see it; in order to completely empty the barrel, you’ll need to shoot a bullet hole in its base so all the whiskey flows out rather than just some of it.
That attention to detail extends outside of mission objectives, too. In the same Chicago level, interacting with a phone box triggers various conversations, most of which are simple little Easter eggs of sorts. But one sees a taxi firm responding to your call; they tell you a taxi is on the way. I didn’t think anything of this at the time and proceeded into the building I was heading for to complete my mission… but two or three minutes later I heard the pipping of a horn. I looked out through a window and the taxi I had “called” was there waiting for me. Little touches like this make TimeSplitters 2’s world feel truly alive.
Outside of the story mode, there’s plenty to do, too, with both the Arcade and Challenge modes being fleshed out considerably from their previous incarnations, particularly for the single player. Arcade mode in particular has had the biggest overhaul, now sporting an “Arcade League” mode, which sees you challenging several tiers of themed matches against bots — sometimes following the conventional rules of a game mode, at others challenging you to accomplish something (such as, say, scoring 10 kills) as quickly as possible.
This addition makes a lot of sense, because although the original TimeSplitters was regarded by many as being primarily a multiplayer game — which is why it had such a good reception despite the widespread criticisms of its Story mode — it’s still probably fair to say that an owner of a TimeSplitters game getting people together to play four-player split-screen would probably be the exception rather than the norm; a special occasion. With that in mind, providing a more substantial offering for the solo player to enjoy when they don’t have friends to hand — particularly incorporating some challenges that allows them to practice and improve their multiplayer game — is an eminently sensible idea.
Meanwhile, the multiplayer mode itself — now known as “Arcade Custom” — is considerably expanded, too, with many more modes on offer, as well as the ability to network several PlayStation 2 consoles together and allow up to 16 human players. You can also adjust the overall pace of the game between “Chilled”, “Normal” and “Frantic”, which can vary the experience a surprising amount. And, of course, the series’ well-regarded array of customisation options are present and correct, allowing you to tweak matches to your exact specifications.
Particular highlights among the new modes include Virus, which sees a random player start the match on fire and have to pass the flames to all their opponents as quickly as possible; Vampire, in which players much continually kill in order to keep a “Bloodlust” meter filled or die; Assault, which takes some cues from the popular objective-based mode TimeSplitters contemporary Unreal Tournament; and Monkey Assistant, which gives the player in last place a series of simian minions to help them out.
As in the previous game, there are a variety of characters and maps to unlock by playing the single-player missions, but there’s a decent selection available from the outset, too. Characters have explicit stats this time around, too, so they’re more than a simple cosmetic choice. While these differences don’t make a huge impact on the overall gameplay, they do make things a little more interesting — and the sheer number of characters on offer (over 125 when you’ve unlocked everything) means that everyone will probably be able to find a favourite, whether it’s because of their appearance or how they play.
The Challenge mode, the last part of the overall package, might initially seem similar to Arcade League in that it’s a single player-centric mode in which you attempt to accomplish objectives as quickly as possible. The main difference is that Challenge mode missions are much more absurd than those in Arcade League, and typically challenge you to do things that you wouldn’t normally be doing in a conventional game mode. It’s sheer “playtime”… albeit with some seriously tricky missions to fulfil!
The first series of challenges tasks you with efficiently smashing panes of glass in parts of the Story levels, for example, while others see you collecting bananas, performing stealth kills, punching the heads off zombies or even paying homage to the original TimeSplitters’ Story mode by retrieving objects from the depths of enemy territory. These missions provide a means of showing how the game’s core mechanics can be used creatively — but also provide another means of testing and improving your skills. The “Behead the Undead” challenges are a great way to master headshots, for example, while missions that arm you with some of the more unconventional weapons in the game’s considerable arsenal provide you the opportunity to experiment with and understand items that might initially appear to be mostly useless in combat.
Oh, and on top of all that, there are three charming “vector graphics”-style retro-inspired games to discover and unlock throughout the Story mode, too: an interesting variant on the classic Snake game that can be played by up to four people simultaneously, a Sprint-style top-down racer and an authentically impossible take on Lunar Lander. These games serve no mechanical purpose in the main game other than to be a bit of fun, but their inclusion is perfectly symbolic of the TimeSplitters 2 package in its entirety: a labour of love created by people who want their players to enjoy themselves for a very long time.
All in all, like its predecessor, TimeSplitters 2 remains hugely fun even today. In fact, given the oft-criticised nature of today’s single-player FPS campaigns, I’d hold up the Story mode as particularly worthy of note in 2018 with its expansive, interesting levels and varied objectives — not to mention the inherent variety of settings and items that the time travel concept brings to the table — but the other content provides an impressive amount of long-term appeal too, whether you’re playing solo or with friends. Obviously you’ll get the most out of it if you can get people together to play at least occasionally, but even if you have no friends (or have friends who are too old and boring to come and visit you ever because “family” or some such excuse) there’s still plenty here to take your time over and savour.
I’ll take it over the latest lootbox and microtransaction-riddled online-centric buggy mess of an FPS any day, let’s just put it that way!
More about TimeSplitters 2
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