Ever since the decline of arcades in America there is one genre that has suffered more than most. Light gun games have become all but extinct in this new age of console and outside of a handful of particular developers no one really bothers with the format anymore. One of the developers who have stuck with it through it all is Namco with their venerable Time Crisis series. With each new Sony system we seem to get a new chapter in the franchise and the release of the PS3 is certainly no different. This year we have a new Guncon, new modes and features, and a well designed game that pays homage to the genre and broadens the PS3 software library with a blast from the past.
If you have ever experienced a light gun game before Time Crisis 4 isn’t going to wow you with its presentation. The story once again revolves around two heroes, Giorgio Bruno and Evan Bernard as they race against the clock to save the world. Sure its derivative, of course it’s predictable, but it is also essential to the game so you can’t really fault it for sticking to conventional methods. If you have the dough or a friend who also owns the game you can link up two guns for some two player action, or you can opt to play with the Sixaxis if you so desire, but to be honest the best experience comes from the game when you are tearing through it alone as you won’t be fighting for kills are arguing over who gets to use the Guncon.
The meat and bones of single-player is the arcade mode, which should feel recognizable to anyone who has ever played a similar title. Just like the previous games you will follow an on-rails path from cover to cover as you eliminate enemies all while fighting against a clock. Fail to eliminate all the enemies before time expires and you lose a life. The game starts you off with only three continues but as you progress you will quickly grow accustomed to their placement as well as some cool game features that hone your skills to perfection. Sadly once you have mastered the nuances of arcade mode it can be completed in less than an hour, which is long by arcade standard but insulting for an $80 purchase.
Thankfully there is much more to single player than simply finishing off the arcade mode. For starters let’s talk about firepower. From the outset of the game you have access to four different weapon types that you can use. Your pistol has unlimited ammunition but your shotgun, machine gun and grenades are all limited to choosing when to use them is crucial. You can of course rack up some extra ammo by capping specially marked enemies, but for most of the game the pistol will be your best ally. There are also some bonus objectives throughout the game that require you to clear sections with a specific weapon in a set amount of time. Unlocking these bonuses and mastering the game will seem archaic to gamers raised on concept art and CG movies, but for arcade junkies like myself it is incentive enough to keep you plodding along. Even though the arcade mode is shorter than some indie films it is chock full of memorable moments and enough diverse environments that it never seems to grow stale.
If all you had to toy around with was arcade mode I would be hard pressed to recommend the steep investment, but as it turns out Namco has added a new mode for you to toy around with that actually works quite well. This mode, entitled Complete Mission mode, breaks up the sections between arcade levels with a pseudo FPS-style game that utilizes all of the buttons found on your brand new Guncon. You assume the role of Captain William Rush as you hurdle over obstacles and toss grenades as a one man wrecking crew. Think of it as any action flick starring Schwarzenegger from the 80s and you get the idea. The biggest draw here is that instead of being designated to a linear path you have complete freedom to go and do whatever you like. While it would certainly be mediocre as a stand-alone FPS, for what it is it does an outstanding job of breaking up the monotony of arcade mode.
On top of these two modes you will also find a host of mini-games and shooting galleries that Namco is famous for. Upon completion of Arcade and Complete Mission Mode you will also discover Crisis Missions, which are essentially small chunks of earlier stages with obscure objectives to complete. The other mini-games are very reminiscent to Namco’s other gun gallery title Point Blank. You and a buddy can take on several different tasks such as shooting competitions and accuracy tests. All of these modes will also unlock bonus features for Crisis Missions which adds a serious amount of things to see and do here fully justifying the purchase for fans of the series.
Now that we have spent an ample amount of time discussing the ins and outs of the software lets spend a bit to talk about hardware. Bundled with Time Crisis 4 is Namco’s newest iteration of the Guncon. The first thing you will notice is that it isn’t wireless nor does it use any type of wireless technology such as Blue Tooth. Instead you have on USB cable that goes from the gun to the console as well as a set of sensors that must be placed on top of your television. It is daunting at first and the instructions included are not much help, but after fiddling with it for some time I finally got it to recognize and I was off shooting terrorists. The problem stems from the fact that accuracy plays a key role in games like this and with TC4 I never got the sense that the Guncon was 100% accurate at all times. Even the slightest shift in your position can be the difference between nailing an enemy and taking a rocket in the face.
When it works though it works well and you will still be able to gather enjoyment without 100% accuracy though it wouldn’t hurt to throw a patch at us in the future. The Guncon 4 is also loaded with buttons making it the most sophisticated gun peripheral I have ever used. There are two analog sticks that you use for the Complete Mission Mode as well as a host of buttons that seemed to multiply the more I toyed around with the gun. It can be daunting at first and for novice players Sixaxis may be the way to go for Complete Mission Mode, but once you get the hang of it you will be blasting away without thought with this solid piece of hardware.
One area Time Crisis fails to impress though is the visuals. Arcade ports simply are not up to the standards of modern hardware and TC4 proves that without hesitation. Environments are large in scale but lacking in detail. Character models are bland with stiff animation and the frame rate still manages to dip in certain locales, especially during the Complete Mission Mode. You will see repeating enemy models from start to finish and for the most part the game screams 1990s arcade machine. The art direction however, is pleasantly old school and fans of the genre will be pleased with what is here. Sounds are even more disappointing with cheap voice acting and gun effects that are hard to decipher between, but all of this will seem moot after the third or fourth time through the arcade mode.
Time Crisis 4 is an exceptionally well-designed game that only suffers the crime of being an out-of-date genre. There is a ton of things to see and do here so the price is certainly justified. The problem is that most gamers simply do not appreciate a good light gun game in this day and age of online shooters. However, if you are an old-school arcade junkie in need of the latest fix Namco has delivered one of the deepest and most rewarding experiences the genre has ever had to offer so make no hesitation to pick this one up.