Version tested: PlayStation 3
Undoubtedly one of the campest on-rails shooter series ever made, it's impossible to take Time Crisis seriously. But then it's impossible to take a lot of things seriously: insurance salesmen, for example, or people who wear hats indoors. So we still hoped that Namco would do something interesting with the fourth in the long-running series. Sadly, it's probably the most dysfunctional offering yet, with a clunky stab at innovation having the opposite effect to the one intended. Unless they meant it to be bad.
The first signs are hardly promising, with the lurid orange GunCon 3 proving to be a complete nightmare to set up. Sporting two chunky cube-shaped infrared receivers, which perch on top of the TV, you have to trail the wires in such a way that they don't obscure the picture or cause the receivers to topple off. Once you've got that sorted out, it's apparent during the five-point calibration process that the receivers have real issues operating at short ranges of a few feet. This is strange, considering we've never had similar issues with the Wiimote on the same TV. Eventually, it got to the stage where the aiming was so flaky that we had to set it up on a smaller screen, where we had no problems whatsoever.
Then there's the design of the GunCon 3. Apart from being a nauseating shade of Berocca orange, it's a cheap, tacky wired USB controller burdened by a needlessly complicated design, which manages to require a side grip, about half a dozen buttons, and two flimsy thumb-sticks. In the basic, straight-up port of the arcade mode, this isn't such a problem, as not many of them are used - as usual you duck in and out of cover by pressing a single button and cycle through the weapons with the trigger while in cover. The rest of the time, the game does most of the movement for you as soon as you've cleared out all the goons, with the occasional need to flick between multi-screen environments using the left stick when prompted.
As for the game itself, it's all predictable light-gun fodder, featuring some fascinatingly wooden Final Fantasy rejects in the lead roles. The story's really not what you're here for, but for the record this one has you playing the part of Giorgio Bruno or Evan Bernard, two immaculately (and comically) coiffured gun-toting agents trying to put a stop to a black market in top-secret bio-weapons. Without spoiling it too much, these amount to gigantic swarming insect-like things called Terror Bites, which will eat your face, so you find yourself machine gunning hordes of scuttling beetles, airborne swarms and other horrible bugs that inflate and explode puss all over your lovely suit if you're not careful.
Elsewhere the game makes an occasional foray into pure on-rails territory, where you're onboard a bulletproof helicopter, spitting endless rounds of hot lead into numerous not-so-bulletproof helicopters, and swooping around the city streets or an airport in pursuit of a specific target while taking down an entire corrupt army in the process. If it could be this relentless, daft and exciting for longer, it'd be a more enjoyable experience, but all-too-soon you're back playing peek-a-boo against idiotic enemies with possibly the most ham-fisted aiming in videogaming history. As usual, progress is aligned to your ability to remember when those unavoidable attacks are heading your way. The multi-screen stuff (on the rare occasions when the game uses it) is quite tense and exciting, but this is pretty much the only way Time Crisis 4 distinguishes itself from every other on-rails shooter. And as usual the game overall is incredibly short.