Reviews  |  System Super 256


Time Crisis 4
starstarstar

By Alex Kierkegaard / September 8, 2007


Despite being one of the fugliest arcade games in recent memory, Time Crisis 4 kept me amused for a little while. Its first stage, a fast-paced shootout set inside an airport terminal, was rather enjoyable, and though it goes downhill from there, there are still a couple of neat ideas here worth looking into.


screenshot1_small

The best parts are the multi-screen battles which occur at several points throughout the game, the idea for these coming from the PS-exclusive Time Crisis: Project Titan (2001). During Project Titan's boss battles you could change positions by ducking and then shooting at arrows pointing in the directions towards which you were allowed to move. TC4 does away with ducking and shooting: simply point the gun outside the right or left side of the screen and you'll immediately turn to face in the corresponding direction. This works so smoothly, and feels so natural, that I could easily see someone taking light gun games to the next level by adapting it to work in the context of something like Killer 7. Scrap the boring puzzles and add a Deus Ex-like plot and current-gen production values and you'll have the game of the decade.


But yeah, back to TC4. What I also liked about it was the reworked scoring system. First off, enemies die with a single shot here, as in TCII, so combos work by taking out several enemies in quick succession rather than by hitting the same dude multiple times (as was the case in TC3). In addition, there's now a Do Donpachi-style combo meter which fills up as long as your shots are finding their targets; good comboing will increase the maximum size of this meter, which will give you more time to string together even bigger combos. It's a nice little system, and certainly gives a new spin to the traditionally accuracy-based scoring of most light gun shooters.


screenshot2_small

So that's the good stuff; the bad stuff is pretty much the rest of the game. The problems start in the first area of the second stage (there are three stages in all, apart from a brief prologue bit in the, uh, beginning) where you take to the skies in a helicopter, using its on-board cannon to blow up other 'copters and assorted ground vehicles, L.A. Machine Guns-style (though without any innocent bystanders to nail by accident). But though L.A. Machine Guns gave you a... machine gun, in TC4's helicopter sequences you are still holding your puny handgun while your on-screen persona is supposed to be firing slugs the size of your head.


It all just feels a bit silly, and while I realize it would be impractical for Namco to have plastic "light cannons" strapped to each and every TC4 cabinet, and am prepared to make allowances up to a point (for example TC4 retains TC3's weapon-switching system, meaning that you are carrying three other weapons besides your handgun, which is fine by me), the helicopter sequences go way past that point. What's more, the game's engine can't do them justice: blow up an enemy helicopter and watch as it breaks up in N64-era polygon chunks and cheap smoke effects.


screenshot3_small

This is in fact a problem with the whole game. Namco has never been a leader in arcade tech, and the Time Crisis series is not known for paying much attention to the visuals anyway, but this is getting beyond ridiculous. TC4 is just a mess of horribly aliased polygons and mud-colored textures, with only two somewhat eye-pleasing moments throughout the entire game (a cool water effect in the first stage and one of the boss battles near the end). It doesn't just look bad by 2006 standards -- it looks bad by any standards. To see how far ahead the competition is, consider that Sega's Lindbergh-powered House of the Dead 4 came out six months before this. Granted, Namco doesn't have a next-gen board yet, and I guess they are too cheap to licence someone else's (though they've done this plenty of times in the past), but even their own Triforce would have been a better choice than what TC4's running on (basically: an imperceptibly souped-up version of the System 256, exact specs still unknown, but who cares -- the thing suxxorz). The only reason I can see for them insisting on this geriatric hardware is if the game reuses code from the nearly-half-a-decade-old TC3. If so, yeah, what a bunch of clowns.


But it's not just a matter of hardware; it's a general design issue. The System 246 and 256 are after all slightly-enhanced PS2s, and lord knows there are plenty of nice-looking PS2 games around. It just seems that Nex Entertainment lacks the talent to make one.


screenshot4_small

So what you get here is more or less the same basic enemies from TC3, a bunch of easily-dispatched bugs that show up every now and then (somehow tied to the plot, I guess, but I wasn't paying attention), a couple of bosses that come from the Tekken school of character design (yeah, that means they suck), and some dark caves, some poorly-rendered outdoor locations, and the insides of several dimly-lit warehouses. TC3 was no graphical masterpiece, but at least it had the blue skies of a Mediterranean setting, two dudes in Hawaiian shirts and a good deal of campy dialogue; this game has nothing.


Is the shooting action still fun? Well, I mean yeah, kinda. Like I said, the multi-screen battles rock, the scoring system's well-designed, and at the end of the day Time Crisis games will always be fun to play, if only because they use the coolest light gun game mechanic yet invented. But do I really have to put up with such godawful-looking stages and enemies in order to enjoy it?



Note that the game comes in two models: the SD model with 29" CRT monitors and the DX with 52" rear-projection ones. Having tried both I recommend playing on the DX model, if you can find it, despite the fact that the larger screen size magnifies aliasing issues.