Dear old (Bandai) Namco and its dear old light-gun shooter games. Bless its little socks. Still partying like it's 1996 in the staunch belief that there's nothing quite like wielding a plastic weapon at a screen and blamming away at scripted perps until your carpal tunnels beg for mercy.
The latest PS3-exclusive incarnation of this now-veteran series popped its head out from behind cover at Tokyo Game Show to give attendees a glimpse of what to expect when it launches across the world in November. Allowed ten minutes to play through the first two levels of the game, we got a chance to try out the G-Con 3 and experience a few new additions to the familiar template.
As usual, the premise is pretty throwaway stuff, shoehorning in any excuse for you to take down an entire army of bad guys and blow everything up in typical action movie fashion. The game stars VSSE agents Georgio Bruno and Evan Bernard on a mission to investigate black market arms dealing in California. In other words, yet another chance to team up with a pal and play the game co-op - either with a friend or an AI-assisted player. For now, though, we were happy to grapple with the newly remodelled G-Con alone, and wondered why it now sports a side grip and analogue stick out of the left hand side of the chunkier weapon.
Railing against tradition?
Well, for starters, it helps gives you a steadier aim, and also gives you a means of utilising the game's 'multi screen' mode (which you may recall from 2001 PSone spin-off title Project Titan), where the action takes place in two (or more - we didn't get that far) places at once. When prompted, you get the chance to flip to another part of the action (for example, behind you) by simply pushing the required direction on the thumb stick. The end of the second level introduces the idea, with baddies creeping up on you from two sides of a corridor. Once you clear one side, you can quickly flick to the other and clear that, and so on until the game automatically moves you on in the traditional on-rails fashion.
In terms of the general gameplay, nothing much has altered from any of the previous games in the series (though you might well grumble about the inability to see your reticule on-screen). Once again you remain behind cover by default, choose your weapon (such as pistol, machine gun, and shotgun) by cycling through with the trigger, and then push yourself out of cover via the main button on the side of the gun. With that depressed, you're ready to aim at your targets and loose off a volley of shots until they're all choking on blood and lead.
Needless to say, one of the other main aims of the game is to judge when to duck back into cover - not only to reload, but to dodge heavy enemy fire, such as rockets and those sneaky little sods that decide to blat you in the face with minimal warning. As ever, it's one of the those games that evidently takes a fair bit of repeat play to learn when these cheap attacks occur, because health is a scarce and rare commodity in Time Crisis 4 (but, bless, there's always the good old stock of continues to fall back on when you bite too many bullets).
Another point evident in this new version is how buggy it is. And by that we mean creepy crawlies: thousands of the little scuttling sods, reminiscent of the onslaught of the Scarabs in The Mummy. But although they're set upon our heroes in a similar fashion, Time Crisis 4's clinical airport setting at the start of the game couldn't provide a greater contrast, and, as threatening as they look, it was quickly apparent that they're no match for a few well-placed shotgun or machine-gun blasts. Just like any good light-gun shooter, the sense of panic is immense, and there's rarely time to pause for breath before you run off to the next section, and the next set of marauding enemies. As simple and shallow a shooter as you'll ever play, but that's the point.
In truth, the main area that's been buffed up is in the visuals, with a crisp hi-def, next-gen feel very much the order of the day. Since the series last graced the PS2 three years ago, there's no getting away from the gigantic leap forward Time Crisis 4 has taken in terms of its overall cinematic approach and desire to throw ludicrous set-pieces at you one after the other. Even from the ten minutes or so we got with the game, it's clear the game benefits from the next-gen leap in every respect, boasting vastly more detailed characters and environments, improved animation routines, and a much greater emphasis on explosive set-pieces.
It might not be original to any great degree, but that was never the point. What's cause for celebration is the fact that, finally, we'll be getting a version of Time Crisis that's absolutely arcade perfect. Better still, the PS3 version will be fleshed out with a new five-level FPS mode, allowing players to "roam freely as a new, console exclusive playable character" - Captain William Rush. Movement will be possible via the thumbstick, which sounds very much like the technique used in Resident Evil: Dead Aim to us, so could be very promising indeed. In total, there are four different modes in the game, including the original Arcade mode, Full Mission mode (which mixes up arcade and FPS stages), as well as all-new Crisis Missions and various shooting mini games. For long-term fans, you can't really ask for more than that. The only downside is, yes, you'll have to fork out for yet another new G-Con to play it (or two, if you want the full 2-player experience), but we're assured this one will actually be compatible with modern HD TVs (unlike the older versions, of course).
With a much greater visual appeal, and a thrill-a-minute approach to the gun-toting gameplay, Time Crisis 4 really wants to be an interactive action movie. As Barry Norman would say: and why not?