TimeSplitters – No plot. No cut scenes. No puzzles

Of course, all of the multiplayer games are playable in one-player mode and prove satisfyingly playable, too
Damn the TimeSplitters. Damn them. Arrogantly strutting their badness across space and time, this breed of extra terrestrials has, for as long as anyone has cared to remember, manipulated humankind’s fate for their own villainous and corrupt end.

But no more. Over time, heroic individuals have risen from society’s mediocrity to bravely face this time/space continuum-defiant progeny of evilness in the hope of quashing their wicked deeds.

Whether they succeed, you surely won’t be surprised to read, depends on you. In Story mode, nine levels spread over a hundred years (1935-2035) await your strafing skills. But forget your complex mission-based first-person shooters. Here, the object of the game is to fight your way into a level, pick up an artefact and swiftly fight your way back out, ideally without running out of energy during your excursion. While the first levels may initially appear simplistic, things get increasingly tortuous the further you strafe into the game while increasing the difficulty level also fuels the architectural complexity. (Should things get too rough, you can always persuade a friend to join you for some two-player co-operative action.)

Surprisingly, given that it’s hardly the game’s main focus, the Story mode is remarkably compelling. The AI, while it wouldn’t necessarily trouble Kasparov were it to be applied to a handheld chess computer, is decent enough and will certainly fool you into thinking it’s actually doing far more clever things than it is. And ultimately, that’s all part of the development game. Whether the CPU opponents’ use the environment for cover is a scripted routine is irrelevant, provided the desired effect is attained. And in TimeSplitters, the enemies rarely disappoint.

Given that certain members of Free Radical Design, the chaps responsible for this rather excellent piece of electronic entertainment, cut their teeth on the fabulous N64 FPS GoldenEye, it won’t come as a shock to find that completing each of the missions (which open up three at a time), rewards you with extra characters and new features that you’ll find should you venture into the Arcade mode.

And you should really, because this is the essence of the game. Up to four players can take part in deathmatch, capture the bag, escort, bagtag, knockout or last stand, played over the nine levels from Story mode as well as a selection of Arcade-only levels. The options list is suitably extensive, the action is Quake-fast and easily some of the most frantic and addictive to have graced a console in a while. Everything you’d expect, really, given some of the team’s pedigree.

Incidentally, in the unlikely event that you don’t like any of the levels, build your own. The TimeSplitters gang has kindly included a level editor for – the game. It’s a rather intuitive and versatile affair, allowing you to construct ambitious structures and tweak just about every aspect, right down to the lighting. How involved you get is obviously up to you – even a simple five-minute corridor-based construction can prove surprisingly playable. As ever, save them on to memory card and see how your friends fare in your death trap arena from Hell. Or not, as the case may be.

Oh, forgot to tell you that once you complete the Story mode you open up a challenge game which consists of a series of tasks that have to be met against strict time limits. It’s silly stuff, knock off the heads of zombies, shoot Uzi-toting ducks, fight to bring lobsters back from the docks and deliver them to your restaurant, that kind of thing. This may be a good time to point out, as you may have gathered by looking at the screenshots anyway, that TimeSplitters doesn’t take itself too seriously, and is genuinely a far better game for it, too.

Any bad points? Hey, nothing’s perfect. The most obvious comment is that socially maladjusted types with no friends (at least the organic, human kind), will fail to get as much out of this as their more convivial brethren – but then, in its defence, TimeSplitters isn’t aiming at anything other than the multiplaying crowd. On a more technical note, the graphics, while very nice, won’t have you screaming with joy (though the gameplay might) – environments are very clean, but also a little on the barren side, a prerequisite for fast framerate (which most of the time hangs around the 60fps mark). And to be fair, in most instances you’ll be moving too quickly to notice. Other than that, loading times could have you wondering whether your PS2 has crashed.