TimeSplitters 2 Preview
We check out the Xbox version of Eidos' upcoming first person shooter.
For those of you who aren't familiar with the original TimeSplitters, it was an early launch game for the PlayStation 2 developed by Free Radical, a group that harbors a number of ex-Rare employees who worked on GoldenEye 007, the landmark first person shooter for the Nintendo 64. The first TimeSplitters was a good enough game when compared to the rest of the lineup that arrived in time for the launch of Sony's console, but as time passed, better shooters started to populate the PlayStation 2. Free Radical has clearly spent a lot more time on the sequel by enhancing the single-player experience, and in keeping an eye firmly on the bottom line, has elected to release the sequel on the entire crop of current home consoles.
The level that we've been playing for the Xbox is nearly identical to the one we played on the PS2 a few months back. Veterans of GoldenEye 007 will feel a tug at their heartstrings as they play TimeSplitters 2 due to that fact that the game looks and feels very similar to it--indeed the level in this new demo is very reminiscent of the first level in GoldenEye. You start off outside a dam complex much like you did in the old N64 game, and must shoot your way through a slew of guards while knocking out security cameras and completing a number of clear-cut objectives.
As a time traveling commando, you'll find yourself jumping to various points throughout a pulp fiction version of history as you try to prevent enemies from exterminating the human race. For the purposes of this preview, we'll set aside any further speculation for a later date and focus on what we've been presented in the demo. Basically, you play as a female soldier who warps into the aforementioned dam complex. Something has gone horribly awry here, and while you'll battle regular humans for the first part of the level, as you delve deeper into the complex, you'll enter an area where some sort of experiment has gone wrong. The game kicks off with a cut-scene where two men are nervously creeping through an underground facility. Before too long, they're set upon by a zombie, which of course dispatches them both. Needless to say you'll face this zombie and many of his friends before too long.
The first part of the level takes place above ground, outside the dam complex near a number of buildings. Enemies patrol the perimeter of the buildings, and are quick in moving to prevent you from gaining any further access. The I in AI is much more pronounced than in previous builds that we've played on other platforms--simply running in and shooting will bring about your death very quickly. Enemies don't lollygag around while you shoot at them, and while they don't necessarily display a strong squad mentality, they do present a sizable challenge. Most of the enemies we encountered were wearing body armor and could withstand up to five body shots before falling. Much like in GoldenEye, and in any other first person shooter worth your money, enemies take damage according to where they've been shot and react accordingly. Shoot a bad guy in the leg and he'll hop around in pain for a moment; shoot a bad guy in the head and he'll drop dead.
Strewn about the level are security cameras that will set off alarms and bring out more enemies for you to deal with. To make progression easier you'll need to neutralize these cameras by destroying them. As you move deeper into the complex you'll find other hazards to avoid, such as vents jetting damaging steam. In addition to cameras and patrols there are also snipers frequently taking shots at you from a distance, so the game does a good job of keeping you on your toes.
Playing the Game
The nice combination of stealth gameplay and action packed gameplay is interspersed with several objectives that require you to find a button or switch to hit. Thankfully, you won't spend the bulk of your time hunting for a way to open a door that you can't yet pass. While you do have objectives that need to be completed, they are laid out in such a way that the game does a good job of skewing the inherent linear nature of the level. This is to say that you don't necessarily need to complete your first objective before you move on to the second, and this gives you the freedom to attack the level in the way you see fit. Along the way you'll find nice little touches like unmanned guns that can be controlled via consoles, and terminals that let you view various portions of the level via security cameras, assuming that you haven't destroyed them already.
A good variety of weapons is always a plus in first person shooters, and TimeSplitters 2 looks to have been created with this in mind. You start off with a silenced pistol and some manner of tracking device that looks and behaves like the ever-present tricorder in Star Trek movies and television shows. Fighting the enemy force in TimeSplitters requires you to jump from one point in the timeline to another and collect crystal shards, which presumably weaken your foe as you remove them from their control. The tricorder device helps you locate these, and also gives you a small map of your immediate surroundings. The sniper rifle of course rears it's head in this game, as well as an AK assault rifle, a shotgun, and the always-entertaining flamethrower. Considering that TimeSplitters 2 will be nearly identical on all platforms, and judging by the futuristic level revealed in the PlayStation 2 demo we received along with our Xbox and GameCube demos, weapons will vary according to what era your find yourself fighting in.
The control in the game at this point is pretty strong overall, though there are a few issues. For one, the analog control seems a bit sticky, particularly in the diagonal axis. Moving your crosshair and changing direction is easy enough when you restrict yourself to looking up and down, left and right, but if you try to move your view diagonally, the resulting movement is much, much slower. Sadly missing is the pistol whip or bludgeon move in close quarters combat, and while we can't say if this will be included in the final version, it's probably safe to assume that the slow movement issue will be remedied prior to the games final release.
At this point, the three versions of the game are all pretty much identical in terms of visuals. While the character models and overall presentation of the games are similar, the Xbox version does enjoy much clearer textures than it's PlayStation 2 counterpart. But if you were to put it side by side with the GameCube version, even the sharpest eye would be hard pressed to find any difference between the two.
While the first TimeSplitters game was clearly rushed to make the impending release of the PlayStation 2, Free Radical has had a lot more time to spend on the sequel, and clearly they've been using this extra time wisely. With a tentative release date set for the end of September, TimeSplitters 2 for the Xbox is coming along quite nicely and we're impressed by what we've seen thus far. The game already sports a nice layer of polish, and considering that it will be quite literally spread all across the course of history, we can expect to see a nice bit of variety. As always, we'll keep you posted as new details arise.
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