The TimeSplitters Wonderland

For those of you who still summon up fond memories of the TimeSplitters games you may have been wondering where the PS3 instalment is, and why it isn’t in your console right now. Don’t worry it you weren’t the only one scratching your heads over this. Regardless of whether you played Splitters the first time or not, you should be interested in one of gaming’s most sorely missed titles.

Free Radical had produced three TimeSplitters games before their company sunk into the dark pits of administration, shortly after the flop they were bought up and in effect saved by FPS giants Crytek in 2008. Free Radical then became Crytek UK, and had most of the key staff from before still in the team. Up until Free Radical’s financial disaster they had been working on the fourth instalment in the franchise and their first TimeSplitters on the next gen consoles. Since the name change though it seems that the studio has forgotten about their genre defining game, and TimeSplitters 4 has quickly become a myth in the gaming world.

That realization makes me hopelessly sad; back in its glory TimeSplitters was the sort of whacky adrenaline pill of a shooter one could get hopelessly addicted to after mere minutes of playing. To briefly explain to those of you who still have no idea what I’m talking about; TimeSplitters was based around a whimsical and cheesey ‘save the world by travelling through time’ idea and it offered up the perfect excuse to bring together hundreds of tongue in cheek gun slinging stereotypes from any historical of fictional time period. Each TimeSplitters game was always presenting hilarious juxtapositions and bewildering combinations like futuristic robots equipped with a freshly painted baseball bats, or a undead monkeys wielding miniguns three times their size, dinosaurs with rocket launchers, Schizophrenic butchers with tommy guns…the list goes on.  But basically the time travelling plot enabled a huge amount of variety to be incorporated into the player experience, and also meant that the range of weapons and character models you would use both in single player and  multiplayer were deliciously wild.

If the PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii sequel does arrive at some point in the next few years (which I have a sneaking suspicion it will), I should just set the scene to summarise what kind of thing to expect. Free Radical made all the games in a silky smooth comic book animation style which was iconic and instantly recognizable. The offline components were staggeringly deep, with an arcade league menu and challenge missions to complete to unlock new characters and weapons (favourites including Cyborg monkey and the brick). The map creator was a dream come true for FPS fans as very few games at that time could offer such a feature, and it let players control the rules, the weapons, the music, the lighting style, the pickups, the vehicles, gun placements, spawn points, whether you could get dual weapons, and basically create and indulge in any gun fantasy you could imagine.  In order to get across how good TimeSplitters 4 would be you have to appreciate how ahead of its time the previous games were on the last gen consoles, and how bloody good they were.

Moving onto the more relevant and recent Splitter gossip; before Free Radical became Crytek UK they released a series of video game spoofs on the internet, of well known gaming figures as part of what we assume to be a rather ambitious marketing project. Examples include a monkey sitting inside Master Chief’s battle armour.  Handfuls of character concept art was similarly splashed onto the web with things like a Catholic Nun hefting a chainsaw, some sort of elephant tank, a sheriff with a holographic head,  the return of several fan favourites, and many other exciting sketches (full galleries available all over the web). So the game was definitely in motion but since the dev’s name change there has been no word on its progress. Online petitions are being filled in by thousands in a desperate attempt to get the developers to make TimeSplitters 4 happen.

Hypothetically if Crytek UK did turn their very capable team back onto the franchise and actually produce it, how would it slot into mass gamers current obsession with gritty military realism?  Lets face it, TimeSplitters has never been about that and (have mercy on us) never will be. Younger gamers might find the bullet sponge style of play frustrating, or the capacity to hold a dozen weapons utterly stupid. Those who weren’t around in the Splitter heyday just might not get it, but on the other hand they may well be converted. For someone like me who grew up on shooters like Unreal, Quake, and TimeSplitters, I found it hard learning to love the contemporary FPS games.  In my opinion an old classic like TimeSplitters given a new lease of life it unquestionably deserves, would dent the industry and break the creative stagnation creeping over the genre.

On the last gen consoles Splitters was far ahead of any of its competitors, most noticeably in terms of seamless and easy flowing graphics and gameplay. I honestly think we can’t even begin to imagine how good the next game would be, and considering how much noise the fans have been making I think something is going to happen. Maybe when Crysis 2 has sold out, we might get a surprise announcement, they aren’t daft. Crytek, we need this game.