Missing in Action: TimeSplitters 4

It’s Time to Split…Or Is It?

The TimeSplitters series is fondly remembered by many gamers, and it was certainly one of the best gaming experiences to be had during the last console generation. Created by Free Radical Design, a team comprised of many former Rare staff that had worked on the likes of Perfect Dark and GoldenEye 007, TimeSplitters was essentially the spiritual successor to these industry-changing pieces of software. TimeSplitters 2, widely regarded as the best title in the series, was one of those titles that helped to convince you that investing in the next-generation of gaming was a worthwhile cost. Everything from its hilarious, cooperative-enabled story mode to its frantic multiplayer was a blast. Free Radical Design, it seems, were on to a good thing.

But here we are in 2011, with a million and one first-person shooters on the market, and not a TimeSplitters game in sight. In fact, the last time we saw Sergeant Cortez and his titular antagonists was way back in 2005. The series’ third entry, TimeSplitters: Future Perfect, was a well-received sequel, although it was starting to show its age compared to other shooters at the time. In a time where Hollywood-esque, big-budget shooters about World War II and genetically-enhanced space marines rule the roost, it would seem that there isn’t a place for the oddball that is TimeSplitters. However, to make that assumption is to make a mistake. TimeSplitters is desperately in need of making a return, and this article is making the case for why it should come back to our screens.

Stuck in A Time Warp?

TimeSplitters 4, unlike the majority of games that have featured in this column, was actually announced, and not so long ago for that matter (Official PlayStation Magazine UK confirmed the project in 2007, although the project wasn’t signed up to any systems at that point). However, any sort of confirmed project is yet to materialise, and the main reason for this is because Free Radical Design ended up going into administration in December 2008. Since then, the studio has been bought out by Crytek, and neatly renamed Crytek UK. In August 2009, the project was supposedly put on hold, although there have been rumours floating around that Crytek UK will be making an announcement at E3, with TimeSplitters 4 being the project in question. It certainly makes sense for the flagging developer to fall back on its strongest franchise, but until something is confirmed, we’ll have to play the speculating game.

Let’s Take A Trip Back in Time

So, what made the first three titles so great? TimeSplitters wasn’t particularly innovative in the gameplay department, mainly because it took the core elements of the team’s previous projects, GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark, and refined them so that it played well on a sixth generation system. There’s no recharging health, you have body armour instead of shields (and no, this doesn’t regenerate either, unless you find an armour pick-up during the level), and you don’t enter slow-mo mode every time a freaking explosion goes off in your character’s vicinity. The gameplay elements were more than adequate for the time, but this isn’t the sole reason why TimeSplitters was such a well-loved series. It had style, and this is what I feel captivated most players.

Due to the time-travelling element of the game’s story, the game could potentially have had a limitless amount of characters and settings at its disposal, were it not for the fact that games take up disc storage space and game designers can’t go on developing a game forever (well, unless you’re 3D Realms). As a result, the TimeSplitters games give the player the opportunity to meet and even play as a variety of stereotypical characters, ranging from suave secret agents to futuristic robots. One minute you’re fighting in 1930s Chicago against the mob, the next you’re fighting off an alien invasion in the 25th century.

And this is a very good reason why TimeSplitters should return to the modern gaming scene. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m getting a bit fed up of shooters that all tend to borrow the same, over-used aspects from one another, and thus deviate less and less from the main path. A new TimeSplitters would allow its developers (should they ever decide to use the intellectual property again) to do all sorts of crazy things in today’s immersive, HD gaming scene. If there’s one particularly prevalent theme in videogames at the moment, it’s that all major mature titles are nothing but a graphical blend of grey and brown. While TimeSplitters isn’t by any means immune to this (TimeSplitters: Future Perfect’s slightly darker tone meant that the player experienced plenty of this during the story mode), the wealth of locations and time periods that the game can draw on could provide the player with an extremely varied experience. Furthermore, the tongue-in-cheek nature of the series would even allow it to parody other games and media. Some of the limited material released promoting an upcoming TimeSplitters game before it was put on hold did do this, and avid fans will remember the Gears of War logo cheekily emblazoned with a monkey across the front in true TimeSplitters form. This may be the cinematic age of gaming, but that doesn’t mean that everything must be painstakingly realistic.

Despite TimeSplitters: Future Perfect featuring some dated gameplay elements upon release in 2005, there are still some things that could be taken from it. Perhaps the most important element to consider in making a potential sequel is the mission structure of the story mode. The TimeSplitters series, much like GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark before it, uses a “pseudo non-linear” mission design. I say “pseudo” because it still involves you having to travel from A to B, but you have to frequently break off from the main path in order to get the key objectives done. It’s inventive because it affords the player some degree of exploration, without letting them get so lost that they can’t find their way back. At the same time, it isn’t always obvious what you have to do in order to complete your objectives, and this is where some logical thinking comes into it. Ultimately, this would require some very careful fine-tuning from the developers, as today’s gamers are quite used to being spoon-fed by their games. Nevertheless, carefully bringing back this underused concept in TimeSplitters 4 could revitalise first-person shooters as a whole.

In addition to all this, the TimeSplitters games were notorious for their incredibly fun multiplayer modes. It may have the Call of Duty and Halo series as competitors, but I definitely think Crytek UK could pull off its own charming take on a modern-day multiplayer shooter. Heck, it could even parody CoD‘s popular Zombie mode (although it must be noted that TimeSplitters: Future Perfect already had its own version of this). It doesn’t necessarily need to have some sort of gimmick (a time-travel element in multiplayer would be fun, if near impossible to implement), and rather it would just need to get the basics right to build up a regular player base. Given Crytek UK’s experience in this area, I can’t see it being too much of an issue.

Endgame

As I mentioned above, the first-person shooter market has become a rather over-saturated one, and TimeSplitters 4, despite being an already established franchise, could be the breath of fresh air that the genre needs. The series hasn’t made its way onto a HD system yet, and, therefore, if Crytek UK make good use of the extra horsepower available, we could see some beautiful settings backed up with some immersive effects. Remember that awesome first level in TimeSplitters: Future Perfect? Imagine something like that but on a much larger scale, with a heck of a lot more action and NPCs on-screen.

There is always the worry that Crytek UK could take a leaf out of other developers’ books and create a similar, linear gameplay experience. I think it would be great to see proper objective-based missions return, especially ones where more objectives must be completed as you ramp up the difficulty setting. It increases the replay value of a game considerably, and the challenge is certainly a lot more interesting than when enemies just take more bullets to kill. The team were pioneers for the genre on home consoles in the late 1990s, and while most of the standard gameplay mechanics in first-person shooters have now been clearly established, that doesn’t mean that they can’t bring something inherently fun back in a revitalised, modern-day form.

We can only hope that time has been kind the TimeSplitters series, and that, should it ever return, it’ll be as relevant to gamers as it was back in the early 2000s. E3, I’ve got my eye on you.

Share your thoughts: Should TimeSplitters return, or is it a game that’s best left stuck in the past? What do you think the likelihood is that we will see an announcement at this year’s E3 conference? As per usual, leave your comments in the section below!


Comments
5 Responses to “Missing in Action: TimeSplitters 4”
  1. DaleJimmy says:

    This was phenomenal when it came out. I remember Timesplitters 1 had it’s own last stand game mode, which was identical to Cod’s zombie mode. A revolutionary game.

  2. The Geach says:

    Timesplitters was great fun simply because of the co op element and let’s not forget the level editors. The parody mechanic is what sold me though as at the time of “future perfect” I was big into Stargate SG-1 and to see the time gates lifted right from SG-1 gave me a cheeky smile every time.

  3. Gregg B says:

    YES! Late response I know, but YES!

    Of what I’ve played of Timesplitters 2, it did a better job with certain settings and scenarios than some games could manage in their entirety while simultaneously poking fun at all their tropes and cliches. I never did play the first or third game but I reckon that Timesplitters 2 had some of the best character models and animations out there next to the likes of TF2.

    I’d welcome a fourth installment not only for the variety, solidity and personality of the franchise but for the robust multiplayer and customisation options. There’s very little out there on console, even now, that can match the quantity and quality of the content in Timesplitters 2; it was (excuse the pun) quantum leaps ahead. I still love the gun-disconnected-from-look thing as well.

    I said this some time ago in a Tap comment:

    “Timesplitters 2 riffed on every FPS cliche out there back in what, 2002, and it did it in a truly glorious fashion, Goldeneye subterfuge, alien B-movie shlock, 40s gangster heists, gothic cathedrals and zombies, it was all in there.”

    Good call MegaWatts.

  4. twistedrabbit says:

    The chances seem good for a reveal. That said, while many of us are undoubtedly promising “first day” purchases, simple fact is that if it doesn’t look like ‘our’ timesplitters, but instead emulates the dull and dreary modern warfare shooters already cluttering the market, I think the die-hard fans (myself included) could find themselves avoiding it.

    Crytek don’t need to do much with the formula; a plethora of characters, maps, guns, and game modes and the ability to play with bots would suffice. Hell, I’d buy it even if it looked like FP (obviously it won’t) since Timesplitters has never been about the graphics but rather the gameplay and freedom of options. Even the single-player mode, co-op, and mapmaker could go by the wayside so long as the other areas linked to the central multiplayer core are covered and have sufficient new material.

  5. This game is one of the greatest shooters of its time. with its great sense of humor and vast local multiplayer this is a must buy. Although the graphics are little dumbed down from the PS2 its still a great game!!!

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