Review: Namco Time Crisis 2nd Strike
In February of 2009, Namco debuted Time Crisis Strike for the iPhone and iPod touch -- a short, seemingly rushed-together first-person shooting game based on the company's series of Time Crisis arcade titles, albeit downgraded significantly into a cell phone-quality experience. Today, the company has released Time Crisis 2nd Strike ($10), a more expensive sequel that improves the gameplay, challenge, graphics, and longevity, offsetting it with some poor audio, weak cinematics, and continued limitations relative to the console releases.
Time Crisis 2nd Strike relies upon the same general formula as every prior Time Crisis title: you take limited control of a gun-slinging operative whose foot and head movements are almost entirely handled automatically by the game, letting you look through his eyes as he moves through battlefield-like environments filled with masked killers. Your job is simple: pop out from behind safe cover points with your weapon, take out as many of the killers as possible at once, and then duck back behind cover to reload your gun. The name of the game refers to the deliberately very limited time you’re given to clear each section of the battlefield, which is structured as a series of checkpoints with a human or object target at the end. Though you have a lifebar to worry about, the risk of running out of time is constantly present, and you can only extend your time by moving quickly and occasionally shooting targets who dispense clock boost bonuses.
What’s new from a gameplay standpoint in Time Crisis 2nd Strike is a collection of four weapons that are available from the start of the action—an unlimited-round handgun that nonetheless needs to be reloaded, as well as limited-use machine gun, shotgun, and grenade launcher rounds that can be fired until you run out. Targets on the levels are a mix between easy one-shot fillers and brutally dangerous multi-shot enemies with lifebars and powerful weapons of their own, forcing you to make quick choices as to who to eliminate first, which weapon to use at a given moment, and how much to keep in reserve for the next checkpoint within each stage. In addition to a prologue, three “episodes” are included, each with multiple stages, for a total of 10 levels.
To make one point very clear here, Time Crisis 2nd Strike works as a complete video game on a level that its predecessor could only have dreamed about a year and a half ago. The intensity level of the action, the way the game looks overall, and the responsiveness of the new control scheme—pop up/down buttons in the screen’s corners, or tilt like the last game if you prefer—are all superior to the last iPhone/iPod touch outing. Going back and looking at the prior version is almost difficult after seeing how much better 2nd Strike looks; Namco has finally transitioned from offering a mobile phone-quality experience into something that would be viable even on a device like a Sony PlayStation Portable. This is a welcome and non-trivial improvement for a company that has so frequently let players down with half-hearted past releases.
But there are still some issues that detract from the new Time Crisis game’s appeal. Namco is now charging the sort of premium $10 asking price for this version that we’re accustomed to seeing only for “HD” games for the iPad, yet all of the graphics here are low-resolution 480x320—not enough to take advantage of even the iPhone 4 and iPod touch 4G screens, let alone the iPad’s, where it looks chunky when upscaled. In other words, Namco is showing up in late 2010 with a premium-priced game that would have looked pretty good last year, but now feels behind the times.
The game’s audio is also not very good, though the extent to which you’re put off by it will depend both on your appreciation for what Namco’s audio team was previously capable of, and how much you dislike terrible voice acting. Some people write off bad voiceovers as a common enough part of B-level video games, like B-movies, but on occasion, they’re so lifeless that they actually detract from the action. In Time Crisis 2nd Strike, your character’s female assistant provides guidance with as much enthusiasm as a disinterested ex-girlfriend, killing some of the excitement, and the music never rises to the level of the best prior Time Crisis titles; it’s okay, not great.
Some players may also take issue with the way Namco has structured the challenges here: this is a game full of cheap hits, and unrepentant in its use of them. Keep your body up as you enter a new area and you’re going to get shot. Duck behind cover for too long and you’re going to run out of time. Pop up cautiously to try to choose your targets, and you’re again going to get shot while the clock runs down. The fact that the attacks are modestly telegraphed with large red circles before they hit you is of only limited benefit, as they can seemingly come from anywhere on the screen—in the form of bullets, grenades, rockets, axe attacks, and more.
But it’s all a series of patterns, and linear in a way that some of the prior games haven’t been. At its core, Time Crisis 2nd Strike is a game about learning the completely scripted, always repeated actions of the enemies you’re facing, and knocking them down so quickly that their actions don’t waste your limited time. You have unlimited continues to figure out how to accomplish this, balanced with the reality that when you start with a fresh lifebar, you need to repeat everything from the beginning of a several-minute stage to the point where you left off. Picking the right weapon and using it effectively with a few smart taps—possibly one, if a rare interactive background element like an explosive barrel is around—can mean the difference between taking out three targets at once or spending 20-30 seconds trying to shoot through metal shields. A successful player will be one who learns the game’s sequential activities and shoots so quickly and “wisely” that the targets barely have a chance to move.
The fun and challenge of doing that is the reason Time Crisis 2nd Strike succeeds, despite its faults; even when you’re in the thick of the action, the patterns seem masterable, and the opportunity to swap weapons mitigates the straight-line path you take through the levels. So yes, Namco has surely done better on other platforms with this series, and to the extent that the iPhone 4, iPod touch 4G, and iPad all could have been utilized better this time out, we wouldn’t urge you to rush out and buy this game right now—ironically, there’s no time pressure to make this particular purchase quickly. Our advice would be to hold off until it receives a price drop, try not to focus too much on the voice acting, and enjoy the intensity of old-school arcade action for as long as it lasts. Hard-core gamers will get a few solid hours out of this one, and less experienced players will find it to be challenging, thrilling, and only a little frustrating until they get into its rhythm.