Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Game Review: Time Crisis

Time Crisis
  • Publisher: Namco
  • Developer: Namco
  • Release:
    • Arcade: 1995
    • PlayStation: 31 October 1997
  • Genre: 3D Action (Light-gun Shooter)
  • Players: 1
  • Save: Memory Card (1 Block)
Once upon a time, arcade light-gun games followed a strict formula.  Shoot the bad guys, don't shoot the innocent bystanders, and shoot outside the screen to reload.  I've covered a few of those kinds of games already.  But in 1995, one company added a new dimension to the formula.  That company was Namco.  That game was Time Crisis.  And that new dimension was a foot pedal added to the machine, with which the player could hide from enemy fire.  Over the past twenty years since the original's release, the Time Crisis series has been a mainstay in arcades, with a fifth entry (not including spin-offs) recently having been rolled out as of this article.  The series has also carved out a niche for home console gamers, as the premier light-gun game series on the PlayStation family.  So, the question I have to end my introductory paragraph with is, does the first game still hold up?

In this game's story, you are Richard Miller, a leather-jacket-clad operative from the spy agency VSSE, and your mission is to rescue the princess of Sercia from the villainous duopoly of deposed prince Sherudo Garo and mercenary Wild Dog.  Oh, and some ninja with a claw who serves as the first act's boss.  Okay, the story's not that important; it's basically the save-the-princess template updated for the pre-21st century.  But Time Crisis has other selling points to fall back upon anyway.  The arcade machine uses a foot pedal, which you hold down to advance and release to hide behind cover.  You can't just turtle your way through the game, though, since you can't shoot enemies unless you're out of cover.  Also, the game runs on a timer, which is extended by clearing each scene of action, and if either the timer or your stock of lives run out, the game is over.  Upon starting a game, you can also choose an alternate time-attack mode, which limits you to one of the three acts but also gives you infinite lives, which is a suitable choice for beginner players.
In addition to enemy fire,
you have to duck to avoid obstacles.

Time Crisis is not a game for beginners, however, especially if you're used to later, more forgiving games in the series.  Only a few of the enemies' shots will land a direct hit if you don't duck out of the way, but if there is a tell for the hurt-shots, it's very hard to... tell.  Maybe the damaging bullets are coloured red, I don't know.  A rule of thumb is to pay attention to the enemies' uniforms.  The red-clad enemies will almost always fire a hurt-shot when they appear, and thrown weapons (grenades, knives, etc.) will always hit unless you hide or, if you're really good, shoot them out of the air.  Furthermore, on occasions you must duck to avoid larger obstacles, such as cranes, crates, and cars, which would knock you about otherwise.  Fortunately, these obstructions are accompanied by an on-screen warning.  Oh, and be on the lookout for the guys in golden uniforms.  They don't fight back, and disappear if you let them go, but they're good for a few extra seconds of time, which in this game is very valuable.

The PlayStation version instead uses a special light-gun controller, the GunCon, with two buttons which work the same way.  These controls may be customised to the extent possible; not only can you switch which button hides and which pauses the game, but you can even control whether you hide by holding or releasing the button.  You can even use a second controller, preferably a dance pad or the pedal from a steering wheel, as the pedal if you absolutely have to emulate the full arcade experience.  The GunCon itself, however, is a bit more complicated to set up.  In addition to plugging the controller plug into one of the front ports on your PlayStation, there's a second cable which you have to plug in between the video cable and the TV/VCR/etc it's plugged in to.  And then you have to calibrate the gun sights every time you boot up the game.  However, you'll have an even worse time of it if you're using a regular controller.  This game pre-dates the DualShock controller, so analog stick controls are not supported, leaving you with the relative imprecision of the PlayStation D-Pad to move your cursor about.
The Special story mode in the home version offers
branching paths based on your performance.
On the other hand, the PlayStation version offers its own benefits, apart from the obvious one of no longer needing to hunt down an arcade which still has the first game in operation.  This version includes a second story mode on top of the arcade version.  This new story takes place in a hotel run by an arms-dealing villainess named Kantaris.  (Honestly, there's so little character development to be had that, I don't know why I bother giving you everyone's names.)  What's novel about this mode is that the level progression branches off at multiple points, subtly leading you to one area or another based on your performance.  For example, if you clear out a room in the first area before the elevator doors close, you'll go down one path, or down another path if you can't make it in time.  It's a tall order to try and get all four of the possible endings, given the difficulty of acheiving these unique objectives on top of the base difficulty of the game itself.  Honestly, it's a good thing this extra mode was included, because the arcade mode only lasts about fifteen minutes (not including the time lost from re-playing sections of the game after continuing, which is pretty much inevitable), which is short even for the series' already short standard.

The graphical style employed in Time Crisis is typical of the PlayStation era, with low-polygon models and a a hybrid of realism and anime art, allowing for expressive (if unchanging) faces without looking too outlandish.  The enemy character models come with multiple coloured uniforms which tell you, at a glance, what role they serve in their futile quest to stop you, such as the aforementioned accurate red-shirts (pretty much the opposite of you'd expect from Star Trek).  Whilst there are no bonuses for hitting the head or other weak points, the enemies' death animations do react to where you hit them, such as twirling to the ground when you shoot them in the leg, or half-flipping backwards with a headshot.  The music is forgettable and most of the line-reads in the performance are awkward at best, but the gunshot sound effects are impactful and change from room to room, simulating the changing acoustics, and the announcer who tells you "Wait", "Action!", and "Danger!" is just present enough to tell you what you need to know, but not too present as to be annoying.

The impression given by the original Time Crisis was one of trying to find its bearings.  It employs on mechanics which were changed and/or abandoned for subsequent entries, and runs the risk of either alienating or intriguing series fans weaned on later entries.  It's got that old-school NES thing going on, where it compensates for having a shorter duration by making it really tough to beat.  If that's your thing, great.  If not, at least it makes beating this game all the more rewarding.

Positives:
+ The cover-pedal mechanic puts a fresh spin on the genre.
+ The game's rules offer more challenge than other entries in the series.
+ The bonus campaign in the home version.
+ Little touches like death animations and gun sound effects.
Negatives:
- The difficulty level is the most unforgiving in the series.
- Limited ease of control if you're not using a GunCon.
- Silly voice-acting and bland story.
The Call: 70% (C+)

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