The MoeGamer Awards 2018: The Least “Retro” Retro Game

The MoeGamer Awards are a series of “alternative” awards that I’ve devised in collaboration with the community as an excuse to celebrate the games, experiences and fanbases that have left a particular impression on me in 2018. Find out more and leave a suggestion here!

This award was suggested by The Night Owl from The Late Night Session.

Retro gaming can be a bit of a minefield at times.

Sometimes you’ll return to a game you absolutely adored in your youth only to discover that it’s an unplayable garbage fire by modern standards, for all manner of reasons.

And sometimes you’ll pick up a game that you really enjoyed in years gone by, only to discover that age has been extremely kind to it — and it’s actually even better from a modern perspective than it was originally. I’ve come across a few games like that recently, but if I had to pick one, ooh, ooooooh….

And the winner is…

TimeSplitters 2

I actually went back and forth on whether to give this to the original TimeSplitters or its sequel, since in all honesty I feel like it’s the first game that has shown greater “improvement” over time. But the fact remains, TimeSplitters 2 is simply a better, more substantial game at its core, and while I won’t say there’s no reason to play TimeSplitters while TimeSplitters 2 exists, the latter offers so much content that it’s hard not to want to celebrate it somewhat.

If you’re reading this, you probably already have at least a passing understanding of older games from the PS2 era, but just in case, here’s the gist: in TimeSplitters 2 you take on the role of a futuristic space soldier who is sent back through a time portal to various periods in history (and our future) in order to retrieve time crystals and prevent the invasion of the titular dimension-hopping aliens.

At least, you do in the Story mode. Besides that, you have the Arcade mode and the Challenge mode, both of which we’ll come onto in a moment.

In Quantum Leap style, each level sees the protagonist inhabiting the body of someone from that time period rather than remaining “himself”, and this provides a convenient excuse for various narrative setups as well as the use of period-appropriate hardware rather than simply allowing you to blast your way through with futuristic weaponry.

TimeSplitters 2’s Story mode takes some heavy cues from GoldenEye and Perfect Dark in that completing a level requires you to accomplish a particular set of objectives rather than simply finding your way to the exit or triggering all the cutscenes along a linear path. This is unsurprising, since developer Free Radical primarily consisted of ex-Rare developers who worked on those two classics, and TimeSplitters 2 represented what they were capable of when unconstrained by a movie license or single coherent setting.

The objectives are many, varied and appropriate to the settings of the levels. The first stage unfolds on a Siberian dam as a direct reference to GoldenEye’s first level, for example, and requires you to avoid security cameras, destroy files and locate important information. Another is a noir-inspired detective story in which you have to meet and protect an informant before making your way to a showdown with the local crime boss. Another still sees you thwarting a demon-summoning ritual in the cathedral of Notre Dame.

Like its spiritual predecessors, TimeSplitters 2 actually varies things up with each difficulty level rather than simply making the enemies hit harder and soak more damage. On the hardest difficulty, you’ll often have more objectives to complete, and those objectives may be in different locations to where you’d find them on the easier settings. In some cases, the maps are even larger on the harder difficulties, giving you more of the level to explore, track down enemies and procure helpful equipment.

This way in which the Story mode has been designed is one of the main reasons TimeSplitters 2 has aged so well. Modern first-person shooters, with a few exceptions, tend to emphasise cinematic spectacle, and as such tend to railroad the player down a specific route without much deviation and exploration possible.

In TimeSplitters 2, meanwhile, while there’s a definite sense of “progression” to each level, there’s also the sense that if you just go and check out that interesting building over there, you might find something cool — be it a new weapon, an entertaining Easter egg or perhaps just a nice view of the scenery. And the highly interactive environments help a lot with this sense of “discovery”, too. You can even find fully playable game cartridges that plug into your motion scanner in several of the levels.

Where TimeSplitters 2 truly shines is in all the additional content it offers over and above the Story mode experience, however. Call of Duty is popular today for its extensive multiplayer metagame — so much so that more recent installments have stripped out the story-based campaign altogether in favour of simply providing a solid online multiplayer package. But TimeSplitters 2 still puts it to shame with all the things you can enjoy — whether you’re with friends or playing solo.

First is the Arcade mode, a fully customisable multiplayer battle arena in which you can play a wide variety of game types on a generous selection of maps, more of which unlock as you progress through the rest of the game. There are a variety of characters available to play as, and you can even set up your own lineup of computer-controlled bot players to either compete against as a solo player, or make split-screen multiplayer matches more challenging and chaotic.

The Arcade mode also features an Arcade League, in which your skill and understanding of the multiplayer mechanics is tested in a variety of different situations, and you’re tasked with accomplishing various single objectives as quickly as possible. This is a great way of practising the game and getting to grips with various scenarios you might run into.

Then there’s the Challenge mode, which just lets loose with the creativity, abandons all pretense of trying to be any sort of “coherent” experience in the name of providing delightfully arcadey fun. Sometimes you’ll be tasked with smashing all the windows in an area; sometimes you’ll have to shoot the heads off as many zombies as possible while confined to a small room; sometimes you’ll have to be as stealthy as possible. Again, these are a great way of learning a variety of skills, but more than anything are a reminder that games can just be plain fun; they don’t always have to make sense.

TimeSplitters 2 has aged extremely well for a number of reasons, then: its substantial and satisfying Story mode, the solid way in which it trains solo players to compete in multiplayer and, to be perfectly frank, the fact that all the damn game content is on the disc and not locked behind a Season Pass. The importance of that latter point should not be underestimated; while some may wrinkle their nose at the requirement to unlock aspects of the game before you can enjoy them for yourself or with friends, the initial lineup of content available to enjoy is already generous, and the unlock process is fun rather than a grind.

And it doesn’t ask for your credit card information or PayPal account even once. Remember those days? I certainly do. And I miss them a lot!

More about TimeSplitters 2

Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this article. I’ve been writing about games in one form or another since the days of the old Atari computers, with work published in Page 6/New Atari User, PC Zone, the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, GamePro, IGN, USgamer, Glixel and more over the years, and I love what I do.

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