"The clock is relentless, and the only way to beat it is to get through the walls of enemies as quickly as possible. Like cockroaches, terrorist thugs pour from doorways, pop out of windows, rappel from rooftops, and leap from trees, armed with everything from pistols, to machine guns, grenades, and tanks."
I was a child of the ‘80s. Raised on He-Man, G.I. Joe, and Contra, it should come as no surprise to find that my heroes of the silver-screen included the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Kurt Russell. Through my naďve eyes, they were the epitome of real men. Standing like stone pillars with muscles flexed, they took on entire armies with only brute force, a machine gun, and a barbaric battle-cry. In 1994, I saw one of John Woo’s genre-shattering masterpieces, Hard Boiled, and everything changed. In John Woo’s world of hyper-kinetic gunfights, standing still meant a sure death. The pillars had crumbled.
Light gun shooters have always been among my bread and butter, and John Woo turned that interest into a rabid obsession. Virtua Cop, Revolution X, and Area 51 were hitting arcades for the first time and my wallet opened wide. They were brand new, and yet, they immediately felt archaic. After witnessing John Woo’s majestic chaos, how was I expected to just plod through shooters like a walking bullseye? I wanted the experience of diving behind a table, hearing the bullets cut the air over my head, and jumping out at the precise moment for a perfect shot. Then, like a cosmic coincidence, Time Crisis appeared. With the addition of a foot pedal, Time Crisis allowed imaginary gunfighters like myself the chance to duck, dodge, and take cover amidst the anarchy. Then Time Crisis II came along to push the genre even further.
Playing as Keith or Robert, VSSE special agents, your task is to stop a madman and his henchmen from launching a nuclear satellite. It’s a generic story with all the cheese of a low-grade action movie, but Time Crisis II isn’t about intriguing plot lines. It’s about bullet-fueled intensity. You run along a pre-set path through 3-D levels, going from firefight to firefight in a bid to save the world. Rushing through city streets, a forest compound, a claustrophobic train, and to the villain’s industrial base, time is of the essence. The clock is relentless, and the only way to beat it is to get through the walls of enemies as quickly as possible. Like cockroaches, terrorist thugs pour from doorways, pop out of windows, rappel from rooftops, and leap from trees, armed with everything from pistols, to machine guns, grenades, and tanks. After tossing off the cronies, in come the bosses wielding rocket launchers, chain-guns, and even a missile as a club. The boss fights are not difficult ordeals, but at least they are memorable.
At first glance, Time Crisis II doesn’t look much different from other shooters of the time, but the real differences are in the controls. Although Namco’s weapon of choice, the GunCon 2, only comes in traffic-cone orange, it’s a light gun worthy enough for Clint Eastwood. Unlike other light guns that rely upon light-sensing technology from the ‘80s, the GunCon 2 runs through your television’s video input for unparalleled precision. You can learn more about light gun technology at Wikipedia, but all you need to know is that the GunCon 2 is accurate to within one pixel. Go ahead, press your face to a TV screen, and marvel at that level of accuracy. In a genre where light-sensing errors can cause unfair misses, one pixel is nothing short of astounding. Playing Time Crisis II with a standard controller is possible, but as we all know, real men use guns.
The GunCon 2 aside, Time Crisis II’s claim to fame is one of those “why didn’t I think of that” ideas; the ability to take cover. By pressing one of the non-trigger buttons, you can get behind nearby objects to reload and hide from enemy fire. Being able to take cover is not only an integral part of Time Crisis II, it alleviates the frustrating sitting-duck feeling that other shooters impose upon players. It’s a useful ability to have, and is one that requires a little practice to master. When an enemy gets a direct bead on you, his bullet is surrounded with a red aura. Shots often come quick and unexpectedly, leaving you with only milliseconds to hit the deck. Standing out in the open is a bad idea, but remember, the clock keeps on ticking, so hiding for extended periods of time is a surefire path to the Game Over screen. In Time Crisis II, good aim means nothing without the speed to back it up. Just like a western, there are only two types of gunfighters, the quick and the dead.
As a game that emphasizes efficiency, Time Crisis II is extremely short, even for a light gun shooter. With only 3 main stages, ace shooters should be able to blast through in 16 minutes or less, but it is one intense experience. To compensate, Namco loaded Time Crisis II with just enough extras. If you plunked down the cash for a second GunCon 2, or even if you have an original GunCon lying around, you can truly pay homage to the dual-pistol style of John Woo in Two Gun mode. You can also team up with a friend for Two Player mode, but unless you own a monstrous TV, or happen to be one of the ten owners of a system link, I really can’t recommend it. The real fun for two players comes in the shooting range challenges, competing in a variety of games that involve shooting stationary targets, moving targets, quick-draw competitions, and skeet shooting. Upon beating Arcade Mode, Crisis Mission is unlocked. As a series of training sessions, Crisis Mission requires you to complete challenges while minding certain parameters. Try taking out five enemies in two seconds and you will understand what true skill entails.
With amazing accuracy, the ability to utilize your surroundings, and frantic action, Time Crisis II set a new standard for light gun shooters. Even so, repetition continues to hold this series back from perfection. Back in 1985, Duck Hunt for the NES incorporated one element that almost no other light gun shooter has since; randomization. Part of Duck Hunt’s challenge was that the player never knew exactly where the duck would appear on-screen. Time Crisis II is just the opposite. Enemies always appear in the same place and perform the same actions. In some stages, time is so constrained and shots come so quickly that memorizing enemy locations is almost necessary to complete the game. There are sections where Robert and Keith branch off in opposite directions, but these are few in number and quite short. Whether going through your 1st or 50th run, Time Crisis II is always the same game.
Like fine silverware, Time Crisis II is best saved for special occasions, lest it lose its luster. It's an incredible experience, but after repeat sessions it begins to feel more like routine than enjoyment. With that in mind, Time Crisis II is a potent burst of frenzied gunfire and unbridled action that’s best taken in small doses, if only to give your trigger fingers a rest.
Staff review by Brian Rowe (July 27, 2006)
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