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TimeSplitters 2: Cartoon Carnage | Subverting FPS Expectations

TimeSplitters 2: Cartoon Carnage | Subverting FPS Expectations
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Did you ever want to shoot the gingerbread man with a shotgun while watching Elvis Presley throw timed explosives at a 1930s gangster? Maybe you didn’t consider that possibility. I’m guessing no one did, because TimeSplitters 2 was a parody of the first-person shooter.

The game makes you feel like it’s Halloween by playing dress up with every character and genre possible: gangsters, soldiers, cartoon characters, zombies, spacemen, gargoyles, robots, aliens, dinosaurs and more. You can play as (and alongside) all of these characters in an action-packed hodge podge. Overly ambitious with a lack of focus? Maybe. How many multiplayer FPS games can you name that contain at least five to ten characters with creative designs? Other than Team Fortress 2 and Overwatch, I can’t think of many. This game comes together to subvert the expectation of what we thought a shooter had to be.

At the surface of its gameplay, TimeSplitters 2 steals a lot of the basic mechanics from competing titles such as Halo. The local multiplayer customization/setup and level design is recognizable; however, the execution is so delightful and ridiculous that it’s hard to keep your eyes off what’s in front of you. The local multiplayer lets you pick and choose levels that are genre time capsules — the old west, Notre Dame, a horror ridden hospital, the Aztec ruins — and it feels like you are jumping into an old film that uses the paint job of a smooth animated TV show. There are so many maps from FPS games that have been forgotten just by aesthetics alone. TimeSplitters 2 not only did a good job with level design, but it grabbed the player’s attention on a cinematic level, such as the Mexican mission map that had an upbeat Latin, stand-off soundtrack with dangerous corridors and multilevel buildings to dominate.

The single-player campaign is a tasteful time travel story. You are a futuristic soldier Sergeant Cortez who is recovering time crystals that are scattered throughout history. Take down enemies in fast-paced missions while visiting a wide variety of settings such as:

  • 1990 Siberia
  • 1920 Aztec Ruins
  • 2019 Neotokyo
  • 1932 Chicago
  • 1895 Notre Dame Cathedral

The same concept of subverting expectations is applied here instead of the typical warzones and office buildings. After a while, gamers like to see something different instead of the unbreakable protagonist steamrolling everything in sight, or the military squad that endures forced emotional casualties but still ends up completing the mission at hand. How about a time travel shooter? Nothing pulls you in quite like extreme contrasts of setting, satire, and (slightly warped) history itself.

There is a variety of satisfying weapons to shoot wacky characters with. The weapon collection in this game is like a gift bag of insanity. You can go from a laser pistol to a Tommy Gun to a crossbow (don’t forget to ignite the bolts with a torch). Call of Duty or Halo can only recreate an automatic weapon so many times before gamers get burnt out. While it isn’t necessary for those games to take giant genre-shifting risks, I don’t imagine fans of those games expect groundbreaking concepts to be delivered with each new installment. Instead, each game usually gets slight modifications of what they already had before.

What is really interesting about TimeSplitters 2 is the way it delivers simplistic guns with simplistic designs (e.g., Tommy Gun) by making them feel awesome. Each new gun you pick up is from a different time period, and they are so easy to understand within just a few minutes of play time. Since the game has so many different kinds of weapons, each one will feel different from the last, instead of several slightly altered military-style weapons from one time frame. I’m impressed by the inclusion of what could be considered a historic array of guns and weapons that go hand in hand, pun intended.

If this game was released in 2017 as a multiplayer title like Overwatch, I think it would still hold up in terms of creative character design.

What really gets me are the cliché character archetypes (much like Soldier 76 in Overwatch).

And then there are some…weird choices.

…Moving on.

It’s hard to ignore the sound design, which is just in sync with its over-the-top presentation. Outside of the story mode dialogue, every character doesn’t speak unless they are shot at. The gingerbread man, for example, has this hilarious high-pitch squeal whenever he is shot. It’s a pretty important element that makes the action more insane and darkly humorous. It’s one thing to shoot a cartoon character; it is another to hear their wild reactions. I can’t think of many games that use sound design like this for parody and exaggeration, especially in the FPS genre.

Did TimeSplitters 2 outlive the beloved FPS classics despite it being pretty underrated and forgotten? Arguably, yes. It parodies a variety of entertainment, making for an extreme shift in our perception of what a first-person shooter can be. The strong gunplay and creative character design still surprises me to this day. TimeSplitters 2 somehow sits above most FPS games just by its unique presentation and genre-twisted capabilities. I would find it hard to believe that games like Team Fortress 2 and Overwatch didn’t find inspiration from this title.

TimeSplitters 2 is like the Ghostbusters of gaming. Released in 2002, it executed some pretty creative ideas and parody concepts like Ghostbusters which would probably never be done today because it would be considered a “risk”. It’s been proven that art style and character design play a big factor in first-person shooters, which is something that most franchises don’t take into consideration. Just because gamers get used to a certain genre with specific expectations in mind, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be surprised every once in awhile.

Side note: Did we get a TimeSplitters film without realizing it?


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