There are very few titles fondly remembered in the history of gaming. True, there are classics and even revolutionary titles that reviewers benchmark against continuously to lay credence to the new breed of games. But as time marches on, these titles pale in our subconscious. Soon, a game compared to Quake will yield very little meaning. The point-and-click adventure games are all but gone from our shelves. Seldom is it then that a title attaches itself so deeply within the gamers' collective consciousness to elicit an almost ravage-like devotion towards it. Yes, I am speaking of 1997's Goldeneye 007 released by Rare Ltd. on Nintendo's then-flagship console, the Nintendo 64. Even today, it is impossible to release a first person shooter without the masses comparing it to Goldeneye. Halo may have been a revolutionary console title, but many played it and simply turned up their noses. Do so many people still play their N64s?
The beauty of Goldeneye is that anyone who's played it seems to have a connection to the game. I can draw out the map of every level from memory and indicate every enemy position on it, every health pickup, armor vest locations and the places to pick up the best weapons too. In 20 years from now, I will remember Goldeneye as a wonderfully vivid dream. The reality of it though is that as wonderful as our collective recollection for that game is, by today's standards, it is a dated, unplayable mess. Going back to it from time to time, I am confronted with 64-bit graphics with bland textures, predictable enemy A.I., and most maddening of all, an archaic control scheme that I shudder to think of. I wonder how I ever beat all those time-challenges with those controls.
And now, almost 8 years later, Free Radical Design (which contains many of the original Rare Goldeneye 007 members) gives us Timesplitters 3 Future Perfect the true modern heir to the 007 game of yore. Will the nay-sayers tell us that it pales in comparison to Goldeneye? That it can't stand up against the king of console FPS, Halo 2? Or will they look back in 20 years from now and remember with great longing how wonderful a title TSFP really was?
Timesplitters Future Perfect contains a true bevy of modes to experience. There is the single player campaign (which can be played solo or in coop mode on a split-screen TV), an arcade mode where the game pits you against bots in various situations, a challenge mode where you can race a cat around a track, shoot zombie monkeys and break glass and dishes to your heart's content. A solid mapmaker function, a split-screen multiplayer mode, a system-link option, 150 characters to unlock (as well as cheats and other goodies) and then there's also Xbox Live, where you can play a plethora of different modes, do/view challenges, share maps for single and multi-player mayhem, beat best times for every story level, and even play a deathmatch as the Gingerbread Man if that tickles your fancy. Did I mention the monkeys? The Zombie Monkeys? How about the ones carrying shotguns? Oh, there truly is a wondrous amount of things to do.
The single player story mode focuses on a Vin Diesel-like character named Cortez who must travel through time in the hopes of saving the "future humanity" of 2401 from extinction at the hands of the TimeSplitters. The story is actually quite forgettable and simply an excuse to get our hero from one time period to the next. What isn't forgettable, however, is the wonderful sense of humor present throughout the story (as well as in all other modes). There are some truly laugh-out-loud moments and I am quite thankful that the developers have given us the option to replay all unlocked movies in the extras menu. These scenes are so well conceived and so incredibly funny that you could show them to a complete stranger who knows nothing about the game's story and still get a laugh out of them.
The single player story mode also contains some unforgettable companions for our hero; from a crusty Scott trying to rescue his "jungle friend", a groovy cool super-spy named Harry Tipper, a buxom young girl wanting to take pictures of ghosts and a Vin Diesel-like character named Cortez who looks just like you. These are the best moments of the game, when the main character interacts with himself to help himself save himself. I promise it makes sense.
The story mode is also filled with great dialogue (delivered just right by all involved) and too many clever references to games, movies, TV shows and celebrities to name. Needless to say, there is definitely reason to play through this story again and again, and not just because the developers were kind enough to re-create at least one 007 level for everyone to enjoy.
As another nod to the classic 007 game, the health and armor indicators are the same as they were in Goldeneye, as are the objective messages displayed on the screen. The controls for all game modes are responsive and well-mapped out. If you've played any first person shooter on consoles in the past two or three years, you will feel right at home. Oddly enough though, there is no jump button in this game. But on the plus side, players of TimeSplitters 2 will be happy to hear that aiming is now handled as it should be, using the right thumbstick to rotate in all directions. Cross-hairs can also be modified to suit your likes.
As with all things, however, there are a few gripes that may detract from your enjoyment of TSFP's single player story mode. First, it takes roughly five hours to finish it on easy and no more than eight hours to finish it on the hardest difficulty setting (which is still nowhere near hard). This is truly under par even by today's meager FPS story-mode offerings. TimeSplitters Future Perfect also incorporates the use of vehicles (as seems to be the norm nowadays) but these are clunky to maneuver around and certainly not as fun to drive as a Warthog or Banshee. Did I mention that there was no jump button? The Y button is not even used in the control scheme, surely they could have implemented a jump button if only to keep me from going on about it. The crouch button (left thumbstick click) on the other hand is too easily triggered and in boss battles it's quite easy to spend too much time in a crouched position with varying ill effects.
As with all first person shooters, there is a chance of motion sickness for those who are susceptible to such things. TimeSplitters Future Peftect is not as bad as Red Faction 2 or Breakdown since it doesn't have the "bob" camera motion, but it can still induce headaches and severe stomach churning if breaks are not taken. Another trick is to play with both feet firmly planted on the ground (it helps trick your brain into knowing where its center of gravity is).
Once the main story is finished, you will have approximately finished 8-10% of the game. There is still the co-op mode to experience, the challenges (with unique character voice-clips) and the arcade mode. A wonderful surprise is that you can also use bots in single player mode to simulate, uh, friends. Use at your own discretion. You will find that the game takes great pains in tracking an excruciating amount of data for your perusal pleasure; from time played, to melons smashed, to bullets fired, etc. It may not be as complete as the stat tracking found in Grand Theft Auto, but then again, nothing is.
The mapmaker functionality, which is still not widely implemented in console gaming, returns with a sturdier interface, more memory space and the ability to share your maps online as well as download maps from friends and other Live members. The maps (which already number in the hundreds) can be rated on a scale from 1 to 5 and can be searched and displayed in a plethora of ways. You can create maps that will be used for any and all of the online multiplayer modes as well as create a story-mode map with goals, challenges and times to beat. The tile sets are not very varied but it has been rumored that more will be released online over time. A final word on maps: A great map takes a long time to build and tweak. This is not a mode that you can get into quickly and without the patience to learn the particular idiosyncrasies of the tool at hand (and don't get me started on EA's new policy of making their instruction manuals as useless as possible). As it is, it is quite capable, easier than TimeSplitters 2 mapmaker mode, but still a little limiting in many ways. I personally tried very hard to make a story level called "Sorority Hell" where Jo-Beth and friends would try to keep my male character out of their sorority house (and leave me in the zombie invested college streets) but couldn't quite figure out how to get anyone but zombies, monkeys and security guards as A.I. characters. Ah, humanity will miss this contribution.
As with all Electronic Arts games with Live functionality, the servers are handled by EA and not Microsoft. This has been a sore point of contention for gamers. Microsoft's online servers are set-up perfectly for the capacity of users on Live. EA seems to have put a bare-bones offering out there and then played catch-up with it. I had to stop playing Burnout 3 on Live because it was so buggy and unpredictable. I've since gone back to play some Burnout 3, NFL Street 2 and Need For Speed Underground 2 and things seem better. But the irony is that TimeSplitters Future Perfect's online menu seems to have been scaled down from what EA normally offers. It is still functional, but has nowhere near all the options that regular EA Sport titles or Halo 2 has to offer. The good news however is that the online portion of the game is well handled and without lag when playing against small groups of friends (with a few bots thrown in for good measure). The game supports 16 player games, but as any FPS fan knows, lag can be quite deadly when every second counts. When playing with the full complement of players, lag does seem evident, but not overly affecting. It is annoying, however, to be kicked out of games once a match ends and then having to find each player again for another go-round. Let's hope a patch gets released soon.
As for the online modes, there are more modes than you'll know what to do with. Everything from standard deathmatches, team deathmatches, vampire, shrink, virus, capture the bag, etc. And as with everything else in TSFP, the multiplayer mode is laced with lots of humor and always fun to play. Monkeys, deer, crazed scientists, chefs, nurses and cheerleaders. What's not to like?
A special mention should also be made that while all statistics are viewable through the online dashboard, EA and Free Radical have also gone the extra step and implemented a web-based statistics page off the EA Games website. After logging in, you can view your records, modify your avatar, go through the maps and their ratings/statistics and see where you rank in the world. A small thing, but quite enjoyable nonetheless.
In the sound department, the game is infused with techno music which is nice but not overly noticeable since you tend to listen for the clever quips from characters rather then the music. There are noticeable musical themes in most levels that repeat from time to time and these become instantly recognizable. In mapmaker mode you will notice the music a lot more and will become more appreciative of it and how it can accompany various moods all at once.
The graphics are crisp and I have yet to see any graphical glitches in the game. The game runs at 60fps and in 480p and exhibits very few slowdowns. The character models have cartoon like proportions but get the job done and carry on with the light feel of the game. The characters and the weapons (of which there are quite a few with variations for each time period) are all well animated. The explosions, lighting and graphics will clearly not set benchmark records, but the point of the game is not eye candy, but spot-on gameplay, which the game succeeds at admirably and in spades.
And so, after all the game modes have been played, maps created, multiplayer games won and lost, how does TimeSplitters 3 compare to its pedigree? Is it better than Goldeneye? Is it the new standard by which all games will be measured to for years to come? Unfortunately, no. Even with its age, Goldeneye still holds a place in my heart (as it does in many gamers' hearts) that no game can hope to take. Is it on par with Goldeneye? A definite yes! And in ten years from now I'm sure I'll be able to draw you the map of the 1994 Manor and tell you all about Jo-Beth and Harry Tipper as if I had known them personally. TimeSplitters Future Pefect doesn't try to be the new Goldeneye or a Halo-killer or anything more than a light-hearted game with plenty or humor and characters that you will enjoy while you're playing it and remember fondly once you've completed it. TimeSplitters Future Perfect comes highly recommended.