By James Bregman
In a video game market saturated with the perennially popular first-person-shooter format (FPS), Timesplitters: Future Perfect has plenty to contend with.
Timesplitters is back with a bang
It may be a happily-established series but still has to contend with mega-franchises like Doom and Halo, along with a dizzying raft of newcomers in the guise of Project Snowblind, Killzone and countless others.
Next to many competitors, Timesplitters
feels simplistic, cartoon-like and frivolous - all of which prove to be hugely refreshing.
This is a game that refuses to take itself too seriously, yet is as technically proficient as anything else. Speaking as one who found the last Timesplitters instalment strangely underwhelming, this episode feels like an improvement.
The time-travelling scenario is priceless, because it allows for such variation between the distinctive looks of different levels. The familiar futuristic-corridors-and-staircases setup of this genre does at times rear its increasingly dull head, but is likely to be followed by something altogether different.
TIMESPLITTERS: FUTURE PERFECT
Enduring appeal: 10
Format: PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube
Characters, weapons and dialogue also vary as the game's butch hero Cortez travels through the ages attempting to gather 'time crystals and stop the evil Timesplitter creatures from destroying humanity. The action kicks off far in the future, leaping swiftly to 1920s Scotland, 1960's Russia, and so on.
Cortez gets to have comedic meetings with his past and future self, a la Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, and finds his determined efforts to crack moody one-liners are met with derision by co-stars. He may be a carbon clone of Vin Diesel, but the game's delightfully silly tone refuses to let him actually be the hard-nut action man.
The graphics, whilst not revolutionary, are highly effective because of the distinct style they work to - colourful, bold and deliberately cartoon-like.
Similarly, the in-game movie cut-scenes are lively, colourful and hugely entertaining.
Many will find the game too easy and short in single-player mode. Puzzles are alarmingly simple, whether or not you listen to the voice in Cortez's ear that tells you exactly how to solve them.
It's shoot or be shot
Formulaic it may be, but there are some great set-pieces, like a superb sniping test early on and a level set aboard a speeding train. It may be over fast, but Future Perfect's single-player story delivers a great ride while it lasts.
Considerable value is added however by the non-linear options. As well as several arcade mode setups, it's great fun online, and the array of unlockable characters and maps make for continually entertaining skirmishes against human or computer-controlled foes.
And plenty of effort has gone into the design of those characters, who are infinitely more imaginative than the hordes of identical clones who populate many FPS bore-fests.
The complete cast numbers around 150, and its protagonists are male, female, human, robot, dinosaur and ninja monkey among other things.
With a sense of sheer unbridled fun that all-too-rarely sneaks into the often self-important realm of FPS action games, Timesplitters: Future Perfect comes highly recommended. And unusually, it can be thoroughly enjoyed even by players without the luxury of a broadband connection.