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TIMESPLITTERS 2 / Eidos / Playstation 2
Most of the staff responsible for developing Goldeneye and Perfect Dark for Rare jumped ship from the company shortly after the latter game came out; they collectively formed their own design team called Free Radical, which was then absorbed by Eidos Interactive. The Timesplitters series is basically the spiritual follow-up to GE and PD, since the rights to those games were retained by Rare and Free Radical thus couldn't do direct sequels. But the gameplay, modes of play, level design and weapon types are clearly very similar, and they even brought composer Graeme Norgate along to do soundtracks in the style of his previous work.
Anyway, the first Timesplitters game was one of the launch titles for the PS2, and it was lauded for carrying on the GE/PD tradition and having great multiplayer, but most critics seemed to feel the story mode and single-player options were rushed, skimpy and under-developed. Timesplitters 2 does improve on that to a great degree, but it's still not totally as good as you would like. And that's really the only thing that kept me from giving the game the Medal of Awesome - multiplayer is an absolute blast, as GE and PD were, but the single-player experience is more of a mixed bag.
Let's take on solo play first, since even if you primarily intend to play multi-player with this one, you'll likely put in a lot of time with it anyway to unlock the game's myriad of characters, weapons, cheat modes and arenas. There's a story mode that continues the adventures of Sgt. "The Rock Says" Cortez and his chick partner whose name I can never remember. This time out they are defending the world from the evil Timesplitters by trying to bring some captured Time Crystals home or something, which is all really just a big contrivance to send you through a bunch of different time periods. In each period, you inhabit the body of someone who coincidentally was just about to go on some mass killing spree, and the Time Crystal is usually held by some Big Bad Guy (also coincidentally) whose private army you have to fight your way through. The levels cover a vast range of time periods and environs, with appropriate weapons and technology in each. The very first level is a clear nod to the opening Arkanglesk level of Goldeneye, as you infiltrate a secret Russian base circa 1991. Later levels take you from a far future ruled by robots to 1920s Chicago for some gangster action. In a neat touch, these levels can be played by two players simultaneously in a split-screen.
While the level design in story mode is generally pretty good, and the levels are visually appealing and decently detailed, the levels toward the end of the series have so many sequences that are such a huge pain in the balls that the game really starts to feel more like a chore you're plowing through just to get full functionality in multiplayer mode. There are three difficulty levels, but you only get to proceed to the next level on the highest difficulty level you cleared on the previous. It's no big deal to whip through the game on Easy, but big chunks of some of the levels are entirely removed as are many of the objectives. Normal mode is an easy-to-moderate challenge as well, but in the last three or four levels there are just some really crappily designed segments that involve either mazes, obtuse puzzles, or cheap ambushes that are just tedious and frustrating to work through. In general, whoever laid out the levels was also overly fond of putting snipers up in high perches and basically giving them a free shot at your head when you come around corners or through a doorway. You see this gimmick constantly throughout the game and it's the #1 reason why Hard mode is such a beast to get through, because your life is constantly being pecked away by cheap hits throughout the entirety of each level even if you're moving very cautiously.
There are two other gameplay options for the solo player - Arcade Leauge and Challenge. These two modes are where the bulk of the unlockables are actually earned. Arcade League is basically a series of pre-fab Deathmatches where all the other players are computer-controlled and where you have to accomplish a certain objective, while Challenge is a bunch of "the engine wasn't really desgined for this but look what we can make it do anyway" stuff like target shooting and Pac-Man-esque mazes. I found the Arcade League challenges to largely be fun, with only a few duds, but Challenge mode was really more of a 50/50 split. Some were awesome, such as being trapped in a small area while holding off endless waves of zombies for as long as you can, while others were completely tedious, like having to run around smashing windows with bricks in a very tight time limit. Initially it seems like between this and Story mode there's a pretty hefty amount of content for a solo player to chew through, but you pretty quickly blow through the fun missions and then you're stuck banging your head against the poorly conceived and overly difficult ones trying in vain to unlock the last features, characters and arenas you are missing.
There's also a MapMaker mode, which is simple but still pretty neat. The size of the maps is kind of limited as is the architecture - don't expect to make anything approaching the sprawling colossi of Story mode - but it lets you employ basic "if-then" logic to create mission objectives like escaping from an area once a timer is set, assassinating a particular target, using keys and having to pick up multiple items in a chain. It's not overly tough to learn or use but does require a little time investment.
Multiplayer mode offers up to four players simultaneously, in split screen or remotely. There's a Network option, but I assume the official servers have been dead for years. I read something about fans continuing to play it via something called XLink but I don't know anything else about that. You can still LAN it, at least, to give multiple players their own full screen.
On the whole, this is one of the better console FPS games ever made. The multiplayer is among the best of all time, thanks to great gameplay, the vast amount of characters and weapons and play modes, and a pretty good selection of arenas as well. The single player mode needed some more work n' polish, however, and its unfortunate that you get forced through so many tedious sequences in order to unlock the full functionality of multiplayer. Well, unless you cheat and use someone else's save from the beginning, which is really probably the way to go with this one. As of now the game is easily found used+complete for well under $10, and that likely won't change much as it had a pretty big print run. If you have other people to play with regularly this is a must-have, but for a mostly solo player I'd knock it a little farther down the list, but still check it out at some point.
Eidos' Mapmaker site
Links to Mapmaker sites
(probably mostly outdated)
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