TimeSplitters 2 is one of those games that sounds good on paper—it's about time travel, so every level will be set in a different era!—but in actual practice the concept proves to be somewhat of a disappointment. Frankly, I found the constantly shifting mileus and eras—from 1990 Siberia to 1930s Chicago to the old Wild West—to be vaguely irritating. Just when I started to get familiar with a level, just when I felt myself starting to get comfortable and settle in, the game would promptly whisk me off to someplace entirely new. Indeed, this is the gaming equivalent of channel surfing.
If only the developers had shown a little patience; if only they'd allowed the game to settle into a natural groove. The game certainly has its fair share of promising moments. The Siberia level is absolutely brilliant. It's an example of near-perfect first-person shooter level design. I probably ended up logging more hours replaying Siberia than I did with the rest of the game; it actually feels like a long-lost bonus level from GoldenEye. But as soon as I got comfortable in Siberia, the game spirited me off to 1930s Chicago. And instead of feeling excited by this sudden change, instead of instilling in me a sense of wonder and discovery at being dropped into this new environment, I ended up feeling let down and disappointed. Good sport that I am, I picked up my Tommy Guns—every level has its own indigenous weapons—and battled the shark-suited Chicago gangsters, but really my heart was still back in Siberia.
While Siberia is certainly a shining moment in the game, other levels—like Notre Dame Cathedral, Return to Planet X and Wild West—feel half-finished, murky, and lazily designed. Events sometimes happen in a sloppy, slapdash fashion: boss fights are sometimes over before I even realized they'd started; objectives are often obscure and result in annoying backtracking. And once, during the aforementioned Notre Dame level, I fired round after round into the poor Hunchback before realizing that he and I were actually supposed to be working together (nobody told me!).
The game also features fairly meaty Arcade and Challenge modes. Arcade is a series of imaginative deathmatch scenarios, some more compelling than others. Unfortunately, like Story mode, Arcade never allowed me to get too comfortable in any one setting before whisking me off to someplace new. Challenge mode is more of an oddity than anything else. The challenges involving weapons are actually useful, allowing me time to appreciate the nuances of each individual weapon, but most of the "challenges" are truly banal. One level asked me to toss bricks threw 18 windows in 35 seconds. I replayed the level over and over again for half and hour before it suddenly dawned on me that I was tossing bricks through windows, and I wasn't having any fun at all.
I do have to give some credit to Free Radical. With all the unique levels, unique enemies and unique weapons, TimeSplitters 2 is an ambitious but ultimately flawed piece of work. It's a restless, impatient game that tries too hard to do too many things. Don't like this level? the game seems to say. Well, there's another one on the way! And as a result, TimeSplitters 2 winds up feeling like a game on a desperate search for an identity and a soul.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the PlayStation 2 version of the game.