The Arrow of Time
Not many games have a pedigree to match the original TimeSplitters. Considering the series resides in the hallowed branches of the GoldenEye family tree, Free Radical has a significantly higher quality bar to reach than most developers. The N64’s classic GoldenEye is, quite simply, gaming royalty. Creator of countless trash talking, Doritos-and-Mountain Dew-fueled gaming sessions that some still claim to carry bruises from, it was a game for the ages. Good times?and a high quality bar indeed.
At its core, TimeSplitters: Future Perfect is a fast-paced, action-oriented FPS placing time-trotting players in so many locales it dwarfs most games through its sheer breadth of experience. The game’s single-player campaign – an eight to ten hour affair – begins in 1924 and brings players right through to 2200. Unfortunately, 10 hours is perhaps a little skimpy and ultimately leaves you wanting more. But, on the bright side, the relative brevity makes TimeSplitters: Future Perfect a perfect rental choice.
Each of Future Perfect’s levels represents a specific sequence along a larger timeline, advancing the story while traveling through time. Conceptually the levels are quite fragmented, but they’re drawn together well by a Stephen Hawking-defying, Einstein-inspired storyline. If we conveniently avoid contentions surrounding the specifics of the required energy generated for time-traveling, it’s the ensuing broad time horizon that allows Free Radical to bring an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink game to market – regardless of what PhD-toting physicists would consider plausible.
Cortez and the Funky Bunch
Future Perfect puts you in the role of Sergeant Cortez, a Riddick-gone-corny lead who, like countless heroes before him, is tasked with stopping a war before it ever begins – but by traveling back in time. It’s a bit cookie cutter, yes, but it works. This is due largely to an excellent cast of characters, who are a unique and memorable bunch accentuated by Cortez, who’s a distinct parody of a tough-as-nails anti-hero.
From the outset, it’s here that the game manifests its greatest strength. TimeSplitters’ characters are quirky, they play off one another, and are genuinely funny. Collectively they fit the game’s kooky atmosphere perfectly, and give Future Perfect tons of tangible personality. Partner this aspect alongside Cortez’s comedic encounters with future and past versions of himself, and you have an experience filled with memorable moments all too uncommon in today’s overloaded FPS market.
Gameplay and the FPS That Could
The design choices granting the game such breadth are not without consequence, though. The phrase ?Jack of all trades, master of none’ fittingly summarizes the gameplay experience. It’s not necessarily a knock on the game, as it does what it does extremely well, but rather more a natural result of developing a game of this scope. In reality, Future Perfect doesn’t realize war-torn Europe as well as Brothers in Arms, or reproduce modern combat to the extent of Tom Clancy games, and it doesn’t match Halo 2’s award-winning futuristic action. But, in fairness to EA and Free Radical, not many games out there do.
What TimeSplitters: Future Perfect brings to the gaming table is a solid package where players can play in all three worlds, and many more between. Each level is packed with vehicles and weapons relevant to the time period, and the game’s constant introduction of new environments definitely ups the freshness factor. Considering the current sea of forgettable FPS titles, offering something this unique and fun to play is in no way a mean feat.
In what can only be considered an homage to Half-Life 2’s zero-point gravity gun, Sergeant Cortez is appropriately ?tech’d out’ with a similar anti-gravity weapon. The gadget allows Cortez to pick up, throw, and manipulate objects in the game world (years of painstaking research by humanity’s greatest minds having proven that, as a species, we enjoy hurling heavy, even mundane items at one another). The new gravity super weapons we’ve been seeing in modern FPSs are a simple pleasure really, and are bound to become staple additions to all future arsenals.
Typically, puzzle elements in FPS games are a horrid affair, second only to the totally uncalled for jumping sequence. Throw in gravity weapons, and you’re a cool-whip can away from an unfortunate accident. Seemingly, most developers implement puzzles to mock the player’s intelligence, clearly to begin Operation: You’re-A-Dummy. Besides infuriating the player, it slows down the pace of the game, adds a superfluous layer of gameplay, and unnaturally extends the experience. Fortunately for TimeSplitters: Future Perfect, the mild puzzle elements are completely unobtrusive, and usually make sense within context.
Free Radical, in an attempt to stretch out the single-player experience, has included an arcade mode. This closely resembles the single-player modes found in recent Unreal games. Arcade pits the player against a series of foes and challenges, in an arena-type atmosphere. Though it does add to the game’s single-player aspect, a longer campaign would have been much better, as it involves the game’s best aspect: its personalities.
Enemy soldiers are little more than fodder, blindly running to meet their deaths. Soldiers don’t really work together and often bunch up in disarray, making for easy kills. A.I. that uses cover effectively and actually flanks or adds tactical depth is something this game is sorely missing. This is somewhat of a disappointment in Future Perfect, especially considering the superb level of enemy A.I. we’ve been witnessing in videogames recently. Stronger A.I. would have taken the overall package closer to that next level – a coveted place alongside the industry’s best.
The game’s multiplayer component is full-featured but, when compared to gaming’s multiplayer elite, it seems a little generic. Included are several different flavors of death match, and two objective-based modes: capture the flag, and assault. Free Radical does these modes well, the maps are well designed, but with so many games including knock out multiplayer modes, Future Perfect’s multiplayer seems a bit played out in comparison.
Of Engine, Visuals, and Sounds
The graphics engine is another high point in this latest TimeSplitters iteration. Character models are well detailed, but movements could have been smoother. Facial animations are also done well and generally convey a character’s emotions, but they fall a little short of great. Environments really pop, and most levels contain a broad color pallet reinforcing the game’s lighter, almost comic book feel. The game’s lighting and shadows could have been better, but most particle effects are vibrant and generally fit the style of the game.
Future Perfect’s voice actors deliver believable performances and duly grant the characters the necessary life to make the game such a great experience. Gunfire sounds are satisfying, but could have benefited from a little more low-end frequency. Future Perfect’s soundtrack is largely forgettable, which is quite strange considering games of this nature usually have action-enhancing high energy musical accompaniment. When heard as a whole, TimeSplitters: Future Perfect’s audio experience can be considered above average, which is also perhaps an unforgivable development fumble considering the massive resources EA has in this area.
The What’s What
Future Perfect has ?it’ where it counts: great characters, a funny story, and incredibly varied environments. The action lands on the right side of frantic, each level packed with constant firefights, and there’s hardly a break in the flow. A robust multiplayer component adds the replay value many gamers will look for, and even if no new ground is broken here, it rounds out the package nicely. If not for its run-of-the-mill A.I. and short single-player campaign, Future Perfect may well have achieved new heights for the series. However, although it may seem a touch formulaic on the outside, EA and Free Radical have successfully delivered a solid product, which is easy to recommend and also an enjoyable new entry into the TimeSplitters universe.