Gaming Flashback: TimeSplitters II
In or modern era of gaming, where yearly Call of Duty releases are hotly awaited and the latest Halo release can be the backbone of the latest console generation, it’s hard to believe that the first-person shooter genre was once regarded with apprehension. In truth, this mode of gaming is barely a decade old, in its popular form.
Back in the mid-2000s, when I was passing from junior high to high school and really getting my feet wet in video games, as a whole, I used to scoff at the genre. Sure, there were a few fun outliers, and a couple of rounds of Goldeneye 007 were good during a birthday party, but I could see no way in which they could ever supersede my beloved RPGs or RTS games. The party game corner was already fully claimed by Super Smash Bros, Mario Kart, and fighting games like Soul Calibur 2 – perish the thought of some run-and-gun nonsense ever taking their place!
But naïve I was, dear readers! How wrong I could be! Because it only took one party for a friend of a friend to show me the light; and the savior was called TimeSplitters2.
Released in October of 2002, this ridiculous FPS was the smash sequel to an early PS2 title created by a splinter team from the legendary Rare studios, henceforth known as Free Radical. Combining their technical know-how from the aforementioned Goldeneye for the N64 and a wry British comedy, TimeSplitters 2 lets players kill each other and enemy bots with a variety of weapons as a plethora of characters, from throughout time, space, and sanity. This is the kind of game were you can run around as a monkey with a flamethrower and burn down waves of brick-wielding robots, riot cops with machine guns, and living gingerbread men firing lighting guns.
With a bevy of maps and game modes, including classics like Deathmatch and Capture the Bag (your requisite “Capture the Flag” variant) as well as original modes such as Flame Tag and Shrink (a mode which reduces the stature of your character based on your standings), TimeSplitters 2 offered countless hours of replayability for friends to dive into again and again. The PlayStation 2 release was Multitap-enabled, meaning that any console release could host up to four local players per console and a dozen additional AI enemies to play with and against.
That isn’t to say that single player options were by any means limited, however. Incorporating Challenge and League modes for trophy collection and unlocking more weapons, characters, maps, and even in-game cheats, there was always something new to play or another way to test your skills, no matter how many players were on hand. Like each of the entries in the series, TS2 also came packaged with a robust level editor to make your own multiplayer and story modes to share with your friends.
Where the first TimeSplitters merely gave you a wall of text and dropped you into a series of levels with the same goal: get the macguffin and get back to base, TimeSplitters 2 was the first in the series to offer an overarching narrative. By no means a literary masterwork, the plot sees two space marines from the distant future of 2401, Sgt. Cortez and Corporal Hart, fighting against an alien race known as the TimeSplitters – beings able to warp through time and space in an attempt to eradicate all of humanity. Our heroes have just discovered time travel, themselves, and realize that the diabolic beast’s power lies with the mysterious Time Crystals, which have been littered throughout history. Using their machine allows them to jump anywhere in time, inhabiting the bodies of locals ala Quantum Leap. Most characters don’t get much of a development, and the story doesn’t really make any surprising twists from this main setup, but it’s an enjoyable and interesting challenge.
If it wasn’t already apparent, the TimeSplitters series is perhaps my all-time favorite. So while I knew it was what I wanted to focus my guest review on, I wanted to be sure I wasn’t looking at it with rose-tinted glasses as it brought me so much joy through my formative high school years. I popped the disc in to my PS2 just a few hours prior to writing, and jumped back on to my old profiles, just to see how things held up. The lack of regenerating health, somewhat floaty aim (remember, this was pre-Aim Assist!), and inability to jump around the map feels a little bit dated, especially against some of the grainy textures as it renders on a modern television (flaming zombies do get a bit distorted while you’re spinning around with your 12-gauge shotgun and blowing their limbs off). But, all in all, the game is just as delightful as I remember. The humor is still spot-on, the controls feel great once you get back into the swing of it, and the gameplay is truly satisfying, even on my own. It’s truly a hallmark of the early days of the genre which still holds up thirteen years later.
So, I’m sure you’re wondering by now, if this game and this series is SO great, and SO well-received (it’s still holding a 90+% Metacritic score), what happened to such a gem that it’s fallen to the wayside and still more or less a cult classic? Well, Free Radical took one more good crack at a sequel, with 2005’s TimeSplitters: Future Perfect, released in partnership with EA. While the third entry did well (and is still a damn fantastic game!), it lacked some of the pizazz of its predecessor, and its creation was notably troubled, as the partnership wasn’t all smiles and sunshine for the little British team. A fourth entry, simply titled TimeSplitters 4, was announced in 2007, complete with concept art and some early story trappings, but was ultimately dropped along with the team’s take on a third entry in the Star Wars: Battlefront series after Free Radical went bankrupt and eventually was bought by Crytek, to become Crytek UK. However, as of a few years ago, Crytek CEO Cevat Yearli announced that the sequel had been disbanded, assuming that no one other than a potentially small, hardcore fanbase would purchase the title.
Still, all is not lost for Cortez and company – a few renegade members of Free Radical have created an online project with other fans known as TimeSplitters: Rewind, an attempt to re-create TS2 in modern fidelity through the Unreal 4 engine. They have a Facebook page where the developers keep the community up to date on the latest designs and test builds, and the project even gained a seal of approval from Crytek, themselves, looking to the project as a way to test the waters for a professional remastering or even a revival of the series proper.
If you have a Playstation 2, Xbox, or Gamecube, you owe it to yourself to find a copy of this fantastic series or a friend who already owns one. Set aside a Saturday night to get a party together, order some pizza and soda, and tap in for some serious multiplayer fun. You owe it to yourself to take a look at this diamond in the rough – and ensure it doesn’t get lost to the sands of time.