A diary of sorts, wherein I moonlight as a games writer. Under haphazard construction.
If you’d asked me a couple of weeks ago what I expected I’d enjoy playing the most whilst on holiday with my family last week I probably wouldn’t have said Timesplitters 2. Or probably even considered it for that matter. Or even remembered that I owned a copy.
I had this last minute idea when I was packing of taking my PS2 with me, along with a bunch of the ‘classic’ PS2 games I’ve picked up at clearance prices since that era ended. Okami, Spider-man 2, Viewtiful Joe, Crazy Taxi, Prince of Persia; all stuff that I’ve played a bit, but not really with any great sense of commitment beyond seeing what all the fuss was about. Except Okami, actually. I played that for like, 15 hours which were absolutely wondrous before I finished the first story arc and got distracted by something else, because in my defence it seemed like a nice happy place to stop. I actually got back into Okami as well last week, but that’s gonna have to be another post or I’ll end up writing about it instead of Timesplitters, which is what’s prompted me to actually get off my ass and make some werdz.
So yeah, Timesplitters 2. I bought it for something like £3 along with a 79p copy of Lord of the Rings: Two Towers from the new Gametronic in Cambridge just after it opened. I played the first level and then promptly forgot all about it. When I was disentangling my PS2 from the rest of my desk to pack it in my bag the disk just kinda rolled out, and I remembered it was sorta fun. Saying I don’t really do console FPS’ would probably be a bit of an understatement, given that I’ve been loudly complaining about them since the world lost its collective shit over the original Halo over a decade ago. Even stuff that I’ve enjoyed, like the random Halo 2 LANparties I used to go to, or dicking around in splitscreen Left 4 Dead at Uni, or much more recently, Destiny’s beta, has been spoiled by the eternal whine about how much better they’d be if I just had a fucking mouse. Because come on, they just would. Would you replace your entire hand with a thumb? Really? No. Come on.
Praising console FPS’ has always felt slightly condescending to me, because even if I say “It’s good” I’ve never been able to resist adding the disclaimer “…for a console game.”, even if it’s silently in my head so that people won’t judge me. And I’ve always, always enjoyed them in spite of their controls, and in spite of their themes generally being so much more boring than the mad shit we’ve always had on PC. I was playing this absolute lunacy when I was seven, excuse me for not getting excited about Halo. Space Marines? I had a giant human cow.
When I played the first level of Timesplitters I fell into my usual stride, and though I think I could sense something more there, I put it down as quickly as I’d picked it up. When I played the second level last week, something clicked. I realised I’d never played an FPS in 30s gangland Chicago before. I realised I’d somehow gotten the hang of the silly Goldeneye-style aiming. I realised every time I had to restart 15 mins of play because of a death at the hands of a stupid hidden sniper I was getting quicker and deadlier and more determined to see what stage was next. Notre Dame cathedral, overrun by a zombie cult? Bloody hell yes.
Timesplitters 2 feels like the sweet spot for so many things. The length and complexity of the levels is just perfect. The frustration that makes you want to restart a stage but not quit is just perfect. The variety of level themes and objectives is just perfect. I love the simple fact that every mission has a completely different set of weapons and enemies. You might only use one or two guns for the entire stage, but they’ll be good ones and they’ll feel different from the last stage’s, so it won’t matter. At one point it did occur to me that I was doing more or less the same thing no matter what trigger I was pulling, but then I tried getting headshots as consistently with a pistol as consistently as I had been with the Notre Dame level’s shotfun (leaving that typo in!) and realised it was safer to just aim a little lower and accept it might take a little longer.
On the point of aiming, actually, I must confess to leaving the auto/sticky-aim on, but only because I didn’t notice it was on to begin with and couldn’t bring myself to rain on my own parade.
Lack of a jump button bothered me a bit until I realised that lots of the level design hangs around you not being able to go clambering all over stuff. You have to plant your feet to shoot, and unless you are really quick when you step out from cover it’s actually pretty difficult to get a kill without taking a hit or two yourself. With health that doesn’t regenerate and usually only a couple of shield restores per level, you can’t always afford those hits, which makes movement and positioning really important. The environments have all been built to account for this, and for the weapons you’re given. Big wide open streets for sniping with lots of corners to hide in and balconies to scan. Close corridors with no cover at all but frequent intersections for frantic sub-machine-gun spraying. Mixtures of the two with enough open room for non-linear stealthiness that it feels right whether you go in guns blazing or not.
It’s the variety again which sets it all off. Maybe my inexperience with console FPS’ is showing, and I’m giving too much credit for it simply being interesting, or maybe it’s the fact that I’ve not played many singleplayer FPS’ lately, but I wasn’t expecting to get so much satisfaction from a relatively simple shooting-gallery. Whoever had the idea of making ten single-level FPS’ and then stitching them all together to make one game’s a bloody genius. Sure, the broader plot suffers, but I really like the simple novelty of being dropped into a different hero’s shoes every 45 minutes. I didn’t really care why I needed the time crystals or what was going on in the far future, I had a speakeasy to raid and a mob boss to hunt down. The persistently offhand humour and fantastic art carry it the rest of the way.
Dare I suggest it’d make a great episodic game? Although each episode would have to include three or four vastly different stages to be worth it I guess..
So yeah, I found a console FPS I really like. Would I prefer it with a mouse? Hnnnnnnnnng. Maybe? I’d need a jump key to go with it too. Asking the question has made me realise somewhat the appeal of FPS’ on consoles, because my immediate response was that it’d mess up the feel of the game. The feel of having to stand still and shoot with that crazy aiming system, and the satisfaction of managing to make it work, is really, really important. Change the controls and you change the game’s entire nature. It wouldn’t be Timesplitters without it, and it wouldn’t be as fun. So maybe I’ve even found a console FPS I really like and wouldn’t add mouse controls to.
Okay, fuck all of this, I need to go lie down.