Genre: First-Person Shooter
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Bandai Namco
Release Date: November 20, 2007
Believe it or not, simple light-gun arcade games date all the way back to the former half of the previous century, and the three more recent arcade and console light-gun technologies are vastly more complicated than you would imagine. Unless you've a particular interest in trigonometry, the various techniques are easily described in a straightforward way. Game light guns haven't actually emitted light in more than 40 years; all the modern techniques sense light rather than "shoot" it — presumably "sensor gun" didn't have the same ring to it, and the almost 70-year-old light-gun arcade legacy originated with light guns that did, indeed, emit light.
There are three basic modern techniques used in light guns. The first, the simplest, established itself on early home consoles and arcade machines. It works with traditional CRT (tube) televisions and has the potential to work with new television technologies — LCD and plasma, for example — but it's less accurate and can be cheated, sometimes with laughable ease; the technology was years ago abandoned on home consoles. The method replacing it is more accurate, and difficult or impossible to cheat, but it relies on how CRT televisions display images onscreen, making it useless with LCD and plasma screens, and also inoperable with the more recently marketed DLP television sets. The third and current method works with all TV technologies, but in addition to the light gun, it requires the placement of devices that emit infrared light for the gun to sense. In a proper play environment, with reasonable attention to emitter placement on the television — read: follow the instructions — the system is dead accurate and just flat works, free of any gaming frustration. Fortunately, the Guncon 3 included in the Time Crisis 4 bundle uses the most recent light-gun technology.
In order to succeed as a game, Time Crisis 4 must meet only a couple of standards: The light gun has to work, and the game should well simulate the visual and auditory experience of contemporary light-gun arcade machines. On the first point, the Guncon 3 works amazingly well. Targets at long range are easily hit with careful aim. In fact, the new Guncon is so accurate I at first suspected Bandai Namco of a slight deception, of employing a fuzzy aiming scheme to create the illusion of a very accurate Guncon controller. I put the device through some rudimentary but revealing tests. It's not a conceit; intentionally aim just barely off a distant target, and you miss, but concentrate and aim right at the same target, and that's a hit.
Setting up the Guncon 3 and its accompanying infrared emitters on a 32-inch LCD HDTV is a breeze. There are only two emitters: Put one at the far top left and the other at the far top right, and your placement is about as good as it's going to get. Plug the USB cable into an available port on the PlayStation 3, and you're in business. On TV sets around 40 inches or more, give or take depending on the extra housing around the screen, you can eyeball the placement using as a guide the obvious center point, a small plastic node on the cable joining the two emitters, or if you wish, you can get out the tape measure. Either way, Time Crisis 4 starts off with a mandatory standard calibration, with the option of a five-point calibration; you'll quickly have an accurate Guncon 3 in your hands.
The infrared emitters attach to the top of your TV with, well, nothing. Bandai Namco includes a weighted rubber strap system and a small panel on the back of each emitter that you use in opened or closed positions, one position more suited to curve-topped TV housings, the other for flat. The rubber straps with depending weights are a bit bizarre, though not entirely unwieldy; Occam's Razor dictates they should have included double-sided adhesive pads and been done with it, but that solution isn't very portable, and, perhaps far more importantly, plenty of gamers — and parents of young gamers — cringe at the thought of sticking anything to the glossy black housing of their $5,000 top-brand, 50-inch plasma HDTVs. You can spend a bit of time placing and balancing the weights, or you can, as I did, reach almost immediately for a roll of removable Scotch tape — the kind with a weaker, impermanent adhesive. Either method works, but the latter is faster and harmless under my standards for sticking things to expensive home A/V equipment.
The greatest disappointment in the Guncon 3 itself is that the whole controller is a garish, bright orange. Save in form, it doesn't look at all like a real gun, high-tech, super-secret agency variety or the more standard issue metal and wood item — which is, of course, the very point of the eye-popping color. We live in an age, for safety's sake and skirting civil liability suits, where toy guns must fairly scream "Fake gun! Does not fire bullets! Just a toy right here!" The concession in the design of the Guncon 3 is understandable.
The Guncon 3 is not a wireless device, Bluetooth or otherwise. Like the infrared emitters, it plugs into any available USB port on the PS3. At first this may be seem bothersome, but the cable is plenty long for comfortable play, and the technology used in the light gun has a limited range. Make it wireless instead, wander much past the distance covered by the USB cable, and the Guncon 3 won't work, anyway. Also, the Guncon is an adjunct controller, not a fully functional if awkward replacement for the PS3 SixAxis, unlike, for example, the Guitar Hero 3 controller — there's not even a PS button on the Guncon. The menus and in-game features are easily controlled with the Guncon 3, but you'll still need a SixAxis handy to quit the game — although you can spare the battery by keeping the SixAxis turned off until you need it.
Time Crisis 4, the game itself, is charged with measuring up to the standards of the latest arcade machines. It does. For years in console games, sometimes the audio, always the graphics, fell quite short of what was available in brand-new arcade machines; but with the advent of HD consoles and the equivalent of supercomputers in little table-top boxes, those days are gone, for the most part. The graphics and audio in Time Crisis 4 equal or exceed that of most recent light-gun arcade machines. Character models look good, and animations, while not the wild brilliance of modern film special effects, are reasonably realistic. Fans of this arcade genre will feel as if they have such a machine right at home, at a tiny fraction of the cost, including the price of the PlayStation 3.
The title includes three modes. First and foremost, the arcade mode is an "on-rails" level design game in which you can shoot, reload and take cover, but you may not progress until an area is cleared of enemies; then when you are good to go, the game takes over, and your movement is initiated and entirely directed by the game. In arcade mode, you have at your disposal a pistol, machine gun, shotgun and a small grenade launcher, for which the icon resembles a maritime flare gun. Since you can't move around, the weapons require shooting color-coded enemies for replenishing ammunition. Buttons on the front of the Guncon handle taking cover and reloading. The trigger obviously does the shooting, and also weapons selection while in cover. As you progress, the stages become increasingly more difficult until you've beaten the arcade mode. It's that simple, but Time Crisis 4's inspiration is, after all, simple arcade fare. There's no depth, nor is depth required.
The second mode is a light-gun take on an FPS campaign. It consists of five missions separated from one another by various stages pulled from the arcade mode. The plot is straight out of a late 1980s console science-fiction action title, something nebulous about genetically engineered nasty little creatures fallen in the hands of terrorists hell-bent on etc., etc. No depth here, either. Movement in the FPS missions is rather deftly handled on the Guncon 3 by the addition of two thumbsticks, one on the front handle, one on top of the gun butt. Really, it works surprisingly well. I had no trouble controlling my character while aiming at the screen, taking out enemies near and far, as well handling a bit of variety in shooting helicopters out of the sky. Each mission in the campaign mode culminates in a stock-and-trade boss battle, the bosses becoming stronger and more evasive as missions advance. The mission levels are rather long for what they are, but they're obviously intended to give you the opportunity to shoot at more things with the Guncon, which is, again, the whole point of Time Crisis 4.
The weapons in the campaign are the same as the arcade mode, save the fourth slot, by default filled grenades but interchangeable in the pause menu — although the only items usually available to fill the slot are the grenades. The only complaint I have regarding FPS control in the campaign: Moving your character while holding the Guncon about chest-high to shoot at the screen strains the arms and hands. But for purposes of this review, I played the campaign virtually straight through in a few long sessions. Taking breaks during the campaign — or just switching over to arcade mode for a while — should alleviate any discomfort caused by the unfamiliar console FPS control scheme.
The final mode is an "extra games" mode, primarily a collection of virtual skeet-shooting mini-games, throwbacks to Nintendo Entertainment System light-gun games. They're of nostalgic value only, if you're even old enough to feel any true nostalgia for NES games of the genre.
At its core, Time Crisis 4 is a version of arcade light-gun games for high-end home consoles. Taken as that, taking the FPS campaign as merely bonus content and the "extra games" mode as a tongue-in-cheek homage to the heritage of console light-gun titles, the title performs admirably and is an overall success. It is, however, very much a niche title. If you don't like light-gun arcade games or you're wanting something new — the next level, if you will — in the FPS genre, you won't like Time Crisis 4 on the merits of its FPS campaign mode. But if you are a light-gunslinger, if you're in it for the fun of realistic point-and-shoot, perhaps inviting a few friends over for taking turns at high-score challenges — the game also supports a second Guncon 3 controller, not included in the bundle, for two-player arcade-mode games — you'll almost certainly enjoy Time Crisis 4. And you'll save wads of dollar bills you'd otherwise feed into arcade token exchangers.
More articles about Time Crisis 4