“They sure don’t make ’em like they used to.”
That’s a line we’ve all probably said in reference to a game or series in our lives. Whether it’s a product of our own nostalgia or an actual comment on quality remains to be seen, but there are certain cases where it really does ring true – games that haven’t been replicated since. TimeSplitters is a series that falls into the latter camp. Not only was it bizarre, fresh, and fun — it was a series I hold near and dear to my heart.
The TimeSplitters series was developed by Free Radical, a now mostly-defunct (at least in name) studio who really never broke away from the series in a meaningful way. The last entry was the acclaimed Future Perfect, though rumors lingered that we’d one day see a fourth title in the series. While it never came to fruition, the series has entered the limelight once again as it was purchased this week by Koch Digital/THQ Nordic. In honor of this event, I’d like to look back on TimeSplitters and what it accomplished in the console gaming market of its time.
The first TimeSplitters was one of the very first games I picked up for PS2. I still recall the GameStop employee warning me of the “odd control scheme” (a control scheme that has since been much perfected in its use in almost every single console FPS). While it did take a bit of getting used to, I quickly fell into the game’s rhythm and flow, enamored by the wacky designs and campy settings. While the gamer of today may look upon it as a relatively simple console FPS, it was one of a few games we have to thank for the prevalence of this genre in today’s landscape.
(TimeSplitters 2 trailer uploaded by YouTube user “puppet23ca”)
Its devout following is partially due to how much each game feels like an expansion on the mechanics found in RARE’s GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark, two games that really brought the FPS genre to the forefront on people’s consoles. While they weren’t the first in the genre, console FPS games of years past were often clunky ports of superior PC versions with features and functionality stripped down to accommodate the ergonomic limits of a controller. Luckily for console gamers, the N64’s controller provided a slightly more “comfortable” control scheme for this type of game which was further perfected by Sony’s “DualShock” controller, allowing players to utilize two sticks for maximum control.
Time for fun
This isn’t an article about the birth of the DualShock, though. We’re here to talk about TimeSplitters. As the name would suggest, the campaign took the player (and a friend, if you chose to play its excellent couch co-op mode) on a journey through time. It was all quite simple, really, and a strong example of utilizing linearity in tandem with excellent gameplay mechanics. Start by picking a character and then blaze through a wide variety of historically influenced locales (or “futuristically influenced,” if that makes any sense). Each stage played out almost like a one-way game of capture-the-flag. Blast some enemies and pummel onward to retrieve an objective item and then get the hell out of there, defeating one of the dastardly “TimeSplitters” along the way. It may not have had all the intricacy of today’s mission-based titles, but the run-and-gun fury kept the pace fast and the action high.
Time for friends
Beyond the campaign, TimeSplitters was rather well known for its multiplayer offerings. And for good reason! The entire TS series was a testament to the age of split-screen multiplayer. “Arcade Mode,” as the series called it, was a great way to engage your pals in memorable firefights all day (and all night!) No real reason to extrapolate here — it was just damn good fun. Even better, the second entry in the series let four players join the fray, something that was relatively foreign to Sony’s consoles at the time (and perhaps the number one reason I grabbed TS2 on GameCube). To tack a few more well-spent hours onto each title’s playtime, TimeSplitters featured a robust level-builder mode, allowing you to craft your own arenas from the ground up from a huge collection of themed pieces and parts.
(TimeSplitters Rewind trailer courtesy of TimeSplitters Rewind’s Official YouTube channel. Let’s hope this project stays in tact!)
Not to say games of today are lacking in the content department, but that sort of encouragement to sit next to a friend for hours on end is distinctly missing from today’s titles. There’s a certain lack of “party” in games that, well, don’t have “Party” in the title. Fighting games, racing games, actual “party” games give us the option to play in the same room, but maybe I want to blow my friends up AND build cool stages together? Is that too much to ask? Well, maybe, if you’re not TimeSplitters, apparently.
With the TimeSplitters property being purchased by a new publisher, I can’t help but wonder how the series would hold up in today’s gaming environment. Modern gaming always seems to be looking for ways to reinvent and revisit all at once, which could bode very well for this loved and lost (but not forgotten) series. The mechanics, while charming in retrospect, could benefit from some tinkering. That being said, maintaining the zany design elements and overall gameplay style would be more than enough to keep me happy. I think we could really get another strong entry out of the series in the current (or next) generation, I just have no clue what that might look like. Hopefully we’ll find out sooner than later!
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