Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Developer: Namco Publisher: Namco Release: 11/12/97 Genre: Rail Shooter

I have always enjoyed the yin and yang between Namco and Sega. When Sega created Virtua Fighter Tekken was not far behind. Once Virtua Cop was a hit Time Crisis was not far behind. But while the games were similar Namco always managed to differentiate their titles and in some cases surpass Sega’s effort. I love Virtua Cop but the gameplay mechanics and pacing of Time Crisis just hit harder. Titles like this are why I miss light gun games.

The fictional nation of Sercia experiences a revolution as the people overthrow the dictatorship of the Garo family with the help of the V.S.S.E. The Sercian opposition leader William MacPherson is elected president and it looks like peace will reign. But it does not last as Sherudo Garo, the last surviving Garo begins to destabilize the nation. He kidnaps Rachel MacPherson and demands military secrets in exchange for her life. The V.S.S.E. sends in Richard Miller to infiltrate Sercia castle and rescue her instead.

Time Crisis uses either a controller or Namco’s own Guncon. The Guncon replicates the arcade’s controls with a second button that mimics the foot pedal to hide behind cover. The accuracy of the Guncon goes beyond other light guns of that period as it detects shots down to the pixel. This can be frustrating at times as you need to be incredibly precise but that is a minor complaint. Using a controller works but is not ideal. You can manage and the game’s pacing and cover system helps to an extent. But by the middle of the second mission the density of enemies rises significantly. You will need to practice extensively and memorize spawn points to succeed this way. It is doable but not as fun as wielding a gun and sadly probably how most will have to play today.

What separates Time Crisis from other rail shooters is its cover system. Rather than throwing you in to each “arena” you begin each scenario behind cover. At the touch of a button you can pop from cover to shoot enemies and duck back to avoid fire and reload. The game is entirely based on this mechanic and it is brilliant. To force you to kill all enemies as soon as possible each section is timed. The sooner you waste everyone the more time you receive. Each level has three areas and you need to clear each segment as fast as possible to accrue enough time to reach the end. The game takes advantage of the Guncon’s accuracy by hiding enemies behind objects with only the tiniest portion visible. You can wait for them to pop out but that wastes precious time. Every aspect of the game reinforces its title.

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Like most games in the genre each level is essentially a series of action vignettes. As you move from cover point to the next stop enemies spawn from all sides. Unlike most rail shooters the enemies in Time Crisis are more active. They do not stop and wait for you to attack, they will seek cover, hide, and even actively dodge your fire. Despite the fact they always spawn in the same spot it makes the gameplay feel more dynamic. It also instills an increasing sense of urgency as you must weigh hiding behind cover to avoid damage or risk it to avoid wasting time. The pace is frantic as a result as you fight for every second. These are simple concepts but they help give the game its own identity in an increasingly crowded genre.

The reason I like Time Crisis so much is that it is an action movie that just happens to be a rail shooter. Rather than a series of disparate levels it is one continuous mission that evolves as you progress. There are betrayals and escalations as the situation progresses as the enemy realizes the danger you present. Simple soldiers upgrade to riot shields and bazookas and environmental hazards will force you in to cover. The game sells the idea that you are on a time limit extremely well and has an epic finale that is worth the significant amount of practice it will take to reach. Sure I would have liked some optional power-ups and even two-player coop but those are minor complaints in the face of the game’s overall quality.

Namco were usually pretty good about packing their home ports with extras to raise the value proposition. Time Crisis surprisingly offers a whole new chapter exclusive to this version. The Special side-story is a brand new mission that takes place after the arcade. Miller is tasked with infiltrating a hotel owned by Kantaris, leader of a smuggling operation and Wild Dog’s weapons supplier. This mission has multiple routes through the hotel that change depending on your performance as well as unique bosses and multiple endings. This is enough to warrant multiple runs just to see it all and doubles the length of the game. Light gun games are usually content light but Namco buck that trend once again and deliver a full package.

In Closing

Time Crisis is a fantastic rail shooter and raises the bar for the genre. The guncon is an awesome controller with a level of precision that makes the game so much more fun. This is an action movie distilled in to video game form and it is immensely fun. Revisiting this one I still feel the same as I did in the 90s and it has held up. It is hard to play today without a CRT TV but if so you are in for a treat.

8 out of 10

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