A quick glance at the screenshots might lead you to one of three conclusions: a) TimeSplitters Future Perfect looks exactly the same as the last one, b) No, really, it looks a lot like the last one, and c) It'll still be quite good. And you'd be right on all three counts, except c) because TimeSplitters Future Perfect won't be quite good. It'll be brilliant. Having played it extensively at EA's swishy San Francisco HQ, we can pay Free Radical's adroitly amplified FPS no higher compliment than it reminds us of why we started playing games in the first place. It's that good. And before you ask, that single-player mode is changing...
We've played through the first level. Twice. The first thing that hits you is the peripheral detail - or the 'Omaha beach' effect (from MOH: Frontline) to quote Ubisoft's Yannis Mallot - with planes screeching across the sky, smoke plumbing from distant cannons and Captain Ash barking orders alongside you. Unlike previous TimeSplitters levels which looked like, well, games, this feels like war. Bullets ping past with shuddering velocity, the crumbly path winds organically and enemy soldiers bob and weave on the horizon. With exemplary - if over-stylised - character animation and wafer crisp textures, it really looks like a crumbling 1920's battlefield.
The controls redefine precision. Shoot a guy in the hand and he drops his weapon. Pop him in the head and he falls first time. Riddle his body with shells and he shakes like a marionette. Compared to games like Star Wars: Battlefront - which suffers mild 'paper target' pop-up baddie syndrome - the targeting is exemplary. It's like shooting in DTS 5.1 surround compared to mono. On one occasion, we climbed circular stairs, only to be ambushed by an enemy jumping out of nowhere. Startled, we flooded 60 rounds at waist-height as the hapless foe dropped to his knees clutching his spuds.
Multiplayer? Genius. Puzzles? Much improved. Story? That, too . In short, it's ruthlessly-designed, micron-tight and graphically stunning. Some think that the TimeSplitters series lacks soul - in single-player mode, at least - but give one firm squeeze to Future Perfect and it bleeds love.
TimeSplitters Future Perfect arrives on PS2 in early 2005