CSG Retrospective – TimeSplitters
When people think of the best multiplayer first-person shooters out there they often think of titles like Halo or Call of Duty. Very few people give credit to the TimeSplitters games and as a result the series often goes under the radar. The TimeSplitters franchise was developed by Free Radical Design, a now defunct video game developer that was established by ex-employees of Rare, many of whom worked on GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark. As a matter of fact, TimeSplitters shares a lot of similarities with these two titles; I would even go far enough to argue that the TimeSplitters games serve as spiritual successors to them. True to its name, TimeSplitters explores the idea of time travel in its story modes. The TimeSplitters are alien creatures who seek to destroy humanity in the most vulnerable place possible, their history.
Aside from its story mode, the real bulk of TimeSplitters comes from its multiplayer that combines frantic, gun-totting gameplay with gratuitous amounts of humor. A lot of the humor stems from TimeSplitters’ highly stylized characters; many of them are either parodies of preexisting character archetypes or are essentially cartoon characters. Some of my favorites include Duckman Drake, an anthropomorphic duck and The Gingerbread Man, a literal six foot tall gingerbread man. All of these elements is what makes the TimeSplitters series stand out amongst the competition.
TimeSplitters was released as a launch title for the PlayStation 2 in 2000. The game’s story mode is divided into individual missions spanning 100 years. When starting up a mission you must choose between one of two characters, then you are transported to a level where you kill enemies and gather weapons. Your goal in each level leaves little to the imagination as all you do is navigate it to retrieve a random object at a point B and bring it back to a point A. Interestingly, there is no larger narrative in TimeSplitters that ties all the missions together aside from the TimeSplitter aliens that spawn endlessly once you secure said object.
TimeSplitters may not have a deep plot, but its Arcade Custom mode is what really makes it shine. Arcade mode lets you jump into a multiplayer match that can be played with up to 10 CPU controlled bots or with friends. Over 50 characters can be selected in Arcade mode from story protagonists to generic enemies and they all gun each other down in an assortment of crazy maps. Games types in Arcade mode include deathmatch, team deathmatch, and the always fun capture the bag (a straight-up parody of capture the flag). Some game types are unique to TimeSplitters like Virus where a character starts out as being “infected” with a green flame and must tag other characters to “infect”.
Arcade mode is, without any shadow of a doubt, the best aspect of TimeSplitters. You can customize and tailor arcade matches to your own personal preferences. Do you want a bot set consisting of nothing but Snowmen? You got it. Want a match with one shot kills and rocker launchers? You got it. The sheer number of hours I have spent playing with and creating custom bot sets is simply mind-boggling; I do not regret a single moment of any it. I can guarantee that TimeSplitters’ Arcade mode will be the most fun you ever have with a multiplayer first-person shooter. My only nitpick with Arcade mode is that the bots can be pretty merciless towards you at times. They can kill you a lot faster then you can kill them because they fire all their weapons like they are automatic machine guns and they can even dodge your shots.
A big feature in TimeSplitters is unlockables. Characters, maps, and weapons must be unlocked first in order to be used in Arcade mode. All of this stuff can be unlocked by practically doing anything; for example, different characters will be unlocked for completing the story missions under certain difficulties. Moreover, a majority of unlockables must be obtained in Challenge mode. This mode revolves around completing objective-based or time-based missions; they range from being stupid easy to being so hard that you will want to tear your hair out. The last mode of note in TimeSplitters is Mapmaker, a mode where you can create your own playable maps for Arcade Custom.
Believe it or not, the original TimeSplitters was very successful, warranting Free Radical Design to develop a sequel in 2002. TimeSplitters 2 was released for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and Nintendo GameCube. Similar to Twisted Metal 2, TimeSplitters 2 retains all the feature from its predecessor, but makes them bigger and better. It features new modes, new characters, and a Mapmaker that lets you play your very own story missions. I would rank TimeSplitters 2 as the best TimeSplitters game because it has improved gameplay and some of the most fantastic music I have heard in a FPS. The soundtrack was composed by Graeme Norgate, a video game composer who worked on game soundtracks for Rare and Free Radical. Take a listen to some of his work here.
Best of all, TimeSplitters 2 has a plot that actually makes sense. The plot follows Sergeant Cortez and Corporal Hart, two marines from the year 2401, who are assigned to wrest control of a space station from TimeSplitters. After boarding the station, they discover that the Splitters are planning to use objects called Time Crystals to interfere with human history. It is then up the marines to travel to different points in time to take back the crystals and prevent the Splitters from harnessing their power. Story mode can either be played solo or cooperatively. Unlike the first game, there are series of varying objectives that must be completed in order to progress through a mission. In addition, TimeSplitters 2 introduces a new mode called Arcade League. League is analogous to Challenge mode only that it is divided into three different sub-leagues: Amateur, Honorary, and Elite League. Completing all of Arcade League plus the Challenge mode will award you a good chunk of all the unlockable characters and maps in TimeSplitters 2. The rest can be unlocked by meeting certain conditions in the story missions.
After TimeSplitters 2, a third game called TimeSplitters Future Perfect was released on the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and Nintendo Gamecube in 2005. Future Perfect picks up right after the events of TimeSplitters 2 with Cortez returning as the central character of the single-player campaign. Its plot is much more complex compared to the first two and it is totally over the top. This time around (no pun intended) Cortez must once again travel through time to stop the source of the TimeSplitters permanently. Using over the top to describe Future Perfect’s plot would be doing it a disservice as the whole thing is over the top. Once again, Future Perfect retains all of the modes of TimeSplitters 2, only this time around the game introduces blood to the series, making it the first TimeSplitters game to receive the M rating. The game is self-aware of what it wants to be, a hilarious, carnage-packed FPS. Although it lacks the speed of TimeSplitters 2, Future Perfect holds its place as a TimeSplitters icon.
Free Radical Design was planning on making a TimeSplitters 4, showing off plenty of concept art and rendered character models. However, development was halted because Free Radical Design was caught in the middle of a buyout by another company called Crytek. Crytek succeeded in acquiring Free Radical Design in 2009, thus granting them all the rights to the TimeSplitters IP. After the settlement was complete, fans became optimistic at the prospect of getting TimeSplitters 4. Unfortunately, Crytek made it clear they had no intentions of continuing the series and any hope of getting a fourth installment were ceased forever.
The series was considered dead at that point until a group of loyal TimeSplitters fans banded together to make their own game called TimeSplitters Rewind; it is currently being developed for the PC using CryEngine 3. Crytek even gave Rewind’s development team permission to use all assets and likenesses of the series. Progress on TimeSplitters Rewind has been very slow due to the fact that it is being built up from scratch and the team is working strictly on a voluntary basis. Despite the game’s sluggish progress, Rewind is definitely shaping up to be the ultimate tribute to the TimeSplitters trilogy. Rewind will be free to download and a beta is expected to launch this year. To get updated on TimeSplitters Rewind, check out the development team’s website or like them on Facebook.