Guns of the Namco
Next time you make it in to work a few minutes late and your boss produces a newspaper to swat you round the head with, try telling him that you were having a Time Crisis at home. Henceforth he'll know not to bother you. A man that leaps around his own living room brandishing a couple of pistols and taking out the scourge of humanity with a wry grin and a schedule to keep isn't to be messed about. Your boss knows that. Time Crisis 2 is one of my all-time favourite arcade games. The pedal and gun system for ducking in and out of cover is the stuff of gaming legends, and Namco have successfully recreated the Time Crisis experience on PlayStation 2. The PS2 version has nicer visuals, more things to do and plays just as well as the arcade version. What more could a fan want? It also ships with the light gun - GunCon 2 - for £49.99. GunCon 2 is quite ingenious. It plugs into one of the PlayStation 2's USB slots (located just below the first controller port) and has a two-way cable bridge. You plug the composite video cable into one side and plug the other side into your TV. As a result the GunCon 2 is extremely accurate, right down to the pixel. You get a decent length of cable with it, and if you buy another GunCon 2 (or have an old GunCon from the original PSX) you can hook it up and play with a mate. Or, even better, play two-handed. You want the board's respect, right? First of all we should address the graphics. Namco always does a good job of arcade to console ports, and Time Crisis 2 is no exception. Granted, it isn't a patch on the likes of Gran Turismo, but it does still look pretty damn good and you can see where Namco have made an effort and spruced things up a bit. Additions include improved textures, higher polygon counts for the characters, backgrounds and such, and clouds of dust that I swear I didn't see in the arcade version.
Do you feel lucky?
The point of Time Crisis 2 though is action, and less-complicated graphics make it easier to pick out your target. At the start of the game you and your partner (who can be controlled by the AI or by another player via I-Link or split-screen) are plunged into a world of crime. It seems to be a prerequisite in this genre that your storyline be complete pants, and Time Crisis 2 knows not to mess with tradition. The story is played out through unremarkable cutscenes with bad voice-acting and unlikely scenarios, and concerns somebody's attempts to take over the world. You and your partner progress through the game capping bad guys with your GunCons, and with each new situation you pick a protected spot. You crouch behind this until you depress the button on the butt of the GunCon 2, at which point you pop up and let rip. If they start to shoot back or you run out of ammo, let go and you duck back down and reload. Simple, really. Purists will want the real arcade experience though, which is difficult to do. Apart from requiring a 38" flatscreen TV, you also need to think about the pedal. Fortunately, you can put your disused Dual Shock 2 controller on the floor and tap the buttons on and off like the pedal to the same effect. Quite novel, although you want to be gentle with it, because bare-footed you will learn to respect it as much as your son's strategically positioned Duplo bricks, and otherwise you run the risk of using too much force and stamping the poor thing into oblivion. Nonetheless, the GunCon 2 cover system works really well, and as if marshalling that wasn't difficult enough, you often find yourself in situations where popping up also has you moving slowly forward, moving in and out of cover. This adds a dynamic element missing from games like those of the lethargic Virtua Cop series. Your partner also gets in the way now and then, or takes up a ridiculous position more or less facing you. Making sure you don't wound him is another clenched fist of excitement. Those Continues don't last forever...
It's what you do with it that counts
One of the things it's hard not to find fault with though is the game's length. Going the distance takes less than an hour if you don't run out of Continues. There are three stages, each with its own big boss, and there are a few heavily armoured cars and such to overcome along the way as well, but it's not really enough. Even those out of practice with the lightgun will triumph in a matter of hours. Thankfully there's plenty beyond the Story Mode, starting with the added incentive of the Best Times leaderboard. The faster and the more accurately you complete a stage, the better placed you are on the leaderboard. Among Time Crisis fans this is likely to add a lot of replay value. Other game modes include One-Mission Select, which lets you practice any mission from Story Mode that you have already accessed, and four sub-games; Agent Trainer, Quick & Crash, Shoot Away 2 and Crisis Mission. These range from standard target practice and timed shoots with recorded accuracy to missions specifically about avoiding civilian contact and beating the clock. The thing that really does it for me though is the two-player mode. You can hook up two consoles using I-Link or you can just plug in two guns and go at it on the same screen. This is great because Time Crisis 2 also allows for people who like to play two-handed. So if you fancy a bit of John Woo action, you're in luck! This added several more hours of mindless blasting to the action for me. It's just a shame you can't buy an authentic Time Crisis pedal; maybe I can rig something that cut into my foot...
Ultimately, Time Crisis 2 is a reasonably-priced fast-paced lightgun game that pits your accuracy with a pistol and the speed of your reactions against the clock. I bought it for a perfectly acceptable £49.99, including the GunCon 2, which commands respect. It's an arcade-perfect conversion, with added bonuses including new game modes and improved graphics, and it's all fully customisable through the various options menus. It's all over far too soon though, and before long it's not going to command your attention for more than half an hour at a time. It may look okay, but it's not an exceptionally detailed game, and it certainly could have been. It's not a 60Hz game, either. Bring me the head of the man responsible. Those things said, people will still find reasons to buy Time Crisis 2. There is still nothing quite like the feeling of diving out of cover with two guns at the ready, and everyone has at least a few double-handed shootout fantasies to fulfil. The bottom line is that this is the best lightgun game on any system at the moment, it's just that lightgun games are pretty darned shallow. If you want something with a prolonged narrative and want to take a new experience away from every sitting, this isn't for you. But if you like lightgun games and £50 isn't too much for a game you may only dip into for the odd hour here and there, you could do a lot worse. It will certainly impress your mates.