Review by sirloinestake
13 years later, this game is still a classic
Well, thats it. Steve Ellis, one of the TimeSplitters series creators, has recently stated in interview that there is no place in the market for TimeSplitters 4. The sequel-that-never-will-be, it has been in development hell since 2008, and finally it seems to have been kicked into the ether for good. This is a damn pity for the rest of us, because the TimeSplitters series was, and always will be, one of the finest gaming experiences that you could experience. A multiplayer juggernaut, the everlasting memory for many gamers will be cramped, four-player deathmatches which would cause ungodly noises to emanate from the most mild-mannered of people. Staying up till the crack of dawn trying to beat that final story level on the hardest difficulty. And of course, trying to collect every possible unlockable and break world records in the process. Such is the effect that TimeSplitters had on those that played it, I thought it fitting to create a retrospective of the series, and give a proper assessment of the merits (and pitfalls) of each instalment. To kick things off will be the origin story: TimeSplitters, released in 2000 exclusively for the PS2.
Born out of what was once Rare, creators of such gems as GoldenEye and Perfect Dark, a small team of six men (including Dave Doak, Greame Norgate and Ellis himself) founded an up-start gaming company in the back-of-beyond in Nottingham. Free Radicals first release was the eponymous TimeSplitters, which, while flawed, set a benchmark that would lead into one of the most critically praised games of the early millennium. I will look at a number of factors in my assessment, but the question remains: does the original TimeSplitters still hack it, and should people go out of their way to play what is now a bargain-bin second-hand title?
PLOT: The story goes as follows well there isnt one. Not really, anyway. The overarching theme is that the TimeSplitters, an evil alien race, are travelling through time causing chaos wherever they go. Your job is to collect an artefact and return it to a portal somewhere else in the location, be it a haunted mansion or a near-future wasteland. I would say this is a negative thing, especially compared to modern shooters with their film-like narratives, but that is what a lot of the appeal was of TimeSplitters: fast paced, engrossing arcade action through-and-through, with the unnecessary distractions quite rightly not focused upon. The Story mode is a means to an end: beat the level quickly and you unlock fun things to use in the Multiplayer mode. To that end, the plot may not be present, but it works for what the game needed.
GRAPHICS: Graphically, its astounding for such an early PS2 title. While the models and AI mechanics can be a little clunky (and at times totally unresponsive), you cannot believe sometimes that you are not playing a PC game. The backgrounds are beautiful, the scale massive, and it runs seamlessly without a hint of lag; that alone sets it apart from many of its competitors. Other elements are nice too: the menu screens are functional and appropriately futuristic, and the HUD is user-friendly and clutter-free. Overall, the graphics are very good, and still hold up now.
SOUND: There is a reason that Greame Norgate has such a cult following. His ability to craft soundtracks that just totally envelop the player is so great that you really do feel like part of the game sometimes. Entire communities have sprung up devoted to the music alone: while the soundtrack isnt as memorable as future instalments, this soundtrack certainly does have plenty going for it: the memorable Village track that is haunting and eerie, the creepy Mall track that makes future trips to the shops a little bit sinister, and the fantastic track accompanying the Chinese level are all great examples. Sound effects are a little tinny here and there, especially on certain weapons, but that can almost be forgiven by the sheer number of weapons there are. Not perfect, but certainly great.
GAMEPLAY: The heart of the game: get this wrong, and the entire title is in danger of falling flat. As it spawned two sequels, we can safely say that gameplay wise, its a hit. Story Mode is simple: get to the item and leave the level in as quick a time as possible. Its OK, but as I said its not what the game is about. There are challenges on offer too, which are basically arcade levels against the computer, again to unlock new characters and cheats. The difficulty is notoriously tricky in certain levels, forcing you to master the game (a skill lost in newer titles, thats for sure). The challenges are filler, however, for the sandwich that is Multiplayer mode. Fully customisable battles are available in a multitude of gaming modes: classic deathmatch, Capture the Bag, Escort and Last Stand are available to play from the start. Whats more, you have a wide array of maps to choose from, all of which have their own strengths and weaknesses. My personal favourite is Planet X; its a vast, expansive map that has ample tunnels, open-air areas and rooms to explore. Moreover, there is a choice of fifty different playable characters; these vary from the dull to the downright hilarious: robotic fish, gingerbread men and ducks galore. Finally, we have a huge draw for many players: the MapMaker. This tool ensures replayability and longevity to the game, as there are literally a million and one things you can do. The sequels only improved these aspects; as the series opener, this is an impressive achievement.
OVERALL: TimeSplitters is an outstanding achievement. For the team to do what they did on such a small budget is quite impressive in itself: the detail and love that they put into it is another thing altogether. The series would only improve from here on out, but as there is enough difference here to the other games in the series, this is one chestnut I can definitely recommend scraping together two quid for.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: TimeSplitters (EU, 11/24/00)
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