While not reaching the same levels of marketing genius as Nintendo's Pokemon
series, Free Radical's TimeSplitters
franchise has garnered the independent developer quite a reputation with critics and gamers alike, while keeping the bacon coming home every other year since the series' inception. The TimeSplitters gig is an easy formula to keep going when you think about it. Free Radical's game is constantly changing time periods, settings, enemies, and weapons, and it's all tied together with a loose story. In a way, Cortez is always on the run trying to collect them all, the time crystals, that is.
Under EA's publishing helm now, Free Radical has completed its third game in the series, bringing gamers the console-friendly first-person shooter that has the rare trait of being an official descendent of GoldenEye 007. This year's effort offers a few firsts for the series, finally delivering online gaming for Xbox and PS2 gamers, and adding vehicles and NPC-cooperative play for all consoles.
While adding in a flurry of game modes, unlockable characters, and challenges into the mix, always keeping its offline fanbase in the loop, Free Radical's FPS, however, feels less than inspired. The single-player campaign is simplistic, easier than normal, and short, and the story shows marked signs of idea fatigue. The hefty multiplayer modes and the game's undeniably charming personality both make up for these shortcomings, but one wonders if the series hasn't reached a creative stalemate, and if, finally, that old GoldenEye lineage is less of a blessing and more of a curse.
Single Player Campaign
Spanning across 13 single-player missions, TimeSplitters: Future Perfect tells the story of Cortez, the series' hero, and his ongoing quest to locate and secure the mysterious time crystals. These powerful elements grant those who hold them the power of whimsically traveling to any point in the past, present, or future. This time around, players actually remain in the shoes of the Balco-enriched warrior, instead of controlling different bodies in different time periods. In fact, the developer plays with time more than ever here, bringing the Cortez of the past and future into the mix, weaving in sometimes interesting but often weak gameplay scenarios that feel more repetitive and laborious than engaging. It's a nice idea, but it's been used so often in movies, cartoons, and other games, it just feels lightweight and cliché here.
Like in series' past, the levels bounce all over the place, starting in 1924, jumping into the 1960s, and swirling into the close and far-off future. You'll experience a military island, haunted mansion, ghost and zombie-ridden underground science lab, a moving train, a futuristic Martian planet and a futuristic research facility, among other locations. Changing things up a bit, the use of non-playable characters gives the oftentimes often-cookie cutter levels a new twist. You work in cooperation with them, protecting them from fire, sniping enemies away from them, or using them as foils to get from point A to point B.
Their presence also gives Free Radical the chance to do what it does best with characters -- to humor you. These characters crack sophomoric jokes, lay down not so subtle innuendoes, and display innocent, and some not-so-innocent fun. You'll recognize several familiar faces with Harry Tripper and Captain Ash to name a couple, and others. They all lay down subtly insidious lines, whether it's Captain Ash's girlfriend savage, the female cult guardsmen, or the simple soldier-thugs in just about any level. The playful dialog is likeable and charming, and the range of wild and wacky characters -- more than 150 -- is surprising, amusing, and engaging.
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For those who are sticklers about this series' controls, you can flip on and off the reticule now. This works out better than before; for run-and-gun-style play you can turn it off with a press of the analog stick, and for more precise aiming, it's just as easy to turn back on.
The level designs are all relatively basic, leaving very little to the imagination or to explore. There is a moderate amount of stealth, and it feels as of it's there just to say it's there, rather than to be effective. Most missions don't offer split paths or variations, and you'll find very few items or gems to collect; most of the backgrounds are non-interactive. However, the few areas that are interactive -- especially the research facility's computers and the human test chambers -- are awesome.
Unfortunately, the single-player game is super short. It's easier than the other two games in the series, and it never delivers the feeling, that gut feeling, that you've just played something unbelievable. It's over in about six or seven hours on the medium difficulty level which, needless to say, is disappointing. To be totally honest, the TimeSplitters series has never offered up much of a story, and though this iteration probably delivers the most of the three, that's still not saying much. The first game was nothing more than capture the flag against an onslaught of AI enemies, and the second game was just a crazy fetch-quest for the slippery time crystals, just like this one.
While the lack of story remains an unsatisfactory thorn in Free Radical's side, the team always makes up for its weakness with the most unlockable items in almost any game ever, wackily charming characters, and a robust set of offline and online modes that send this game's replay value sky high. With about 150-plus characters to unlock, and dozens of mini-games and challenges to play, plus one of the most sophisticated map-making tools in any console game, one feels as if Free Radical couldn't be more generous.
In addition to the standard set of deathmatch and capture the flag options, Free Radical's spin on other favorite multiplayer games seems to be where all that creativity was spent. There's Virus, Shrink, and a handful of other excellent variations of semi-familiar online modes that, when paired with the hallucinogenic collection of zombies, monkeys, freaks, ghouls, walking gloves, deer, bears, and whatever else you can possibly imagine fills multiplayer games with humor and joy. There are 16 multiplayer maps to choose from, too. The Arcade and Challenge modes offer up good single and multiplayer challenges, with three ranks to ascend to and substantial rewards to gain. The offline two-player co-op mode just sweetens the deal.
For Xbox and PS2 owners, almost all of these modes are online. For Xbox users, multiplayer supports two to 16 players, with scoreboards, friends lists, voice-enabled chat, and the ability to download your own maps. It's also two to 16 player via System Link. PS2 players also get the thrill of online, but with fewer people; eight to be specific. GameCube players, thanks to Nintendo's strange affliction for online, won't be able to via online all, but the four-player split-screen modes are great fun, and they run fast and well.
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Missing the online portion of this game is a substantial bummer for Nintendo fans. What's more, they'll miss out on downloadable content and the potential abundance of downloadable maps created by ordinary players.
Both the PS2 and Xbox run solidly online. The multiplayer games we enjoyed were glitch free, to be honest. The levels are almost all made for at least six players, with eight being comfortable and 16 being the sweet spot. While we didn't encounter any substantial online issues, if Burnout 3's former problems are any indication of EA's current servers, you may have trouble remaining online or joining other parties. But we didn't encounter them.
TimeSplitters: Future Perfect is more of a party game, a good rollicking time, than other first-person shooters. It fills a different space than Bungie's Halo 2, SOCOM II, or Metroid Prime. And while that's important, it's also a little tragic the game has taken this long to get online. TSFP could have made a more impressive splash a year or two ago.
Free Radical has honed and polished this engine to do several things well over the last four years. It moves at a crisp 60 FPS, the characters control well, and it's fast. The texture work is good though not stunning, and you can tell there is more action going on in each level, whether that means more flying ships or airplanes or whatnot.
The framerate, however, isn't entirely steady at 60 FPS. When more than about four characters appear on screen, or there is a big explosion, the game stutters substantially. It doesn't affect gameplay in any significant way, but you'll notice it. For graphic sticklers, you will see occasional aliasing and shimmering areas on all platforms. And many of the futuristic hallways provide that deja vu feeling. All versions support widescreen and progressive scan.
The thematic score, occasionally inspirational, but mostly just good filler sound for the game's more dramatic parts, serves a more or less utilitarian purpose. It heightens your awareness of significant moments in the game, and wanes in slower more less action-packed areas. The music is less noticeable in the single-player, but turns out to be a lot more fun and useful when creating maps. The sound effects are all substantial and well used.
The PS2 and GameCube versions support Dolby Pro Logic II, while the Xbox version offers up in-game Dolby Digital sound.
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