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.
If Namco had really produced a technical tour-de-force, it might have at least given it more of a wow factor, but the truth is the game was already looking a little behind the times when it hit the arcades in 2006. On the PS3 in high definition, there's the occasional spark of magic, but for the most part looks like a crisp makeover of a style that everyone left behind seven or eight years ago.
Once you've extracted any residual enjoyment out of the arcade mode (two-player split-screen is an option, as usual), you might feel tempted to find out more about the story and play the all-new Complete Mission mode. Namco's attempt to expand past the on-rails limitations of the arcade mode, this is essentially a standard FPS take on light-gun gaming, with the GunCon 3's two analog sticks acting in the same look-and-move fashion as they would in a normal run-and-gun.
The difference here, of course, is that you still have to physically aim and shoot with the gun, adding a third layer of control complexity. If you recall, Resident Evil: Dead Aim did this very well about five years ago, and managed to weave a creditable puzzle adventure in among the zombie killing. In Time Crisis 4, it's basic duck-and-cover shooting, occasional jump puzzles, the odd key hunt, and a few demolition jobs. It's very dull throughout, and over-long, and ensures that, following long-forgotten Xbox game Breakdown, Namco still hasn't managed to work out how to make a decent first-person shooter.
Any chance of the Complete Mission mode being fun to play is instantly hampered by the wonky control system and the cripplingly slow run speed. If forcing the player to crawl along at almost walking pace isn't enough to test your resolve, then the ill-considered stick sensitivity, boring level design and poor enemy AI will finish you off. Most of the time you're simply lurching from one samey section to the next, crawling slowly through a bland-looking warehouse, boring forests, or perhaps a tedious dam. The best thing you can say about it is that it checkpoints your progress frequently, so you don't have to continually repeat things; if you did, you'd probably give up anyway.
Possibly the most puzzling aspect of the FPS sections, though, is how awful the graphics engine is. It would shame the PS2, with bland texturing, jagged foliage and that over-sterile look that was a necessity ten years ago, but now simply looks awful when bumped up to high resolution. The fact that Complete Mission mode intersperses the FPS missions with arcade missions to flesh out the experience and provide a consistent narrative merely serves to illustrate the gulf in quality between the two aspects of the game.
And to compound the game's half-arsed nature, the bonus mini-games are about as throwaway as you can imagine, with skeet shooting-style challenges shoehorned in for no good reason at all.
If you were hoping for the return of Time Crisis to herald some kind of rebirth for on-rails shooters, then you'll be sorely disappointed. The arcade mode is dumb fun for a short while, but is little more than a tired throwback, while the addition of FPS missions will be barely tolerable to even the most forgiving shooter. Factor in the extra expense of the shoddy GunCon 3, and even hardcore fans will think twice.
5 / 10