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TimeSplitters Future Perfect review

Can we ask you a personal question? How many friends do you have? Well, more to the point, how many friends do you have that also like to play videogames?

This is the most pertinent thing to consider when deciding if TimeSplitters Future Perfect is for you. Because, put bluntly, if you're William Z. NoMates then you aren't going to enjoy this anywhere near as much as if you're Jeffrey T. Popular.

Sure, you can go online and get stuck in with complete strangers, but the game's dynamic fundamentally relies on those heated team games and deathmatches where you can sling insults at people sat in the same room. Victory is sooo sweet when it's personal.

As this review focuses on the offline aspects, it's fair to point out that there's nothing remarkably fresh here. Chief among the disappointments is an anaemic single-player Story mode.

Now, there's no question that it's above average, has some neat plot twists and wonderfully madcap characters, but it suffers from severe tunnel vision.

You know the kind of thing: enemies that appear at the same points every time you replay the level, on-rails event scripting and linearity that borders on obsession.

Each level sees you working alongside a temporary colleague, or - crazily - often meeting yourself due to wormhole paradoxes. These are mostly cleverly woven into the plot but by the end of the Story mode there's an overwhelming sense that it's over-engineered.

Like the previous TimeSplitters games, you feel as if you're just running through a shooting gallery.

Even though the odd bit of physics has been thrown in and there's the occasional switch to pull, most of the time you're running through soulless corridors, gunning down enemies that materialise out of nowhere, and dematerialise after you kill them.

In the multiplayer games this kind of transience is appropriate, but in a single-player campaign you end up wanting something a little more satisfying and a lot more visceral.

It all comes back to friends again. If you can hook up with a mate and play through the Story campaign in co-op mode then you're going to get so much more out of the experience.

But if you're the awkward, gauche kid at school with the white socks and half-mast trousers, or a middle-aged alcoholic loner then you might find yourself having to endure the single-player game on your tod, which is less of an inspiring prospect.

We don't generally mind games copying ideas from superior sources and, in Future Perfect, Halo's influence is everywhere.

Most obviously there are the grenades and new vehicle combat. Yet the narrow focused TimeSplitters philosophy is most apparent when you climb inside a car, jeep or tank.

Many games - such as the up-and-coming Pariah and the excellent Mercenaries - have included the commandeering of vehicles as a main feature but such a dynamic only adds something if it grants the player extra freedom.

In Future Perfect, vehicles can only be driven for a short time and you're very restricted as to how far you can travel. What's the point in that?

If you're going to put a vehicle in a game then design the level to maximise its potential. And, as lush as the visuals are, it's also a bit of a drag to find yourself running into slowdown problems.

Now, admittedly it's not enough to completely ruin the experience, but were we wrong to expect a super smooth framerate throughout? You'll be pleased to hear that this only affects the Story mode, but we did expect better from Free Radical.

Gladly, Future Perfect begins to shine when you start exploring the other modes. Arcade offers some of the most frenetic and addictive deathmatch and team games ever conceived.

Fully customisable and tweakable (you can adjust the aggressive difficulty of the bots, for instance), it's a feature that offers some truly memorable arenas in which to practice your sharp-shooting skills.

All the old favourite game types return and the new single-player leagues will keep you going for hours, especially if you're the type to go for all those platinum awards in order to get that elusive 100% completion record.

It's the kind of mindless, cathartic, frenzied and exuberant pleasure that many FPS arena games promise but never fully deliver.

In fact, the variety is exceptional, while the balance is spot-on, and it's a testament to the Arcade mode's brilliance that you almost forget you're playing against bots when the bullets start flying.

The instant materialisation and dematerialization of foes is appropriate here and the artificial looking landscapes and environments have little relevance when you're in a berserker rage and extending your killing spree record to new levels.

And talking of bloodlust, for the first time ever, TimeSplitters contains gore. Yes, seems that the BBFC has altered its stance on classifications and as the game contained severed heads and bodies on fire, it was going to get an 18+ rating.

Instead of changing the content, Free Radical decided to go the whole hog and make Future Perfect as mock violent as a camping holiday organised by Wes Craven. The new rating means it reaches a narrower audience, admittedly, but the blood does give it an extra edginess.

Challenge mode also returns and there are some cracking mini-events to compete in and unlock. The variety is exceptional and the challenges range from the outright daftness of electrocuting monkeys in a discotheque to the grisly prospect of beheading zombies with packing crates.

There are superb assaults on fortresses, short Story mode missions and even matches that pit you against a team of vicious assailants. But probably best of all is the slightly disturbing cat racing.

It's difficult to fully describe just how surreal this is, but paint a picture in your head using the words 'cat', 'stuffed', 'castors' and 'ramps' and you'll probably get closer than a thousand words can.

Then comes Mapmaker, a player-creation tool, and the kind of thing too few developers explore. Pah, who's interested in Lego when you can build virtual arenas of death and destruction and even - and this is brilliant - take them online?

It's a magnificent achievement and being able to put together story levels with simple game logic and messages is a step on from what we've seen before. It would have been better if these levels could be linked together, but you can't have it all.

It's not going to be clear just how powerful a tool Mapmaker is until player-created-levels start showing up online, but we suspect it's got the potential to extend the game's life considerably over the barren, wet weather summer months.

Mapmaker is also a unique concept for console gamers but it is disappointing to find that it's not quite as versatile as we'd hoped. In particular, the tiles from one theme cannot be mixed with tiles from another and there's a distinct lack of options when it comes to giving your creations any kind of distinct personality.

Additionally, there are fewer tile types on offer than we'd anticipated as well and although architecturally it's possible to build grand constructions, there's no getting around the fact that - in terms of interior decoration, at least - Mapmaker levels all tend to look a bit sparse and a bit uniform.

Which, of course, leaves us with one last area to discuss: the multiplayer. It's unquestionably TimeSplitters' strength. Get some friends around for system-link play or split-screen matches and it's an absolute joy.

The super-fast pace, humour, characters, weapons and arena designs are conducive to the most intense virtual competitions you can imagine. It's also a very different kind of experience to Halo or Pro Evo or Project Gotham or Ghost Recon.

TimeSplitters is so anarchic, yet fair, that it has a dynamic and personality all of its own. And - whisper it quietly - as a multiplayer experience some will even prefer it to Halo 2.

As a gaming package, then, Future Perfect really does rate as superb value. However, to our minds, it hasn't drastically moved on from its predecessors.

The Story mode is still less than captivating and though the Arcade and Challenge modes are damn good fun you'll get a distinct feeling of deja vu as you go through and unlock everything.

As this review is focusing entirely on the offline aspects it's important we point out that it treads no new ground.

A few more game types and some new arenas will not shake your suspicion that there's quite probably too much re-purposed material here. Which means the Future may be bright, but it's not quite perfect.

TimeSplitters Future Perfect is out for PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube on 24 March

Terrific multiplayer games and an engrossing set of challenges and Arcade leagues, but the Story mode still isn't offering what it should

More Info

Available Platforms: Xbox, PS2, GameCube

1 comment

  • AlexMercer1337 - September 20, 2009 12:39 a.m.

    I played this game at my friend's house, and just let me say, I was hooked. I played the haunted mansion level about every day and I loved it. The graphics were quite stunning for a PS2 and the story was rich and funny. Buy this game now. (First!)

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