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Retrospective: Timesplitters 2

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

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Where TimeSplitters 2 outgrew GoldenEye was in its distinctive look, still memorable ten years on and carried over to Free Radical's later Second Sight: all muted browns and blues, and strange gangly characters with rubbery, hyper-expressive faces. Character artists Ben Newman and Les Spink were given free rein to crayon up whatever emerged from their clearly unhinged minds, be it psychopathic gingerbread men, a robot with a goldfish bowl for a head, or Leo Krupps - a man who opted to enter gunfights dressed top-to-toe in a realistic lion suit.

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This is why TS2 was oozing personality: an unusual dedication to taking the team's brain malfunctions, and turning them into fully implemented features. The hilarious Monkey Assistant multiplayer mode - where a chimp collective beams in to smack seven bells out of the game leader - came about largely from Doak messing about in an idle moment.

"We had a lot of fun making GoldenEye," says Doak, "but it was constrained by the Bond universe. This time, we were our own bosses, and we could do whatever the hell we wanted. Like the melons lying around in the dam. It's hilarious: you're shooting zombies, and melons are rolling around. There wasn't a document that said 'there shall be melons'. Can you imagine pitching that to a publisher?" "The focus was variety and fun," says Ellis. "FPSes were becoming increasingly serious. What's wrong with making the player laugh?"

In keeping with that, TS2 had a boisterous, bonkers multiplayer. AI bots would dive, slide and cartwheel away from bullets - even when they were dinosaurs. Lasers and rocket launchers could reach right across an arena to kill someone quietly minding their own business. There were awards for scooping surplus health ('Hypochondriac') or catching fire ('Most Flammable'). It was so fast and fluid - Ellis and Doak being allergic to clunky frame rates - that you were left giggling breathlessly as you tried to keep up. Only Free Radical could invent a game type where the further behind you were, the smaller you got, until you were able to punch a rival's ankles to death.

You don't remember playing a World Trade Center multiplayer level, though, right? There's a story behind that. "Steve and I had to go to San Francisco to do a demo of TimeSplitters 2," remembers Doak. "It was September 11, 2001. We got a flight out of Heathrow, and after a few hours they came on and said we were going to divert back to London. They weren't telling us anything, but we managed to contact the US before they shut the phones off - and they told us planes were being hijacked. For a while I worried we were going to get hijacked ourselves." After that close shave, the demo was rearranged for a later date - and the WTC map was removed.

EVENT HORIZON

TimeSplitters 2 spent two years in development, and it's arguable that events started to overtake it. The FPS scene was increasingly dominated by brash beefcakes, and TS2 was incongruously kooky, cerebral and very British. Doak admits to borrowing some ideas from Halo, and recalls how TS2's publisher pushed for more of the marketable, bulging-bicepped space marines. Steve remembers watching testers having a blast with the multiplayer and thinking they might have something special on their hands - but the feeling being "tempered with doubt".

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The eventual reception was, of course, glowing, and sales (in the US particularly) were great. There was the odd strangely backhanded compliment - Ellis remembers one review headlined "TimeSplitters 2 fails to disappoint". But the only thing people could really find to complain about was the lack of online multiplayer (something that Free Radical had pushed for and even announced - only to be scuppered by lack of co-operation from the console makers.)

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