Retro Rewind: TimeSplitters 2

With the release of Bodycount, a game purporting to be something of a return to old style First Person Shooters, I decided the time was right to dig through my own aging collection and dust off TimeSplitters 2, a game no one has thought about since the first season of American Idol. As it turns out, I made the correct decision. Bodycount (as our review will soon detail) may be something of a redundant disappointment, but TimeSplitters 2, despite being a repository of dated elements that are both infuriating and laughable by today’s standards, is still way more fun that it deserves to be.

The TimeSplitters series is most notable because developer Free Radicals was founded by a group of people who originally worked for Rare on a little-known game called Goldeneye. After finishing the universally beloved classic, they split to form their own company and churned out several TimeSplitters games to varying degrees of success.

The original TimeSplitters wasn’t all that great, a largely forgettable, by the numbers console FPS. But TimeSplitters 2, released in 2002, was a surprising success that took a lot of what made Goldeneye such a great game, then exaggerated everything for laughs. Despite subsequent technological advances that make TimeSplitters 2 looks laughably primitive in many respects, it remains a blast.

The plot, such as it is, is a barely-there framing device that only makes sense if you agree to forget about it. In the 25th century, Humanity is at war with a race of evil aliens called TimeSplitters, who engage in acrobatic stretching exercises with a stopwatch. No I’m kidding, they’re actually evil aliens bent on killing all humans. In TimeSplitters 2, the TimeSplitters come up with the novel idea of sending agents back into the past to change history and thus destroy all humans before they can pose a threat.

You barely spend any time at all in the 25th century, playing a character sent back in time to stop the TimeSplitters who finds, every time he emerges in a new era, that he has inhabited the body of someone who lives there. There isn’t much to that, but it doesn’t really matter care because the plot is irrelevant. What you get isn’t a coherent game, it’s a charming mish-mash of different genres and play styles, basically an excuse to cram together several undeveloped and unrelated games into a single product. If you like, think of TimeSplitters 2 as The Canterbury Tales meets Quantum Leap of video gaming; only, please do ignore how pretentious that sounds.

The beauty of this format is that TimeSplitters 2 has something for practically anyone, so long as you’re not looking for a super-serious Call of Duty/Battlefield experience. The first level is an almost shot for shot recreation of the Siberia mission in Goldeneye. Another has you taking on the persona of an Old West bounty hunter with predictable, gun-fighter’s-last-stand elements. A particularly memorable mission (immortalized in Shaun of the Dead) is a stealth mission in which you play a grizzled, down on his luck detective in Prohibition-era Chicago. There’s even a weird, almost too late to be funny Austin Powers parody set in a nuclear power plant that plays like a straight, objective-based shooter.

TimeSplitters to also has some rather awesome multiplayer features that hold up nicely, like the crude but versatile map-maker that allows you to create your own levels. The arcade mode remains very fun, with more than 100 characters to choose from, and the challenges mode is varied and if it isn’t as perfect, cough cough, as the challenge mode in Perfect Dark (Rare’s earlier attempt to capture the Goldeneye lightning in a bottle), they provide players with enough to do that the paper thin story mode doesn’t feel like a cheap-out.

If it sounds like I had a great time revisiting TimeSplitters 2, that’s because I did. But rest assured, despite remaining very lovable, you are going to notice that it came out in 2002. And you’re going to remember why you don’t think about that era very much. For starters, there’s no auto-healing. Remember what it was like playing games before healing while covered became the norm? It’s as infuriating as you think. It isn’t helped by the fact that each level has one checkpoint, in the middle. Die before you get there and you start from the beginning. As these levels can get long, you’ll spend a lot of time feeling nickeled and dimed, especially if, like me, it takes a while to get used to playing something so ancient.

It isn’t just that its gameplay collecting social security, also looks ancient. Much like with Beyond Good & Evil, TimeSplitters 2′s cartoonish graphics kind of make up for their limitations, but when you consider that the fantastic-looking first Ratchet & Clank came out during the same month, it really demonstrates how much the first year and a half of the 6th generation was defined by the rampant squandering of those consoles’ capabilities.

If there anything about TimeSplitter 2′s advanced age that actually makes the game better today, it’s that it retains the old style, split screen multiplayer for couch co-op. Sure, we all remember how couch co-op sucks on an old box shaped TV where you have to squint to see anything, which is why everything went online gaming as soon as it became feasible. But on a big HD TV screen you actually have a field of vision, and for while you remember how cool that kind of splitscreen felt, before we all got spoiled by online gaming.

Obviously, TimeSplitters 2 cannot compete with the games we’re being lavishly spoiled by today, but some of the best modern shooters, like the amazing Bulletstorm, owe a huge debt to its mixture of easy gameplay and fun-for-the-sake-of-fun goofiness. Despite really looking and feeling its age, TimeSplitters 2 still kind of rules, and it might just be worth the 5 bucks you’ll pay to pick up a used copy.

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