Time Crisis 4 Review

The future of light gun games on home consoles seemed uncertain as we moved more fully into the age of high definition--the tried and true screen-flashing pixel detection method of light gun operation doesn't work on non-CRTs, which make up the majority of HDTV sets.

When the Wii remote was unveiled, it seemed like it would fix the problem; it comes with its own set of infrared sensors that negate the need for a screen-based method. Of course, as anyone who has played a light gun or Duck Hunt-esque game on the Wii knows, the Wii remote isn't quite the same as a light gun. It's more of a hybrid between a mouse and a light gun, and since it's triangulating where you're pointing the device rather than actually detecting the specific pixel, it never quite has that light gun feel. This is fairly easily remedied by adding an always-present reticule to such games, allowing players to keep better tabs on their aim.

The PlayStation 3 port of Time Crisis 4, the latest in the long-running light gun shooter series, uses the Wii approach. It comes with its own set of IR sensors that must sit atop the TV. It even has its own aiming calibration that attempts to match up its triangulation with the specific dimensions of your TV.

The problem is, at the end of the day, this IR-based light gun simply does not feel as rock-solid as a real pixel-precise light gun--but Time Crisis 4 has no reticule.

This means that, unless you take to the relative aiming system extremely well or unless you happen to calibrate your system to an incredible degree of accuracy--something I was never able to do despite countless attempts--you have to fire off a few shots to get your bearings of where you're aiming at any given moment. Unlike in a real light gun game, it is very difficult to simply start shooting with deadly accuracy immediately after popping out of cover.

Let's take a step back and discuss the main game. Time Crisis 4 can be played in two modes: the original arcade mode, an authentic port that can be played in single-player or in two-player split-screen, and the "Complete Mission," a single-player only version of the game that adds new first-person shooter segments throughout the original light gun campaign.

For most people, the arcade mode will be the way to go. The new gameplay added to the Complete Mission feels much more like an ill-advised attempt to cater to the oft-cited FPS predilection of Western gamers than any kind of meaningful addition to the game. These segments use the GunCon3 controller's two analog sticks for full movement and camera control, with pointer-based aiming on top.

Once you get accustomed to it, this control actually works just fine, and feels like it could be the basis for its own game. The problem is that these levels, which are longer than the standard light gun levels, are utterly bland. Enemies are fairly sparse, resulting in a lot of tiresome walking through environments that are not particularly attractive or interesting, and the lack of the dynamic camera-controlled action sequences normally associated with light gun games leaves little point to these segments beyond the initial novelty.

The actual light gun portions of the game are extremely enjoyable from a design standpoint. While in cover, you are able to switch between a variety of automatic and semiautomatic weapons, which need to be kept stocked with ammo by killing enemies and earning ammo counters. There's a great mix of gameplay: some sections require killing a certain number of enemies under a time limit, some are standard cover-to-cover light gun scenes, some have large swarms of insect-like enemies descending, some have more heavily on-rails vehicle gameplay, some require the player to constantly shift the camera between three different viewpoints as enemies approach from all angles.

That last bit is great, in theory. You switch viewpoints by pointing your gun to the edge of the camera in the direction you want to turn, and when it works right it's very natural. The problem is that quite frequently, despite using the exact same motion I had been using, the game would refuse to acknowledge my request to turn. I tried gesturing, pointing on-screen, pointing off-screen, all to no avail. Since this tended to happen at least once in each of these segments, leaving me unprotected against enemy assault from the rear, I failed nearly every such encounter, which cost me a continue each time.

Continues are precious in this game because, thanks to the IR-based aiming and lack of a reticule, regardless of how well you know a particular encounter, you are almost guaranteed to lose lives when you pop out of cover, see an axe hurling at your face, and lack the ability to sharpshoot it out of the air because the absence of a reticule means you haven't gotten your bearings yet. With a traditional light gun, this wouldn't be a problem, because you would be able to hit the axe (or grenade, or rocket) simply by pointing at shooting directly at it on the screen, but here it is endlessly frustrating.

I can't possibly imagine how many times I scoured the menus, looking for a reticule option, to no avail. What is even more maddening is that the FPS segments do feature a reticule--too bad those sections aren't actually much fun. This leaves the game with portions that play great but have flawed control, and portions that play like crap despite controlling well.

If Namco would simply release a patch via PlayStation network that enables a crosshairs option in the light gun portion of the game and tightens up the view-switching control, Time Crisis 4 would be a no brainer for fans of the genre. Visually, the game isn't going to knock anyone's socks off, as little has been changed from the original arcade version, but as long as you stick to the original arcade missions the gameplay seems rock-solid. Unfortunately, in its current state, unless you're an absolute die-hard light gun fan or some kind of savant with IR-based aiming, the game just doesn't play like it should.