Twenty years ago this weekend, Free Radical Design and Eidos Interactive released the first-person shooter TimeSplitters 2 for Xbox and PS2 in North America.
Today the game is often considered to be among the best first-person shooters available on those consoles, regularly appearing on lists to that effect. And it's pretty easy to see why that has become the case.
As the follow-up to TimeSplitters (released two years prior), it addressed many of the minor criticisms directed at its predecessor, introducing a (slightly) more complex story mode and expanding upon the options for players. There were more goofy characters, weapons, and scenarios to enjoy, as well as an expanded mapmaker to let people build their own levels. All of this resulted in a more polished experience that made most people sit and take notice. To celebrate this recent anniversary, however, we didn't want to just rely on our own rose-tinted view of events, so we decided to dig into what critics were saying around the time of release. We've rounded up some of the highlights below.
One of the earliest reviews we found came courtesy of Geoff Keighley (yes, that Geoff Keighley) writing for Entertainment Weekly. Interestingly, this was one of the few negative takes we could find on the game, calling the experience "half-baked" and comparing it negatively to Half-Life. Keighley wrote of TimeSplitters 2 at the time:
“While the environments are beautiful, the hackneyed time-travel story line feels shoehorned into the experience. The split-screen multiplayer mode is great mindless fun, a la Quake. Still, there’s much lost potential in the single-player game."
The next review we came across was Douglass C. Perry's positive review for IGN, which gave it a 9.1 out of 10. It took note of the lack of online multiplayer and highlighted the simple story, but wholeheartedly recommended the game for its multiplayer:
"TimeSplitters 2 is clearly the best multiplayer first-person shooter on the system, and in many ways the game, as an entire package, competes with the best FPS games on PlayStation 2. While the Story mode is 100% better than the first game, it's still not a story-driven game, and at times I felt a little empty running and gunning with little empathy for the characters.
"All in all, TimeSplitters 2 is an excellent choice and a highly recommended game, deep with choices, options, and tons of cheats, rewards, and bonuses."
For Gamepro, the excellently-named D-Pad Destroyer gave it a perfect score of 5 out of 5. In particular, they praised the game for its "cartoony" and "stylized" feel:
“If you like shooters and you have a PS2, go get TimeSplitters 2 right now. It has the modes, the weapons, and the attitude to have hardcore FPS maniacs swimming in puddles of their own drool. No matter what time you’re from, that’s gotta count for something.”
Gamespot's Jeff Gerstmann was slightly cooler on the game at the time, giving it an 8.7. He praised the amount of variety but again highlighted the absence of online multiplayer:
“TimeSplitters 2 is all about options. While it isn't a huge, story-driven first-person shooter, it doesn't attempt to meet that goal. Instead it provides a top-notch collection of great modes, great maps, and solid weaponry. While it's in some ways disappointing that such an option-packed and fun multiplayer game doesn't have any online multiplayer capabilities, TimeSplitters 2 represents the ultimate evolution of the split-screen first-person shooter.”
Stephen Frost, writing for PSM Issue 064 gave it a 9 out of 10, applauding its multiplayer. This was one of the few reviews we could find to mention its difficulty curve:
"Even without online support, TimeSplitters 2 is a great multiplayer game and has plenty of modes and secrets to unlock. The difficulty curve is a little rough, though, so be prepared to practice a lot."
GameSpy's Zach Weston gave it a 4.5 out of 5. He particularly loved the game's humour and writing:
"TimeSplitters 2 is easily the system's best multiplayer FPS, with a surprising amount of single-player action. The lack of online play is unfortunate, but can be overlooked since the core game is so strong. Any way you slice it, TimeSplitters 2 is a fabulous game, and an excellent choice for any console FPS fan looking for a new fix."
Eurogamer's Kristen Reed gave it a 9 out of 10. He praised its variety and nice touches like the hidden 'Snake' mini-game:
"The two single player modes combined will keep you going for ages (not to mention single player vs. bot possibilities), while the multiplayer charms (tons of maps, modes, level designer, link modes) put it easily on a par with anything else out there. And it's got monkeys in it, which instantly makes it an essential purchase."
Together EGM's panel of three reviewers gave the game an average of 8.3 overall. Out of the three, the least positive review came from a writer named Evan who praised the multiplayer but criticized its story and level design:
"TimeSplitters 2 is multiplayer gold. Especially for those with an ideal setup—namely, several PS2's, several televisions and several copies of the game—TS2's addictive, unadulterated multiplayer mayhem is nearly worth the price of admission alone. That said, however, the game certainly has its flaws. Its shortcomings have mostly to do with its meandering storyline and level design; far too often I was left wondering where the hell I was and why the hell I was there."
While reading through most of these reviews, it was fascinating to see how many mentioned the lack of online multiplayer (a feature that publisher Eidos had promised pre-release) and TimeSplitters 2's story. Nevertheless, thanks to its superb split-screen multiplayer, large stack of gameplay modes, and hilarious characters, the game managed to win over the vast majority of reviewers.
Obviously, the great news for fans reading this is that a new TimeSplitters is currently in development, with Free Radical also making a return. Let's hope that this new entry can match up to some of the series's past highs.
What do you make of TimeSplitters 2? Is it worth all the praise and attention all these years later? Let us know in the comments!