Boxed Away: A TimeSplitters 2 Retrospective
For a company with such an impeccably rich back catalogue, Nintendo is often surprisingly hesitant to delve into it. Sure, the classic titles from the NES and SNES library have received 347 ports to every system imaginable, and the N64 has seen a respectable rehash of its most renowned hits, but one system seems to be regularly left to the annals of history – the Nintendo GameCube.
Enter – Boxed Away, a GameCube retrospective series.
To pay respect to the purple lunchbox, each fortnight I’m going to be taking a look back at a different GameCube game, focusing on titles that have never received a port or remaster to more recent consoles. The GameCube library has countless forgotten masterpieces, as well as plenty of oddities and hidden gems, and unless it featured Zelda it’s probably still stuck there. Heck, even Mario’s only outing still took almost two decades to get another look.
It’s unclear when or if we will ever see Gamecube games released via Nintendo Switch online, some type of Virtual Console or maybe even a Mini-Classic release, so in the meantime, we’re going to talk about them until Nintendo remembers they exist.
(Quick note – from time to time in this series I will cover games that released for GameCube as well as PS2 or Xbox provided that they haven’t been seen since that console generation).
The Nintendo 64 was home to GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark, two juggernauts of the first-person shooter genre on consoles. Unfortunately for Nintendo fans, the crown would shift to the Microsoft in the next generation spearheaded by the Halo series and a strong showing of third-party support. Luckily for GameCube owners though, they still got the best shooter of the generation anyway.
Yeah, I said it. Fight me, Greg Hastings Tournament Paintball purists.
TimeSplitters 2 was bestowed upon us by the now-defunct Free Radical Design which was made up of several Rare veterans that were part of the GoldenEye team. Sporting a highly stylised look with a bright colour palette and a goofy sense of humour, this shooter saw leading man Sergeant Cortez (and potentially a friend in co-op) jumping through time to chase down an alien race who are determined to bring about the downfall of humanity by changing the course of history.
The fun twist is that Cortez will inhabit the form of someone from the time to which he has jumped. One level has you inhabit the body of a 1930s detective in a gangsters-ridden Chicago, whilst another puts you in the…shoes(?) of a killer robot looking to take down a robot factory and its metallic army from the inside.
Looking back on it though, the thing that stood out most to me was the way objectives were structured. Depending on the difficulty you chose, there would be a different selection of primary and secondary objectives you were required to do before the time portal appeared to send you back home. It means you’ll want to play on higher difficulties to see everything, but that’s a stark reminder of the campaign’s inconsistent challenge. Seriously, some of these levels are stupidly hard and not at all balanced. Revisit on Hard at your peril.
Once you survive the campaign, an enjoyable Challenge mode awaits. The challenges here feel like minigames, tasking you to complete some unusual objectives. One level has you firing incendiary rounds from a grenade launcher to smash stained-glass windows inside a chapel, and another asks you to control a monkey across the Aztec to collect bananas as fast as you can whilst on the run from zombies. Completing these unlocks characters and modes for the real draw of TimeSplitters 2 – the multiplayer.
Because really, what’s better than selecting a monkey, careening across a snow-covered station wielding a minigun and chasing down a giant robot and an Elvis impersonator as you try to outrun an undead priest determined to pass on his mild infliction of being on fire? Yeah, you don’t get that in Green Spartan Simulator 2002.
What makes the multiplayer so special is the extensive amount of customisation options. There’s plenty of maps, almost 200 playable characters and a huge assortment of modes and custom settings. You have your standard modes like Deathmatch, Capture the
Flag Bag and Zones, but there are more creative options too. Flame Tag is the schoolyard game of chasey but with added skin burning. Vampire has you regaining health by killing enemies. Shrink makes you bigger or smaller depending on how well or poorly you’re doing. Then there’s Monkey Assistant, where the battler in last places gets a hoard of monkeys to help them scrounge up some kills.
These options can all be played with any combination of weapons, and the selection is diverse. The range of weapons spans your typical pistols, machine guns, snipers and shotguns, but also includes some more flavourful additions such as crossbows, flamethrowers, plasma rifles, laser guns and uhh…*checks notes* bricks.
Even better is the fact that lots of weapons have a secondary function. A shotgun can choose to fire off two shells as once. The laser gun can toggle a shield. That grenade launcher? It can also launch balls of fire. The core gunplay is so darn satisfying too. There’s strangely no actual shooting reticle on the screen, but every shot still lands exactly where feels like it should with the perfect amount of weight and precision.
This game’s multiplayer kept me entertained for literally years. Sure, there was no online play or system link functionality (at least on the GameCube), but four-player split-screen was here just like it always was at the time, and competent bots filled out each map. With that said, upon revisiting it I was reminded that the bots could occasionally do an evasive roll, something players couldn’t do. Dodgy.
Here are just some of my favourite custom game types:
– Remote mines only on a Mexican outpost. You could toss up to five at a time and use the alternate fire button to detonate. What made this so much fun was the mines were sticky. Planting one on someone’s leg without them knowing, letting them wander off towards another person and then hitting BOOM! was always a good laugh.
– Flamethrowers, grenade launchers (with fire grenades) and fire extinguishers only in a Hanger, which had a great mix of wide-open spaces and tight corridors. Best played on team deathmatch so you could keep an extinguisher handy to put your friends out. If you got lit up with no friendly people around, you had a short window until you burnt to a crisp to run into an opponent and take them down with you. Robots couldn’t get set aflame, so they were strictly banned. Keep friendly fire on for added tension and risk when asking a mate to extinguish your flames.
– Robots only on Robot Factory with rocket launchers, homing missiles and laser guns. The shield on the laser guns acted as good defence from the rockets, and there was plenty of scrap and building around to hide if you saw a homing missile on your tail.
– Virus on Ice Station, which started with one infected person and everyone else trying to be the sole survivor to avoid infection. This level was perfect as it had huge vistas to see people on the run but lots of small outposts and an underground section for effective hiding.
– Bag Tag (basically one flag CTF) on Training Ground, a linear level that practically forced head-on collisions and pushes for small territory gains, making for an intense tug of war for victory.
I could go on for another thousand words about some of my favourite setups, and I haven’t even touched upon the Mapmaker. The multiplayer suite was phenomenal, which when combined with the rapid movement speed and stellar shooting made for endless hours of fun. If you missed this one back in the day, it’s worth tracking down a copy and having a game night with some mates to play a shooter that feels unlike anything that’s been released in the last decade.
But just like Oddjob in GoldenEye, be sure to set up some rules about the use of the monkey. Tiny, cheap little bugger.
Do you have a suggestion of a GameCube game you’d like to see us look back at next? Drop a comment and let us know!