TimeSplitters 2 Preview
Read our hands-on impressions of this first-person shooter for the GameCube from some of the minds that brought you GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64.
Many have waited for the next GoldenEye 007 to be released for the consoles since its 1997 debut on the Nintendo 64, and while several games have tried to ride the coattails of Rare's groundbreaking shooter, few have matched the game's ability to surprise and impress. It's no secret that several staffers of the UK development studio Free Radical Design are defectors from the Rare camp. Though the team's first effort, the original TimeSplitters, was rushed to market to make the PlayStation 2 launch, it still managed to show some promise. Now that the team has had the luxury of a full development cycle for TimeSplitters 2, big things are expected from the game.
Little is known about the plot in TimeSplitters 2, though we've been told that it will be far more prevalent than the cryptic musings that players were forced to piece together for the first game. You play as a male and female team of space soldiers as they travel through time, trying to collect time crystals before an evil force can capture them and use time travel to bring its sinister plans to fruition. While we were able to play only one level of the game, in the finished product, you'll be forced to switch between the male and female characters for each mission--with each mission taking place in a different period in time.
The first thing you'll notice when picking up TimeSplitters 2 for the first time is that the game is all about speed. The game moves so quickly that it's hard to repel the urge to run and gun through each level. But at the same time, you can choose how to attack each section of the game, and your experience while playing may be completely different from the next person's. The lone level we are allowed to play takes place inside a huge dam. The initial sweeping camera shots make the level seem exactly like the first level in GoldenEye 007, called Arkangelsk. It's fine to pay homage to your previous projects, and it's hard not to at least elicit a chuckle when you first set your eyes on the uncanny similarities between the art styles of both TimeSplitters 2 and GoldenEye.
From what we've seen of the game so far, weapons will be specific to the time period of each level. The dam level we were allowed to play seems to take place in the present--therefore, we were able to brandish traditional weaponry such as a silenced pistol, a sniper rifle, a shotgun, a machine gun, and a flamethrower. There's also a small radar device that detects enemies to help avoid any unpleasant surprises. Other levels we've seen feature futuristic weapons with bouncing ammunition, and we can only imagine the fun of wielding pistols in the Old West. The weapons also seem to feature collateral damage. One enemy was set ablaze by the flamethrower, only to catch other enemies on fire upon contact.
Staying in line with the game's pedigree, each level has a variety of mission objectives, though they seem to be accomplished in a linear fashion complete with midlevel checkpoints. You'll have to employ several different fighting techniques within a relatively small area if you want to survive, though players with enough talent should be able to get by with their own tactics. The initial moments of the lone playable level start you out in a tunnel, where you're given a sniper rifle and a silenced pistol. Here, you can choose to take out patrolling enemies from afar with your pistol or switch to your sniper rifle and use the scope to take out cameras perched on the side of buildings. Failure to do so will set off alarms that will flood the area with enemies.
Once you've cleaned up all the enemies in the area and flipped a switch, it's time to infiltrate the dam. Once inside, you'll be asked to shut down three steam valves and restore power to the facility. But once this is done, you'll get deeper into the dam, where the full ramifications of the mission are established. Whoever has set up the base inside the dam has also been performing experiments on humans and is keeping them locked up in two different cells. But the moment you unlock the cells, it becomes apparent that the experiments have gone terribly wrong. Humans missing limbs will stumble toward you with empty eyes--leaving you no choice but to put them out of their misery. Throughout the playable level, you'll have to commandeer gun turrets, and you can even draw enemies to the turrets and then use their superior firepower to take them all out at once.
Blasting Through Time
TimeSplitters 2 already features a healthy amount of control schemes to choose from, though the default control scheme plays very similarly to that of Halo for the Xbox. Moving forward and strafing is accomplished with the left analog stick, while the C stick controls where your character is looking. Pressing the R button fires your weapon, the L button initiates the zoom feature of weapons that support it, and the C stick moves the reticle. The A button is a multipurpose button that opens doors, activates machinery, or calls for elevators. The Y button reloads weapons, the directional pad changes weapons, and the B button lets your character duck, which comes in handy when hot steam is blowing across the hallway. So far, the default control scheme works predominantly well, though pressing in the R button to fire while manually targeting with the C stick can be a bit awkward at first.
Most of the mission objectives seen so far include mopping up all enemies in a given area or flipping a few switches to open doors. But one objective asks you to retrieve a computer disc from a room of zombies. When you enter the room, the door locks behind you and you must kill all the enemies in the room before it unlocks. You must then take the computer disc to a terminal where it can be used to release the previously mentioned humans from a holding cell. Much like in GoldenEye, you have two separate health meters. One meter measures your character's actual health remaining, while the other measures the amount of shield remaining.
From a visual perspective, TimeSplitters 2 features a simplistic look, though it runs at an incredibly fast frame rate. The textures are substantially better than the PlayStation 2 version's--they will never blur or pixelate even when you're staring at them up close. Environmental mapping and reflections are used to give puddles of water that extra touch of realism, and the particle effects used for steam look quite good without ever slowing down the game. Other small touches--like snowflakes hitting the camera lens and then slowly melting--give the game a polished feel. The lighting so far is subtle yet effective, though lighting from weapons seems to be nonexistent at present. Enemies are constructed of plenty of polygons, though there are certainly some rigid features on their faces; plus, their death animations are considerably less dramatic than those of GoldenEye. Despite the relatively low-poly environments, enemies disappear almost immediately upon death.
Though we were not able to see the feature in motion in the GameCube version of the game, the facial animation for the game's many real-time cinemas is excellent. Faces show excitement, fear, and a variety of other emotions. The lone environment we were allowed to play in is constructed of few polygons. For instance, wall-mounted cameras are constructed of little more than a few polygons apiece. Perhaps it was the intent of Free Radical Design to make the level seem all the more similar to an N64 game, but we'll have to see more of the game's environments before passing judgment. What most people will notice about TimeSplitters 2's graphics is just how fast the environments whip by. This should be a huge asset for the game's proposed cooperative single-player mode and healthy multiplayer options.
The sound in the game seems quite good so far. Bullets can be heard ricocheting off a variety of objects--each with its own specific sound. Enemies can be heard coming up from behind or trying to flank you at your sides. Ambient filters are used to give the sound an authentic echo effect in open areas, while in the more confined areas, the auditory experience is a bit more muffled. Weapon sounds are good, and the sample used for reloading weapons seems to be the exact sample used in GoldenEye 007.
While the version of TimeSplitters 2 we are allowed to play features just one playable level, it was more than enough to let us know that it will be a fast and furious gameplay experience when all is said and done. The controls are smooth and tight, the graphics are somewhat simplistic yet lightning-fast, and the mission objectives never slow down the pace of the game. TimeSplitters 2 is currently scheduled for release on the GameCube in September. Look for much more on this fast-paced, frenetic shooter as its release date nears.
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