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Retrospective: Timesplitters 2

Harder, faster, funnier: how the creators of GoldenEye delivered the ultimate Gamecube FPS

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Getting nostalgic about a game that's only a decade old feels strange. We're talking 2002 - the year of the second Lord Of The Rings film and Eminem, and they seem so recent you have to gurn until your face flops inside out to produce a nostalgic tear for them.

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But Free Radical's TimeSplitters 2, still a few months off its tenth birthday, feels retro. It arrived just after the Xbox and Halo chucked a cluster grenade into the genre and turned the first-person shooter into something much bigger and brasher. And as such, it plays like one of the last major shooters of an older, arcadier era. It's fast, fairly short, incredibly tough. It happily ignores the laws of reality, and doesn't take itself seriously one bit. It eschews online, demanding instead that you gather around the telly for some old-fashioned party play, rising tension, uncomfortable silence and going home in a huff. You can't jump. Hear that, kids? This FPS doesn't have a jump button.

On top of all that, TimeSplitters 2 is so good it needs its own adverb. It's timesplittingly good. Not that its quality came as a complete surprise - because TS2 was produced and directed by Stephen Ellis and David Doak, two gaming gods who had reached down in 1997 and gifted us grateful mortals the revolutionary GoldenEye 007.

In 1999, Steve, David and other GoldenEye alumni made jaws pop drop when they quit the mighty, much-plaudited Rare (just as 007's quasi-sequel Perfect Dark neared completion) and set up their own company. Disappointingly, Free Radical Design stuck to the PlayStation 2 for a bit. But with TimeSplitters 2, the James Bond all-stars were back playing for team Nintendo. Subsequently, they spent every waking hour fielding questions from excited mags like us, desperate to know how much 007 DNA would be inherited by this new shoot-'em-up.

"It was occasionally frustrating to have everything we did judged by reference to GoldenEye," says Ellis. "But it gave people reason to believe that we might be able to create something special. Most importantly, it gave Eidos the confidence to leave us alone. This is critical if you want to make a great game."

COMING BACK HOME

In fact, Ellis reveals that Eidos almost left the Cube version alone completely. "TS2 was PlayStation-only for the first year or so of its development. We wanted to work with Nintendo, but Eidos were less keen. So we spoke to Activision. And it wasn't until we were about to sign off on them publishing the GameCube version that Eidos had a change of heart." "We were big Nintendo fanboys," says Doak. Returning to Nintendo "felt like bringing it home."


GameCube was the perfect home for TimeSplitters 2 and its tongue-in-cheek brilliance. Its plot - two marines hunting down time crystals across ten time zones - was really an excuse not to have a plot. Because, unusually for the time, Free Radical were as much influenced by movies as they were games. The tissue-thin time-jumping theme allowed Steve and David to drag you on an all-guns-blazing tour of their favourite film settings - prohibition-era Chicago, the Wild West, B-movie space Westerns - and delight you with sly in-jokes that referenced everything from Blade Runner to The Fast Show.

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So despite the first 'Splitters being criticised for its lack of story, Free Radical weren't too bothered about coherent narratives - you played a new character on each level, for Pete's sake. They just wanted you to have fun.

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