Only one video game franchise was mad enough to let players fight robots and zombies with tommy guns and mines in a Chinese restaurant, if they so desired: TimeSplitters. In 1998, Free Radical Design rose from the ashes and, two years later, unleashed the first entry in what would be one of the most unique first-person shooter series ever created.
An evil race of aliens known as the TimeSplitters have travelled through time with one goal in mind: exterminate the human race. The plot is sparse from this point onward, as expected from late-nineties and early-millenium shooters, and merely serves as a backdrop for the real fun.
The game’s story mode takes place across different time zones, from a futuristic interplanetary travel station to an Egyptian tomb expedition from the 1920s. The objective is simple enough: fight through a linear level of enemies, grab a special item that they’re guarding, and rush to the exit. Some levels may require backtracking to the beginning with said item to win, while others have the goal in other parts of the map. To make matters worse, the TimeSplitters will appear once you’ve nabbed the goodies.
Altering the difficulty will affect the number of enemies, your starting location, and even expand the level. Admittedly, it’s a mindless run ‘n’ gun affair with a few cheap enemy placements at times, and after a while it may feel a bit repetitive. Still, it puts up a great challenge, especially for speedrunners. An unlockable challenge mode adds 27 challenges to the mix, some of which involve shooting heads off of zombies, escorting an ally, and so on, thus adding some much-needed variety.
Arcade mode lets you go bonkers with its plethora of maps (some being plucked from story mode, while others are exclusive to the multiplayer). Want to play a deathmatch in a haunted mansion with plasma weapons and revolvers, or horde as many bags as possible in a supermarket armed with bricks? Sure, why not? Nearly all of the weapons are equipped with alt-fire modes to add a bit of spice to any gunfight.
Over 50 playable characters are available. Gangsters, robots, mutated rednecks, an 6-foot tall gingerbread – you name it. It does have its fair share of generic, forgettable characters, like “green zombie” or “Female SWAT”. For some bizarre reason, unlocking characters as an opponent in the arcade mode does not make them a playable character just yet – the ability to actually play as them is a seperate unlock. Still, with the amount of characters on offer, from serious one to silly ones, there’s something for everyone.
If you don’t feel like playing up to 4-players on split-screen, you can still have lots of fun against the bots. While the AI is programmed to pop out of cover or roll into a fight in the story mode, the baddies in the arcade mode can have their skill altered between one to five-stars. Their rank will affect their accuracy, reaction time, and their agility. Fighting against the top brass will be a bit trickier, as they’ll sometimes duck, roll, and even spray their weapons wildly if they’re under fire. Each game can have up to ten bots, so that means more allies or opposition.
The game’s mapmaker mode was a very unique inclusion for a console game at the time. It’s surprisingly easy to get the hang of sticking pieces of level geometry together, and filling them with weapon and player spawn points. Considering how difficult game creation kits for the PC were at the time (and still are, to be fair), the team were thoughtful enough to avoid over-complicating things. Levels can even be decorated with different themes and appearances, too.
Graeme Norgate’s TimeSplitters soundtrack is an eclectic blend of genres, ranging from industrial and orchestral to fast-paced electronic beats. Each and every last one of them are perfectly suited to each level, and will have you nodding your head and whistling along in no time. Fans agree that the Chinese Restaurant theme is a funky, oriental-themed gem. TimeSplitters may be showing its age after eighteen years, but, for the time, the amount of variety on offer was truly staggering. With its large line-up, wicked weapons and memorable maps, the game still has a lot on offer. While the later games in the series offer even more content and polish, the original entry in the series is still simple, barmy fun to this very day.
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