Sunday, October 11, 2015

Game Review: Time Crisis II

Time Crisis II
  • Publisher: Namco 
  • Developer: Namco 
  • Release: 
    • Arcade, 1998 
    • PlayStation 2, 1 October 2001 
  • Genre: 3D Action (Rail Shooter) 
  • Players: 1-2 
  • Save: Memory Card (74KB) 
Previously on the SDP, I reviewed the first game in the Time Crisis series. Despite its flaws such as the steep difficulty curve, I find it sad to remark that it's become increasingly hard to find in arcades these days. The same cannot be said of its sequel, Time Crisis II, which launched in 1997 or 1998 and is still relatively common to this day. Now, how could that be the case? And why did Namco wait until the PlayStation 2 came out before making a home port? On the off chance I'll be able to answer those questions, let's see what's changed.

Our excuse plot this time around concerns an industrialist named Ernesto Diaz, who has just finished launching a network of communication satellites into space, only as a cover for sending nuclear weapons up there as well. This time around, VSSE sends two agents (named Keith Martin and Robert Baxter) to stop him in his tracks, kicking off a series tradition of colour-coded heroes in red (for Player 1) and blue (P2) outfits. There's also an allied informant named Christy Ryan who tips off VSSE about the evil plot, but she gets captured in the opening cutscene and doesn't show up again until the final chapter. This game doesn't nearly pass the Bechdel Test, is what I'm trying to get across. Oh, and Wild Dog returns, this time demoted to the rank of mini-boss.
TCII finally adds a visual warning for shots that are about to hit you. (PS2 version.)
But where TCII fails to innovate in terms of story, it does so in gameplay. At long last, there is a visual aid to warn you when an enemy shot is about to hit you, in the form of a red ring called a "Crisis Sight", as the game puts it. It only lasts for half a second or so, but when it is on screen it stands out, and let's face it, it's better than nothing. Oh, and if you remember struggling to keep your time limit up in the old game, you're going to love this: instead of carrying over throughout the whole game, your time limit resets for each scene, and if it runs out, you merely lose one life instead of the whole game. Also, your gun's magazine holds nine bullets instead of the six from before. That's something else, I guess. I know this doesn't have much to do with difficulty, but TCII replaces its predecessor's time-based ranking with a more traditional scoring system. You get point bonuses by landing shots in quick succession, landing a series of shots without missing, and by landing shots on the hard-to-find gold-uniformed enemies who gave time bonuses in the last game. Shooting an ally character, by mistake or otherwise, docks you a few points instead of a whole life as in other rail shooters, which again helps make for a less stressful experience than usual.

The story mode is once again on the short side, clocking in at 15 to 20 minutes, and combined with the more forgiving mechanics, it makes the game feel like less of a challenge than before. The PlayStation 2 version fails to include any additional campaigns, as with some other games in the series. That's not to say TCII lacks any replay value, however. To get the full experience, you'll want to play on both the P1 and P2 sides, as they will occasionally branch off into different paths and converge later on, giving the different players chances to see scenes from different angles.

As for the home version, there are numerous unlocks to be had. For your first play-through, you'll have a limited number of continues, but this can be extended by either beating the game or using up all your continues, until you eventually unlock the Free Play option. By beating certain score and/or time targets, you can unlock alternate fire modes similar to the special weapons in later games. On top of that, there also shooting-gallery minigames to be unlocked, some of them based on Namco's old gun-game machines, and a series of "Crisis Mission" challenges which you'd be mad to attempt to earn all the medals on.
Both the first and second-player sides branch off to different paths at times. (PS2 version.)
Speaking of the home version, it is backwards-compatible with the PlayStation's GunCon, but also came bundled with a new light-gun model designed for the PS2: the GunCon 2. The GunCon 2 adds a few extra buttons, including one below the handle if you want to pantomime reloading the magazine, along with a D-pad up along the back. Even though TCII doesn't use these extra buttons for any specific features, the D-pad in particular is a very ergonomic option when used as a button to hide and reload with. As for re-creating the two-player experience of the arcades, your options are either split-screen or to link up two PS2 consoles by their iLink (a.k.a. Firewire) ports. Don't remember iLink? That's probably because it was abandoned by later models of the PS2, even before the redesigned version from 2004. Besides, this option would require you to own two TV monitors, two PS2s, two copies of the game, and two GunCons. If you're that intent on re-creating the arcade setup, you're probably better off buying an original arcade cabinet.

If I had to guess why, I'd say the lasting appeal of this game owes itself to the inclusion of a two-player option. The Time Crisis II arcade cabinet basically consists of two side-by-side machines which can either run independently or in co-operative multiplayer. Think about it from the arcade operator's point of view: you can get more income from a game that supports two people than with one, i.e. the first Time Crisis. As for the home port, it's nice that Namco went above and beyond the call, and added unlockable content to pad out the game's short running time. But TCII's lasting legacy is how it brought its series to a more accessible level of difficulty, and whether it makes the game more fun or too easy to be fun is a call best left for you, the player.

+ New mechanics and rules make the game more accessible.
+ The two-player co-op mode.
+ The new GunCon 2, designed for the PlayStation 2 version.

- The new mechanics do take away most of the challenge from the first game.
- Still on the short side.
- Imperfect multiplayer options on the home version.

Control: 3 crisis sights out of 5
Design: 4 crisis sights out of 5
Graphics: 3 crisis sights out of 5
Sound: 3 crisis sights out of 5
Value: 3 crisis sights out of 5
The Call: 75% (B-)