Eighteen months ago, the launch of the PS2 in the UK was dogged by a lack of quality software. As the giant Japanese publishers singularly failed to provide compelling games for Sony's new wunderkind, it fell to a previously unheard-of developer in Nottingham to rescue the show with a clever and quirky first-person shooter which went by the name of TimeSplitters. With the sequel due for a public airing at E3 later this month, we take a sneaky look at the successor to the game that came from left of field to steal the PS2 launch crown.
Time To Kill
The first-person shooter pedigree of developers Free Radical Design is a bit more impressive than TimeSplitters alone. The company may have been unheard of when TimeSplitters was released, but many of its core staff came from a little software company called Rare. You may have heard of them; they made some mildly successful first person shooters like GoldenEye and Perfect Dark
The build of TimeSplitters 2 we played consisted of a single level of the PS2 version (the game will also appear on Xbox and GameCube), and the GoldenEye influence is clear to see. Described as the team's homage to the N64 classic, this level certainly seems outwardly familiar - set around a giant dam in a snowy landscape, you must infiltrate the compound below the dam using a combination of stealth and gratuitous violence. The gameplay is a far cry from the fast, arcadey action of the original TimeSplitters. Athough other levels in the game offer thrills and spills of the hardcore shoot 'em up variety, here the emphasis was on stealth, cunning, and being a dab hand with the fantastic sniper rifle.
Although the game is still stylised and it certainly retains the unique sense of humour and comic-book sensibilities laid down by the first title, the enemy models are significantly more detailed and the levels a lot better looking, with impressive draw distance and attention to detail. Weapons are nicely modelled and the game promises a huge variety of them; we particularly liked the sniper rifle, which is surprisingly controllable with the Dual Shock pad and highlights nicely the hugely varied range of animations afforded to your enemies.
We Live In Interesting Times
Although fans of all-out action are unlikely to be disappointed by TimeSplitters 2, there's no doubt that the game has gone out of its way to be significantly more cerebral than its predecessor. For a start, the intelligence of enemies in the game is quite impressive, and being spotted either by guards or by the security cameras isn't a good idea at all. Many areas of the huge level we saw needed careful thought before proceeding, in terms of taking out both automated defences and patrolling guards.
Another welcome addition is rolling mission objectives, which pop up as you discover new challenges on the level and allow you to keep track of what you're meant to be doing at any given time. An apparently simple mission objective may turn out to have layers of complexity as you run off to do other related missions before completing the main objective. Add to this the fact that the game is obviously capable of handling absolutely huge levels without load delays or any of that nonsense, and also boasts I-link multiplayer support, and you've got a riveting gaming experience in the making.
Variety is also something TimeSplitters 2 is unlikely to lack. From realistic Metal Gear Solid-esque sections such as the one we played through to battles against the undead and futuristic warfare, the game ambitiously promises to roll the content of three or four lesser titles into one superb package. It's a game which could well do for console first-person shooters what Grand Theft Auto 3 did for driving games.
It's a cliché, and it's silly, but I'm going to say it anyway - TimeSplitters 2 feels like the spiritual successor to GoldenEye, but with fantastic graphics, much more varied environments and enemies, and the promise of frantic action-packed segments as well as more cerebral stealth missions. With this game, Eidos has potentially the biggest console hit of the year on its hands. Reaction from the show floor at E3 will be an early indicator, but for our money, right now, TimeSplitters 2 is stacking up to be the FPS title to beat in console terms.