Retrospective: Timesplitters 2

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

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Talking of TimeSplitters 1, it's worth knowing that TimeSplitters 2 essentially was TimeSplitters 1. The first game was rush-released for PS2's launch; the second game had the luxury of time and staff, and was, in Doak's words, "the game we wanted to make." And while we often thought of Free Radical as a pretty major team at the time - TS2 felt like a proper blockbusting GameCube FPS after some average EA Bond games and a limp Turok - it's clear in retrospect that this was an indie game before indie games even existed: slick, determinedly different, visually distinctive, stuffed with cute ideas, and cooked up by a small team where anyone could stick their oar in at any time.


"We were quite democratic at Free Radical and it didn't matter where ideas came from," says David. "That's a luxury you have when your team size is 20 or so. It was still the time when you could think of something in the morning and have it in the game before you went home, without having to check with your 'dad'."

And that helped them successfully reconjure that GoldenEye magic. The weight of your sights, the painful-looking enemy reactions to getting a bullet in the knee, the emphasis on headshots (including, in the case of zombies, actually popping heads clean off), the heads-up health display and even the sound of picking up a shield - all of it consciously reminded you of Bond, and replicated what had made him such a pleasure to control two years earlier. Even the shotgun was given a shell rack on top as a deliberate nod to GoldenEye's own.

Of course, it helped that the opening stage, Siberia 1990, was an obvious and affectionate knock-off of GoldenEye's seminal opening Dam level. What they didn't tell you was that Siberia alone had over one year of work put into it (and was only half its final size until someone from Eidos played a near-complete version and stunned the team by asking, "The finished level will be much bigger than this, right?"). It all fits together so neatly, and packs in so much - stealth, staircase shootouts, flamethrowers, remote guns, zombies, exploding melons - that you can almost smell the polish.


"Siberia's such a bloody nice piece of gameplay," says Doak, "because it was iterated on, built, then got to a playable standard, and then people kept playing it and tweaking it. We didn't arse about on paper. It was an immersive, living experience. You play it, try it out, do things you're not supposed to do - and then Steve Ellis comes in and says, 'I was bored so I made a little retro arcade game called Anaconda, can you put that in somewhere?', and you hide it as an Easter egg so it's unexpected, a lovely moment of joy."

Siberia wasn't a one-off: TS2's levels were almost uniformly great. One minute you had a shotgun-wielding Quasimodo by your side in Notre Dame, the next you were stealthing and blasting through a hacker's lab in 2019 Neo Tokyo (aka Blade Runner). And there was strategy - something that really stands out now that the FPS has become for the most part a tightly scripted rollercoaster ride. Enemies were deliberately and carefully placed so that, if you played around a bit, you'd find stealthy, satisfying routes through a level, where you deactivated CCTV cameras and silently murdered daydreaming guards. Shortcuts, surprises, quicker kills, fewer enemies - the TS2 team had quiet faith that you'd pay attention and discover it all.

That's not to say it was easy on you. It wasn't easy on you at all. Arcade League - 45 ruthless single-player deathmatch scenarios - was ostensibly a laugh-a-minute fun-ride. A mobster confronted by hordes of murderous hands in a cheese-induced nightmare? Tearing around a circus and desperately dodging big top freaks? Sounds hilarious.


But remember, TS2's team had previously given us GoldenEye time challenges that could only be completed by giving up half your lifetime and three quarters of your sanity. "TS2 may have been a little over-challenging in places," admits Steve, and he's not kidding - the plunging health meters and instant deaths are a stark reminder of when games hated us and wanted us to die.

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