"Time Crisis 4 doesn't stray far from the formula its predecessors embraced. There's really no reason it should. As your characters walk into an airport, someone tosses a smoke bomb their way and just like that, the action has begun. From that lobby, you'll make your way through all sorts of chaotic events that range from a gunfight in the streets to a stroll through a dark cave to a helicopter ride where you're causing everything but the towering skyscrapers to explode in a fiery inferno."
There was a time when one of the most exciting things about owning a console was bringing home the experiences you otherwise could only find in arcades. Perfect ports were all the rage, even back when that meant spending $50 or $60 to be astonished by how fantastic Galaga and Pac-Man looked on your television screen. Now it seems like most arcades have closed. The number of quarter-munching cabinets available anywhere--from laundromats and pizza parlors to truck stops and bowling alleys--is on a steady decline as long-time developers focus their resources almost exclusively on consoles.
Time Crisis 4, the newest PlayStation 3 release from Namco Bandai, is a proud reminder of those days gone by. It brings back the adrenaline rush of the rail shooter and even comes packaged with its own gun to make things as authentic as possible. Play it for even a few seconds and you'll feel like you're back in an arcade or smoky pizza parlor like the ones you likely frequented in your youth. At one time, that would have been enough to garner huge accolades from game enthusiasts throughout the world, but no more. Accordingly, the developers went back to the drawing board and added some new content to justify the home port's hefty price tag. Unfortunately, those additions hurt more than they help.
To understand just why the extra content fails, you first need to know what the Time Crisis games are all about. Essentially, they're brainless rushes through beautiful shooting stages. The action follows a preset path that guarantees a furious swarm of enemies. That's why this sort of product works so well in arcades. Players overwhelmed at the last minute by one swarm of gun-toting baddies will often pump in quarters like crazy just to make it to the next showdown.
Time Crisis 4 doesn't stray far from the formula its predecessors embraced. There's really no reason it should. As your characters walk into an airport, someone tosses a smoke bomb their way and just like that, the action has begun. From that lobby, you'll make your way through all sorts of chaotic events that range from a gunfight in the streets to a stroll through a dark cave to a helicopter ride where you're causing everything but the towering skyscrapers to explode in a fiery inferno. The only time the shooting stops is when you're changing weapons or reloading. You don't have to worry about camera angles because the game takes care of all that nonsense for you. There are no boring exploration segments where you get lost after turning down the wrong hallway, either. For those reasons and others, the game is a simple pleasure and fun to play time and time again.
That brings us to the added content, which takes everything that's beautiful about the Time Crisis 4 arcade game and needlessly complicates it. Even the GunCon3 features enough buttons to function like a regular controller if desired. The problem is that the placement of those additional buttons isn't intuitive. You'll probably spend your first few hours trying to memorize where everything is located. Then the cussing will begin, since the nipple-shaped analog sticks work no better than the camera stick on an old GameCube controller.
When you play the standard “Arcade” mode in Time Crisis 4, none of the GunCon3's potential issues are relevant. The minute you head to the added content, though, everything turns in-your-face awful. That's because you're suddenly stuck with a generic FPS title. Under the default control configuration, one stick moves you through a level and the other manipulates the camera. Then on top of that, you must aim the gun within whatever viewpoint you've provided yourself with that second analog stick. And if you have to make precise shots? Well, then you're holding the gun up to your face and wiggling analog sticks at the same time and it all starts to feel more complicated than fun. You can remove use of one of the analog sticks to simplify things, but even then a standard controller would accomplish things more efficiently.
The GunCon3 isn't even the main issue, though. In fact, you might very well find that it's a perfectly suitable controller in other cases. No, the real problem is that the game design is so amateurish. If you bought any other FPS title that played like it, you'd trade it in the next day. The only fun areas are those that are ripped directly from the main adventure. When the new content tries to expand on the story and offers new locations, they're drab and uninspired. Just making it through the first zone will bore most players to tears, since it's nothing more than a series of warehouses near a construction site.
Production values are poor throughout, as well. If you don't believe that, wait until you go on a fetch quest for a key and find that it's about the same size as a computer. If that doesn't convince you, listen to the lifeless delivery of dialog. Finally, because the gameplay is so sloppy, the developers actually had to implement a system where you can refill your life meter by standing still for awhile. This makes progression easier, but it shouldn't even have been necessary. It's a Band-Aid and it isn't enough to cover the gaping wound that the developers try to pass off as competent design.
Despite all of those negative comments, though, there's some light at the end of the tunnel. If you don't mind spending the asking price for a game that plays like so many of the classics from arcade yesteryear, if you don't mind a thrill ride that's over within a few hours, Time Crisis 4 comes highly recommended based solely on the merits of its “Arcade” mode. It's a great experience packed full of frantic shootouts and glorious explosions, plus the GunCon3 is every bit as well-suited for that sort of thing as you'd hope. If you want something that builds on all of that to offer a well-rounded console experience, though, keep searching. You won't find it here.
Staff review by Jason Venter (November 28, 2007)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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