Reviewed: May 15, 2005
Released: March 21, 2005
Ah, the FPS, the time honored twitch fest that is gaming. The only place you can go for more Rambo than First Blood, but in a genre clogged to itís eyeballs in flinty eyed, no-nonsense, one-man-army, tough guys fragging their way to save the world from whatever Johnnie-come-lately fangorious creatures that have crawled out of the pit, itís nice to see a friendly face.
Sgt. Cortez is just such a guy.
Heís the main character in TimeSplitters: Future Perfect. Heís not your typical hardened space marine. Cortez can handle foul zombies, robots, enemy soldiers, and horrible genetic mutations all with the aplomb of your typical space marine. What makes Cortez stand out from the crowd is not that heís faster, smarter, or can shoot better. He stands out because he can boogie.
So get ready to jump through time Ė sometimes to give yourself a leg up, make new friends, and perhaps place the entire human race at the edge of extinction just so you can finally save it.
ďItís time to split!Ē
The basics: itís a shooter, so you have sticks to look around with, triggers to shoot, D-pad to weapon switchÖ you get the idea. Does Future Perfect do this particularly better than other shooters? Iím a little biased, but as far as the PS2 controls are concerned I think so. The Xbox is a little clunkier, simply because you have the black and white buttons rather than the R2/L2 triggers so you have to move your hand around a little more. The actual controls are not what make this title really stand out; theyíre fluid, responsive, and very well laid out, but any game can do that. The thing that separates the man-titles from the boy-titles is what you do with them.
Weíll start slowly here, so you can get a good picture of whatís going on. The story mode for Future Perfect picks up pretty much where TS2 left off, with one conspicuous exception (listen closely to what the soldiers say near the beginning). If you didnít play TS2, go buy it, and then youíll get the gag. There are thirteen stages to work your way through in story mode. Please note I havenít said single player mode, this is because all of the story mode missions can be played through cooperatively just like in the last game. Missions in story mode last from 6-8 minutes for the really short ones, to about a half an hour for the long ones, so youíre looking at a fairly quick run through as far as this mode goes, though there are three difficulty settings to play which give you some further challenges (or shooting sprees, depending on where you started).
This doesnít sound impressive to start with, but we havenít gotten to the time traveling parts yet. Every couple of missions Cortez jumps through time in a continuing search for the source of the time crystals, and every time he jumps he inhabits a newÖ no wait, that was the last game. This game every ďleapĒ means a new era and a new story, so you go from helping secret agent Harry Tipper rescue his girl from an evil mastermind in the 60ís to helping Jo-Beth Casey investigate a zombie infested mansion in the 90ís to fighting off our robot oppressors in the future. Every time jump isnít just a change of venue, it is a complete change in both the look and feel of the game.
Ok, so yeah, you can hop through time from era to era blowing up things as you go along, but that isnít why everyone wants to travel through time. People want time travel, so they can go back a week and tell themselves not to eat that ham sandwich, or to not call that girl back. All that distant past and far future stuff is great for vacations, but if it wonít help me get my taxes done on time what good is it? Future Perfect comes through with just the right solution, because Cortez hops through worm holes again and again in order to help himself out, be that just handing over a key, or manning the turret on a tank while the other is driving.
So thatís story mode in a nutshell, but donít walk away thinking its all fun and roses. There are a couple of things to be aware of. First, while you can replay the story missions on different difficulty settings, unlike the last game you donít get any extra mission objectives on the harder modes. Fortunately the missions are a blast so itís not that big a deal to run through them again, but I would have liked to have seen them keep the added depth that was there in the last game.
Second, co-op mode for the story missions is put together a little awkwardly. Playing through solo you get a lot more story, basically because you have a sidekick with their own little routes through the levels, etc. Co-op just plays flatter, though it is still fun because itís two of you against the masses.
The other problem is that it becomes a little awkward when one of you reaches a checkpoint, because the other is instantly teleported to the checkpoint as well. Not only that, but if you backtrack and go through again, it teleports again, so you can easily see the chaos and disorientation this will foment.
The game isnít done though; you still have 21 challenges and 27 arcade league rampages to get through. Now by challenges I donít mean kill all the enemies, or finish stage three in under a minute. The challenges are grouped in sets of three, all with a similar kind of theme, Behead the Undead being a fairly straightforward example. What makes the challenges fun is that it isnít all just run and gun, yeah there are missions where that will come in handy, but the fun comes in during the challenges that are just wacky, like making sure all the Cyber Monkeys keep dancing without making them explode, or Cat Driving (donít ask, itís weirder than you think).
The arcade league is more a test of your combat prowess, as you are put through a test of your multiplayer skills against bots in every different multiplayer mode the game has to offer. You do have certain minimum scores to meet in order to move on, so strap on a side arm, or a rocket launcher, and start shooting.
Now, the reason youíre going to all the trouble to play through the story mode, arcade league and complete all the challenges is to unlock the cool stuff to show off to your friends in versus mode. Thatís right, when all is said and done, you still can frag your friends to your heartís content. Not only that, but you can customize the kind of weapons that will appear, the number and what kind of bots are available, and even a couple of unique cheats. Also, you have all the different modes available, such as Capture the Bag, Assault, and Monkey Assistant (where in the player in last place gets some help from monkeys with rocket launchers).
One of the things that has always impressed me about Free Radical games is the mobility of their characterís faces. There is something to be said for faces that are more than just pretty, synched mouths, but instead express surprise, skepticism, superiority, and other emotions that donít begin with ďsĒ. Yes they tend to look a little cartoony, but that is completely in synch with the game that has been created; a bunch of goofy guys running around with guns. Iím not kidding with the goofy guys bit. I mean, monkeys with shotguns, yeah thatís weird, but Mr. Fleshcage, The Deerhaunter, Handyman, Calamari, and Duckman Drake beat that everyday of the week, and twice with a flamethrower.
Faces arenít the only things worth looking at around here. If the Splitter mother ship blowing up doesnít win you over (though technically I think it should atomize you at that range) then there arenít too many explosions that will. Toss in some nice heat shimmers, electrical discharges, swelling heads, and ghost gun vision and you have an effects package worth talking about.
Also, while the level designs are fairly simple in content, they are very rich in context, with just the right hints here and there to make you feel at home in whatever era you may be in. In keeping with this new look and feel on each level there arenít stock bad guys who appear in every level. Each one has enemies very much in keeping with the theme (oh and be sure to read their bios, Robot Lewis Stevenson is perhaps my favorite), so you arenít just slogging through Mars fighting the same demons over and over again for no apparent reason.
How can you tell that Free Radical isnít just screwing around? All the multi-player characters say something when you select them, and it isnít just like a bunch of different guys saying ďReady!Ē but an individualized response (a girl robot saying ďWith a little lubrication, Iím ready for anythingĒ). Youíll spend a good 10 minutes or so just going through all the characters and seeing what they say, and laughing yourself silly the whole time.
This sort of attention is paid to all the voice work in the game, down to the little rants that drunken guards go on, and conversations you over hear while in disguise. Perhaps the best example is the robot sidekick you pick up for the last few missions of the game. He starts off the typical robot straight man, but then picks up a virus and goes completely gung-ho robot marine. Itís hysterical, how can you listen to a robot yelling ďEat my laser! Eat it!Ē and not laugh.
Music is fairly localized, but thatís ok because most often you canít hear it over the rattle of machine gun fire anyway. It is good when you can hear it, and again very fitting for whatever era that they have put you in. Also, the title music Ė the stuff playing when youíre on the main menu Ė is simple but never fails to make me anticipate the insanity that will soon ensue.
Iíll make this as simple as possible 150 unlockable multi-player characters useable in 11 different modes on 16 different levels, cheats, challenges, and arcade league, not to mention online play, oh and you can make your own levels Ė all this from a console FPS. Yeah, the cheats are for the most part nothing special, but come on, who doesnít want to use human gun sounds like they did when they were a kid?
Ok, so I get a little geeked out over TimeSplitters: Future Perfect. Itís easy to see why though, and besides who really wants to run around as a marine who canít even tape a flashlight to the bottom of his shotgun?