You can play as a humanoid duck and blast a life-sized gingerbread man with a plasma rifle. I could go on about the game in detail but really that’s all you need to know. Grab some mates and go be plasma ducks for a night. Job done.
…Actually, I think the editors are looking at me threateningly so I suppose I’d better go on about it in detail. Wouldn’t want to piss off Mary, she could easily take me in a fight.
So, TimeSplitters 2. Developed by Free Radical Design, a team made up of Rare veterans who worked on genre-defining shooters like GoldenEye and Perfect Dark on the Nintendo 64. And if you played either of those, TimeSplitters 2 is going to be very familiar to you because it is the pinnacle of that formula, refined and improved upon in every way. Fast, stripped-down, arcade-style action is the name of the game here. None of that realism bollocks: no ironsight aiming; no cover systems; no loadouts; not even a bloody jump button. Instead, what you get is frenetic, old-school first-person shooting with cool weapons in well-designed maps with a hell of a good soundtrack throughout it (seriously, when was the last time you even played an FPS with music for its multiplayer matches instead of gruff army men and spoiled prepubescent brats shouting in your ear?)
The (incredibly daft) story has you playing as Sgt. Totally-Not-Riddick-Honest as he tracks the Time Crystals across the past, present and future, hunting down the eponymous alien TimeSplitters to retrieve them. it’s really just an excuse to chain together disparate levels like a Siberian dam, a cyberpunk Neo-Tokyo, alien worlds, the wild west, 1930s mob-run Chicago and a far-future techno-grunge robot factory. By the third level you’re blasting your way through the Notre Dame Cathedral in 1895 as a harlequin girl so suffice to say, it’s not the most serious story out there. It’s showing its age a bit, with some awkward attempts at stealth sections – shooting out the cameras in the Siberian dam is fine, following the arse of a hacker girl through Neo-Tokyo at a glacial pace and having nothing interesting to do the entire time is not. Still, it can be good for a bit of single-player fun and it helps you unlock even more stuff for the multiplayer, so it’s all good in the end, if not quite as fun as the Arcade League mode.
Arcade League gives you a bunch of multiplayer-style matches with specific rules, and uses them to introduce new multiplayer maps and game modes, before giving you a chance to unlock them by doing well in the challenge itself. As with anything with a scoring system, getting those gold medals can become an addiction, so I found myself playing this mode long after I’d unlocked its goodies just to try and get that perfect score. It’s nicely complimented by Challenge mode, which shakes up the gameplay formula a bit and lets you – you guessed it, unlock more multiplayer stuff. The challenges are things like collecting bananas in a maze like a first-person Pac-Man, scoring points for beheading the undead (the heads are worth more points than an arm, after all) or simply smashing as many windows as possible with a seemingly infinite supply of throwable bricks. They’re a fun way to mix it up a bit, and some of them are arm-gnawingly frustrating to boot.
Christ I’m 560 words into this and haven’t even talked about the multiplayer itself. Have you played GoldenEye? Yeah, the one that’s hailed as an all-time classic and a genre-definer. This is just like that except you can be a life-sized duck man and have a plasma rifle. Every aspect of the game can be customised, with 16 different multiplayer gametypes, including one where you’re constantly losing health and gain it back by doing damage, one where you’re on fire and have to try and pass it on to someone else before your life hits zero, and one where the last-place person has a horde of gun-toting monkeys periodically storm the arena to even the playing field. You can create custom bot sets, custom weapon sets, choose the music for the map, all sorts. And I know what you’re about to ask: ‘Ross, did you create a game type where every player is a monkey and the only available weapon is the aforementioned throwing brick?‘ And you’ll be happy to know that the answer to your ludicrously specific question is ‘fuck yeah I did!’ The music, too, my god. Graeme Norgate’s score is awesome, from haunting gothic melodies to techno-beats, it fits perfectly with every mission and map.
Grab three mates, get the GameCube version (four controller ports, after all), ban the monkey because anyone who uses the monkey in a non-monkey focused gametype is a filthy cheater, and you’re guaranteed to have a blast. It kickstarted my love of local multiplayer gaming as a wee yin and considering that’s my favourite way to play games these days, I haven’t ever looked back. As I said: plasma rifle-toting human-sized bipedal ducks squaring off against living gingerbread men with Tommy guns. Play. This. Game.