Chances are when you hear about party games, your mind instantly jumps to thoughts of virtual board games, minigame collections, or plastic instruments. For me, however, I get transported back to a different time, a time when mutilplayer always meant sharing a screen and talking smack demanded the courage to risk mortal combat with the gamers sitting next to you. That’s right, when I partied down back in the day, I was all about the shooters.
The 64-bit generation is when me and my friends really started to take gaming seriously, so it should come to no surprise to learn that GoldenEye 007 was a major time killer for us. The numerous modes, great levels, and impressive arsenal provided countless hours of entertainment, but it ultimately wasn’t the best game for building friendships. The limit of four players made direct competition the only real option, and some of those battles would grow heated as we raced for the best weapons while developing a furious hatred for whoever picked up the proximity mines. It was also during this time that I realized I was a natural-born screen watcher; I knew the levels like the back of my hand and had no problem glancing at my friends’ screens and instantly recognizing where they were, thus giving me a huge advantage. Needless to say, I earned the ire of many.
They wouldn’t be so lonely if they had some bots.
The best way to keep friendships healthy is not through competition, but rather through cooperation, so Goldeneye 007 was quite limited in that capacity. Thankfully, Rare used its next shooter, Perfect Dark, to introduce the gaming equivalent of group therapy: bots. That’s right, whenever you and your friends were feeling down, nothing would cheer you up faster than jumping into the game’s “Combat Simulator” and populating the opposing team with AI opponents ripe for the fragging. Perfect Dark didn’t just throw in the bots as an afterthought; they were customizable with a variety of unique traits: some might like melee, others like explosives, and some always went for the power weapons. However, the spoiled cream of the crop were the Meat Sims. So named because they presented as much of a challenge to you as that chunk of meat did to Rocky Balboa.
If you want a challenge, play with some real people. If you want something that occasionally offers some semblance of a mild threat, turn on the tougher bots. But if you and your friends just wanted to commit some good, old fashioned AI genocide, the Meat Sims were there for your homicidal pleasure. I couldn’t begin to calculate the number of hours me and my friends put into that game, let alone the Meat Sim body count. Once I picked up Perfect Dark, it seemed as though every weekend and day off from school turned into our own little war against those stupid, helpless bots. Perhaps the amount of joy we derived from destroying something so much weaker than ourselves says something rather disturbing and overtly sociopathic about our group’s psychological state of being, but we had too much fun to really care.
Unfortunately, time marched on and a new generation of consoles arrived, and with Rare severing its ties with Nintendo, it seemed like we would never experience the same level of bot-destroying joy again. Thankfully, the brains behind GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark left Rare to start up Free Radical, and there they tapped into their FPS expertise to create what is arguably the craziest multiplayer series ever. Unfortunately, TimeSplitters was a PS2 exclusive, but the franchise’s sequels went multiplatform, letting GameCube owners in on the ludicrous fun. TimeSplitters 2 embraced the many options found in Perfect Dark and multiplied it several times over, while also throwing in a major dose of absurd humor. Tired of playing as generic character models pulled from the army of nameless foes populating the single player campaign? Why not play as a monkey? Or a well-endowed cowgirl? Or a zombie, complete with detachable head! Better yet, you can be who ever you want and populate the enemy team with a bunch of monkey bots. Killing hordes of harmless generic bots was plenty of fun, but killing hordes of armed monkeys with an insane arsenal that includes everything from bricks to flame throwers is even better.
A zombie monkey with a gun? Yep, this is TimeSplitters.
Altogether, TimeSplitters 2 and 3 offered more multiplayer options than just about any FPS before or since. On top of the standard battles against hilariously modeled bots, each game also included a slew of challenges that could be completed with friends that unlocked dozens of new guns, character models, levels, and game modes, including some spectacular, multi-objective based games that were really ahead of their time. For gamers who just wanted to sit around and let off some steam in the most comically absurd way possible, the TimeSplitters series is pretty much unmatched. One could say that Perfect Dark deserves major credit for being the first to make bot-slaying a compelling form of entertainment, but TimeSplitters simply does it better, with lots more options, dual analog controls, a better sense of humor, and a much more stable frame rate. If you haven’t tried either TimeSplitters title, remember, your Wii does play GameCube discs and I imagine you could find either title for pretty dang cheap nowadays.
Of course some of you might not want to go retro for a good time, but modern shooters seem to have forgotten about the sadistic pleasure us gamers derived from mercilessly slaughtering foes who present little to no challenge. Ever since the popularization of online gaming on consoles, it seems as though developers thought we would be satisfied having 24/7 access to real people to play with/against. While that is definitely a nice option to have, sometimes we don’t really want to have to try, maybe some of us aren’t skilled enough to hold their own in a competitive game, or maybe we don’t even have an internet connection.
Iiiiiiii seeeeeee yoooouuuuu….
Thankfully, the 800 pound gorilla of the genre has stepped up and delivered Call of Duty: Black Ops, which features Combat Training mode, which features all the customization options the online multiplayer is famous for in an arena with AI-controlled foes, though friends can join in, too. The bots may not have the same level of customization as those in Perfect Dark or TimeSplitters, but it is definitely nice to once again have that option. Of course the Free Radical folks, now known as Crytek UK, are still shopping around TimeSplitters 4, but we have no idea whether or not it will ever see the light of day, let alone what consoles it will be on.
So next time your friends come over looking for some quality group gaming, keep Mario Party in the case, use Wii Sports as a drink coaster, and go all Pete Townshend on your guitar controller. With all those games out of the way, dust off your N64 or plug those lonely GameCube controllers into your Wii and vent your rage against the world upon some helpless bots. All those other games can offer plenty of enjoyment, but committing mass murder as a group is a highly underrated experience that far too many gamers have either forgotten about or have never had the pleasure of experiencing. That joy you feel might be a little sadistic, but just remember that every kill brings you and your friends closer together.