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TVG breaks through the space-time continuum to bring you the latest instalment in Free Radical’s FPS series...
In a genre that takes itself far too seriously, the one shining beacon of humour in the over-saturated world of first-person shooters is Free Radicalâ??s TimeSplitters franchise. For the last few years weâ??ve been able to run around different locations and time periods with dozens of wacky characters and enjoyed the huge variety of multiplayer modes that the series has to offer. Since then the developers have gone on to create one of the dark-horse titles of 2004 in the form of Codemasters â??Psy-Bendingâ? action/adventure Second Sight, which one again utilised the distinctive character designs that have become synonymous with the TimeSplitters series and the development team.
But can Future Perfect deliver after the massive success of TimeSplitters2, or is the series beginning to run out of steam? Or worseâ?¦is TimeSplitters beginning to take itself too seriously? Future Perfect is also the first title in the series to be published by the gaming behemoth that is Electronic Arts, and the fact that the game (which was created by team behind the cornerstone FPS, GoldenEye on the N64 back in the mid-1990s) comes just a few months after the quite disastrous GoldenEye: Rogue Agent is an irony that wonâ??t be lost on gamers.
One of the main things that strike you about Future Perfect is the sheer amount of modes and options available to players; the game features 150 playable characters and 14 different modes, and if that wasnâ??t enough for you it also features the â??MapMakerâ? option that debuted in its predecessor. In other words there are lots of options for gamers to choose from, and thatâ??s without mentioning the â??time-splittingâ?? Story mode that can be played by a single player or co-operatively with a friend who takes on the â??assistantâ?? roles found within the main campaign.
Once again the game focuses on the events of TimeSplitters protagonist Cortez, who on his return to the present day of 2401 is sent back to locate and destroy the Time Crystals, which make time-travel possible. Along the way the web of intrigue surrounding the origins of the TimeSplitter life forms and the mysterious leader of a cult called the Brotherhood of UltraScience is unravelled, but not before Cortez has travelled from 1924 to 2052, taking in the likes of 1994 and 1969 amongst many others.
If youâ??re a fan of that most sci-fi of sci-fi conundrums, the time paradox, then Future Perfect is definitely the game for you; this game has so many potential paradox triggers that Back to the Futureâ??s Doc Brown would involuntarily spasm and fit before he could even cry â??Great Scottâ?. From the first time period of present day 2401 right through to the end mission set in present day 2401, the gods of space-time smile down on Cortez as the fabric of the universe stays relatively intact â?“ although the game does set you up with many occurrences of being assisted by a â??futureâ?? Cortez before disappearing through a worm-hole (read Hawkingsâ?? Brief History of Time) who then goes back to become the â??futureâ? Cortez that previously helped you (itâ??s a bit confusing in the written word, youâ??ll just have to play it to get the gist) - needless to say that role-reversal plays quite a big part in the game.
The humour in the game appears in various formats from overt slapstick in the cut-scenes to subtleties (and non-subtleties) in the NPC dialogue, not to mention that the game continues the TimeSplitters tradition of parodying the time periods that the levels are set. For instance the 1969 bad guys carries the quintessentially â??super-villainâ?? white cat (which isnâ??t quite what it seems), as well as having a small army of jumpsuit/miniskirt clad minions to guard his base and a Q inspired jetpack to fly around with. Itâ??s these touches and observations that lift the game away from what could be argued is a storyline that takes itself a little too seriously, and places it well and truly in spoof territory.
Perhaps itâ??s the vast number of time periods to chose from that keeps the TimeSplitters series feeling as fresh with each iteration, since it isnâ??t restrained to a specific period in time or location that other franchises have to deal with; after all, you wonâ??t find Master Chief driving a Warthog down the dusty cobbles of Victorian London in Halo 3 (donâ??t even think of it Bungie.)
It seems that the team at Free Radical have decided that the time is now right to evolve the character modelling, especially after the more â??realisticâ?? characters in Second Sight, which managed to successfully find a happy medium between the traditional Radial look and a more realistic visual style. TimeSplitters: Future Perfect continues this trend, which will probably win over as many fans as it will detractors. The character models are now much smoother than before and they appear more like caricatures of humans than cartoon characters, which reflect the upgraded visuals of the locations in the game too. The multitude of time periods also means that the variety of enemy changes every couple of levels, which may have been a bit of headache for Free Radicalâ??s design team, however it does have the added effect of delaying any thoughts that the game becomes increasingly stagnant. Even though the game isnâ??t the most serious game youâ??ll ever play (far from it), itâ??s still very nice to see Free Radical include little details little damage objects in glass â?“ little things that add up to create a quite fantastic game.
Future Perfect also features time specific weapons so you wonâ??t find the mid-21st Century Time Displacement Grenades in 1924 Scotland, however, some of the weapons used by enemies have been tweaked and upgraded beyond their supposed time period â?“ oh how the plot thickens. The control once again is fluid, mostly intuitive and will have you gunning down the time-jumping adversaries in no time at all, although there is one little niggle with the system in Future Perfect and that is the distinct lack of a jump button, which might not seem like the most significant detail, but the inability to leap over short walls or barriers makes it a bit frustrating from time to time.
Even though the Story mode is far more engaging than any previous TimeSplitters title, the bulk of the fun and gameplay is naturally found in its Multiplayer modes, of which there are enough to keep you happy for months. The game features 14 (yes thatâ??s 14 multiplayer modes), which range from the standard â??Deathmatchâ? and â??Capture the Bag [Flag]â? to the ludicrous â??Shrinkâ? and â??Monkey Assistantâ? variants; it even features a built in â??Virusâ?? variant which means that you wonâ??t have play a made-up game mode a la Halo 2.
The variants take place in mode specific locations, which means that you wonâ??t find games taking place in wildly out of place environments like â??Team Slayerâ?? in massively humongous gargantuan labyrinthine (you get the picture) maps. It would be quite simple to over describe the variants, but all that has to be said is this: all of the modes are brilliant â?“ good fun to play, and regardless of whether the multiplayer games are being played by yourself (thanks to the Bots), offline, or on Xbox Live (where the game comes into its own â?“ and get this â?“ itâ??s an EA Live game that actually works well!!!)
As we said, the Story mode can be played with a second player playing the part of the assistant, and whist it certainly offers a different angle that is soon to be emulated in the Xbox iteration of Doom 3, it could be improved by being a little bit more thought out. This is most obvious when the assistant in the single player version of the Story mode goes off to accomplish a goal, but that goal is then missing from the co-op version. For instance in the single player version of the swinging 1960s spy spoof mission, assistant Harry Tripper sets off to find disguises for himself and Cortez and itâ??s up to the player to snipe at any enemies that try to kill him. In the co-op version however, this section is reduced to a location-triggered cut-scene, which does slightly diminish the experience.
The Xbox Live experience in Future Perfect is easily the most impressive that EA has so far incorporated, not that that is an amazing accomplishment. The fact of the matter is that Free Radical have integrated all of the features that youâ??d expect in a Live game: voice chat in the lobbies, post-game stat breakdown and a level of social interaction (as much as you can in online gaming so far at least) that makes Future Perfect easily one of the Live games to own, joining the likes of Project Gotham Racing 2 and (dare we even say it) Halo 2. Also the fact that you are able to re-spawn just by pressing a button rather than wait for an eternal countdown adds to the frenetic pace of the game in general. The Live game can and does suffer from lag on occasion even though party numbers can be quite low (lag was experienced with as few as six or seven players), but this was hopefully just due to the number of US gamers at the time.
If a wide range of weapons is your idea of FPS heaven, then TimeSplitters: Future Perfect is the game for you. Not only does it include what has to be considered by anyone whoâ??s ever played an FPS game such as pistols and shotguns, but it also includes some ideas such as the Flare Gun and Harpoon Gun that havenâ??t been seen in games before. But the weapons in Future Perfect are much more than that; there is limited dual-wielding in the game (mostly in the form of machine guns and flare guns), and melee weapons such as the baseball bat for those â??Shaun of the Deadâ? moments when you face the undead in 1994, however perhaps what the game does most brilliantly is that all of the weapons fit perfectly within the context of the game. Every weapon is there for a reason, which means that you know a lot of thought went into the game design and that for instance the â??flavour of the monthâ?? weapon, the re-appearing anti-gravity gun has a place in the TimeSplitters world.
One of the biggest turn-offs of the FPS genre, especially in light of the almost impossible task of reaching the upper skill levels in Halo 2, is that the game can be played by pretty much anyone. Future Perfect is a very easy game to pick up and become competent in, even on the global arena that is Xbox Live. This is due to in no small part, the fact that the game leans more towards power-ups such as â??Speed Upâ?? and â??Shrinkâ?? than skill heavy games like Halo 2 (which quite frankly has recently increased the level of blood pressure in TVG Towers.) Free Radical have made a game that will appeal to FPS novices and casual gamers as well as cater for the hardcore gamer thanks to the achievement of bringing the biggest injection of fun since Disney opened Disneyland.
It’s throwaway fun that is very easy to pick up and play for any length of time, and the longevity is sure to be very lengthy perhaps surpassing the Bungie behemoth itself. The visuals have ‘grown-up’, which won’t perhaps be accepted by some hardcore fans of the series, but the style is still very ‘Free Radical.’ The audio in the game is wacky with vocal snippets from the characters adding to the game’s FPS ‘Wacky Races’ feel.
It may not be the most original game in the world, but the fact that it offers a level of fun that is certainly unparalleled in the genre more than makes up for that.