Before there was Halo, the original TimeSplitters set competitive gamers abuzz with a fast-paced, customizable, and downright fun multiplayer mode that gave the game months of replay value beyond the story-driven single-player campaign. The 2002 sequel again focused on multiplayer, with an even bigger array of maps, modes, and weapons to kill your friends on, in, and with. Best of all, TimeSplitters 2 gave players a fully featured map editor so avid fans could create their own arenas, lengthening the replay value even further. We recently spent some quality frag time with the multiplayer mode of Free Radical's newest entry in the series, TimeSplitters: Future Perfect, and it looks like this will easily be the most complete competitive experience yet for fans of the popular shooter series.
Like previous TimeSplitters games, the single-player portion of Future Perfect focuses on a time-travelin' storyline that will see you doing battle in eras from the ancient past to the distant future, and Free Radical has once again carried this theme over into the multiplayer component of the game. The 16 maps available are set in a wide variety of locales, from Vietnam to Venice, a hotel to a subway, and a noisy disco to a future prison colony on Mars. One level even takes place within a virtual reality simulator, with a Day-Glo color scheme slightly reminiscent of Tron. Some maps, such as the disco, will be intimately sized for games with few players, while others, such as a map that put us aboard a flying zeppelin, are much larger and will accommodate the up-to-16 players the game will allow.
Your choice of map will influence more than just the visual style of your killing fields. When you leave the available weapon configuration on the default setting, each map will then be stocked with weapons that are relevant to the time period you're playing on. For instance, on the Siberia map we found a Russian assault rifle, a sniper rifle, and an extremely powerful flare gun, while futuristic maps gave us access to high-tech particle and beam weaponry. A few maps even had stationary weaponry, such as mounted machine guns that we could jump on for extra firepower. You can dual-wield some smaller weapons, such as pistols and submachine guns, but unlike most first-person shooters with this feature, you won't control each gun independently; rather, one pull of the trigger will fire both weapons, essentially doubling your damage output. Of course, you'll be able to tweak the available weapons so you get to frag with whatever armament you want. It's nice that by default you'll get a different loadout of toys to play with every time the map cycles, though.
A large number of modes will be available in multiplayer, some of which are quite imaginative. Of course the standard deathmatch and team variation are on hand, as well as capture the...bag? Yes, capture the bag will have you attempting to grab a bag and run it back to your base to score a point (it's nice to see that Free Radical came up with a, uh, variation on the standard capture the flag). Hardcore TimeSplitters fans will also recognize some of the weirder game types, such as shrink, which causes your character model to get smaller as your rank in the current game gets bigger; this obviously makes you harder to hit, increasing your advantage the better you perform. At the same time, it's also a little creepy to try to kill an opponent that's only a couple of feet tall. In vampire mode, you'll gain health incrementally as you shoot your opponents, which can turn a one-on-one firefight into an interesting sort of tug-of-war. The gladiator mode appoints one player the gladiator, and only that player can actually score points. Naturally, to become the gladiator, you have to kill the gladiator.
TimeSplitters has never taken itself entirely seriously, and it's good to see that Future Perfect is continuing that trend. The game will feature a whopping 150 character models that you can use to represent yourself in multiplayer matches, most of which will have to be unlocked as you play. We saw everything from a giant duck to a tyrannosaurus rex, a mad scientist to Mr. Fleshcage, a bizarre automaton made out of what appeared to be metal and wood parts along with a handful of unsightly viscera. That sounds pretty twisted (and it is), but it's definitely in keeping with the lighthearted, slightly bizarre style of the series.
Of course, Free Radical hasn't monkeyed with the basic TimeSplitters action model, which is fortunate since it has worked so well in the series up until now. If you haven't played one of these games before and you're used to some of the more methodically paced first-person shooters on the market, TimeSplitters' multiplayer will seem extremely fast to you. It recalls the early classics of deathmatch, such as in the original Quake, with a ludicrously high run speed, instant respawn when you die, and so on. The look of the game is consistent with the series, too, if not a little tighter than before. Future Perfect's backgrounds are wildly colorful and a little cartoonlike, as are the exaggerated features of the characters. The frame rate is extremely smooth on both the PS2 and the Xbox, which certainly helps out the hyperfast gameplay.
The mapmaking component of TimeSplitters 2 was a big draw for fans who stuck with the game for a long time, and it'll be back in full force in Future Perfect. This time around, you'll be able to take your created maps and upload them to EA's online service, then have your friends download them so you can all play online with your own creations. Along with the huge amount of modes, player models, and so on, this feature ought to keep TimeSplitters devotees fragging for a long, long time.
They won't have much longer to wait, either; the game is scheduled to ship for the PS2, Xbox, and GameCube at the beginning of March. Look for more on TimeSplitters: Future Perfect in the coming months as its release date approaches.