We've just returned from a few weeks into the future (March 22 to be exact) when, among other things (sports results mostly), we were able to get our hands on PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions of TimeSplitters: Future Perfect. We already covered Future Perfect's fast-paced and varied multiplayer options a couple of months ago, so during this visit to the future we spent as much time as we could playing through the game's single-player campaign, wearing the boots and flak jacket of its Vin Diesel-like hero, Sergeant Cortez. We've played through the first 10 of the campaign's 13 missions on both consoles thus far and are pleased to report that we've enjoyed every minute.
Without wishing to give anything away about the game's intriguing, unpredictable, and amusing storyline, your adventure will get under way in the year 2401, when the timesplitters and humankind are at war. Your mission, which you'll have no choice but to accept once you've successfully negotiated the first level and arrived safely at a rebel base, is to travel back through time and end the war before it has even started. How are you expected to do this? By blowing stuff up, killing bad guys, and jumping headfirst into every wormhole that you see, of course.
Unlike the time periods in previous TimeSplitters games, the ones that you'll be battling your way through for much of the story-driven campaign are arranged in chronological order. The furthest back in time that you'll travel is to an island off the coast of Scotland in 1924, and after that you'll slowly work your way back to 2401 via the '60s, the '90s, and the 21st and 23rd centuries. There are only six different eras in total, but we've found the environments and gameplay to be varied enough that no two levels feel the same.
One of the things that all of the levels in TimeSplitters: Future Perfect have in common is that in them you'll be fighting alongside at least one other character for significant amounts of time. We've been paired up with a pipe-smoking naval officer on a mission to rescue a prisoner of war, a teenage girl who wants to take photos of zombies so that she can get into a gang, and an enemy robot who has been reprogrammed to protect us Terminator 2-style, to name but a few. All of the sidekicks do a good job of looking out for you when things get hairy, and there are times when the game's plot will require you to return the favor, either by assisting them with one of their own mission objectives or simply by keeping them alive. You'll also bump into helpful "future" versions of yourself from time to time, which is made all the more amusing by the fact that, just moments later, you'll catch up with yourself and have to assist the Cortez that's a couple of minutes behind you in exactly the same situation that you were in. Confused? Wait until you find yourself in a room with three other versions of Cortez.
Unlike the other versions of yourself that you might have encountered in Free Radical Design's Second Sight, those in Future Perfect are able to converse with, fight alongside, and even pass useful objects to one another. We've found the dialogues between the various versions of Cortez to be quite entertaining as we've progressed through the game, and even sitting through identical cutscenes twice within the space of a few minutes hasn't gotten old yet, because, thankfully, they're kept very brief. If you're a fan of last year's Second Sight, there are a few other features in TimeSplitters: Future Perfect that will feel even more familiar to you than seeing versions of yourself from other timelines. Many of the computers in Future Perfect, for example, can be interacted with by using your left analog stick as if it were a mouse, and in addition to checking other people's e-mail and hacking into security cameras, you'll occasionally find computers that have far more interesting uses. Some of the computers afford you manual control of enemy gun turrets (and even an enemy mech), for example, while others will let you experiment on laboratory test subjects--often with amusing results.
Like John Vattic in Second Sight, Sergeant Cortez also has the ability to move physics-enabled objects and throw them at enemies. He uses a glove-mounted device rather than psychic abilities to manipulate the objects, but the results are practically identical. Half-Life 2's gravity gun would perhaps be just as obvious a comparison to make, but Cortez's glove isn't nearly as versatile, and besides, we were planning to save the Half-Life 2 mention for the level set in a futuristic research facility in which Cortez briefly disguises himself as a scientist named Gordon. TimeSplitters: Future Perfect is littered with references to movies and other games, and although the Half-Life 2 example is one of the most obvious, many of them (Aliens and Jurassic Park spring to mind) are a little more subtle and are sure to raise a knowing smile the first time you spot them--just like some of the game's more powerful weapons, which we'll talk about on the next page
Back to the Future
So, we've established that TimeSplitters: Future Perfect has a cool storyline, some interesting features, and plenty of references to other games and movies, but what you really want to know about are the weapons that you'll be playing with, right? This is a first-person shooter, after all. If you're familiar with the previous two TimeSplitters games, you'll know that traveling through time can make for some incredibly varied arsenals, and although you'll only be allowed to use weapons that are appropriate for the era that you're fighting in, you'll always have plenty of different ones at your disposal. Typically you'll have a pistol, a sniper rifle, and a machine gun of some kind in every time period, and then in addition to those you'll get more interesting weapons with capabilities that are specific to the era in which you found them. In the year 1994, for example, you might choose to employ a baseball bat or a shotgun when zombies need decapitating, while in 2052 you might favor a tranquilizer gun or even time-disruption grenades (which cause enemies to move in slow motion, similar to how bullet time works in other games). Other noteworthy weapons that we've used thus far include heat-seeking missiles, a powerful minigun, Halo-style plasma grenades that stick to enemies, and an "electrotool" that's useful for disabling futuristic shields and destroying certain robots.
Surprisingly, TimeSplitters: Future Perfect will also give you several opportunities to put your driving skills to the test, and it's worth pointing out that even those of you who loathe driving games have nothing to worry about. All of the vehicles that we've driven to date (including a 1920s truck, a couple of buggies, and a futuristic tank) are extremely easy to drive, and you'll rarely find yourself at their controls for more than a minute or two at a time. In fact, many of the vehicles in Future Perfect can be ignored completely if you'd rather proceed on foot, or in the case of the 1920s truck, you can have your companion drive while you man the Gatling gun mounted on the rear.
So, is there anything about Future Perfect that has disappointed us up to now? The answer, unfortunately, is yes, though there are really only two, and they're both design features rather than design flaws. The first, which is an easy one to forgive, is that the behavior of every single non-player character in the story mode is scripted to the point that you could conceivably play exactly the same game twice if you chose to play it through a second time on the same difficulty setting. The first time you play, of course, this doesn't become an issue unless you die and have to replay portions of the game over and over again, at which point you'll quickly memorize the movements of your enemies and kill them the moment that they come into view.
The second, which we're only slightly more concerned about, is that Cortez, who can travel through time and instantly be proficient with any weapon that he finds, isn't able to jump. This isn't a platform game, of course, and we're not suggesting that TimeSplitters: Future Perfect would benefit from having you jump between moving platforms or anything like that, but there have been a few occasions when we've felt like a jump button would be more useful to us than any number of medical kits and ammo pickups. The occasions in question haven't come about as a result of poor level design (it's very good, actually) or particularly challenging boss fights (we've had a couple of great ones), but simply because physics-enabled objects such as crates, chairs, and barrels have gotten in our way and refused to budge. On a level set on a moving train, for example, two barrels got wedged in a narrow doorway and had to be moved using Cortez's gravity glove before we could proceed. We had a similar experience with a chair during one of the game's earliest boss fights, and although we didn't die as a result, things got pretty frustrating for a moment or two when we effectively became trapped in the corner of a room.
We've had a lot of fun with TimeSplitters: Future Perfect's story mode over the last couple of days, and we can't wait to get our hands on a finished copy of the game. Keep an eye out for more coverage of the game ahead of its release toward the end of this month.