A Brief History of TimeSplitters 4

Posted in Kulturecade by - December 28, 2016

In 1999 a little-known company, Free Radical Design was formed from several members of the GoldenEye and Perfect Dark development team. With such a high pedigree in first-person shooters, the studio was bound to succeed, and succeed they did with their first release, TimeSplitters. Borrowing elements from both GoldenEye and Perfect Dark, Free Radical Design found critical success in their debut release with the PlayStation 2 exclusive gaining a favourable reception and importantly for the fledgling studio – relatively strong sales.
It was clear that TimeSplitters required a sequel, so the studio put off working on their original project ‘Redemption,’ later renamed Second Sight, with which secured the studio’s partnership with publishers Eidos, and would have been Free Radical Design’s first release if it was not for the games overambitious nature. So, work began on a follow-up, the creatively named TimeSplitters 2.

With more time spent on the development than its predecessor, Free Radical Design not only bettered TimeSplitters but blew it out of the water. The game was met with critical acclaim, and with around two million copies sold, the studio had created a classic.

From the first level, you are thrown into the war between humanity and an alien race out to cause the destruction of humanity through changing the course of human history; these aliens are the TimeSplitters. As Sergeant Cortez, you travel through time stopping the TimeSplitters by obtaining time crystals. Upon your arrival, in a particular period, Cortez takes the form of a person in-fitting with that given time, such as a robot. Outside of story mode, the challenge mode offered various scenarios such as behead the undead or smashing windows with bricks, with performance related unlocks such as new characters, or cheat modes. These unlocks could then be used in multiplayer mode, where the game shone in my opinion. The arcade multiplayer mode allowed incredible amounts of customization, from team composition, to game mode type (sixteen in total), to even the maps. As well as containing multiple incredibly well designed and themed maps, Timesplitters 2 included a mapmaker for arcade mode. Before this turns into too much of a love letter, I will conclude by saying Timesplitters 2 is ranked by many alongside the best shooters of all time for a good reason, if you haven’t played before I implore you to give it a go. It still holds up fourteen years later; you will not regret it.

With Free Radical Design now firmly established as a high-quality studio, the team finally got back to working on their original project Second Sight with the publisher set to be Activision. Releasing in 2004, Second Sight struggled to match up to the success of its older brother TimeSplitters 2. The game was also released around the same time as Psi-Ops, also a psychic third person shooter game, which may have had an impact on sales with many people believing the games to be very similar. However, Second Sight developed a cult following due to the game’s strong story and still shifted a respectable amount of copies, even more impressive given that Second Sight was dropped by Activision forcing a late change to Codemasters. In a 2013 interview with VG247’s Dave Cook, co-founder of Free Radical Design, Steve Ellis, reflects on this late change:

“It was reasonably well-received, but I think the late change of publishers had resulted in there not being enough awareness of the game by the time it launched. These days we often see it featured in articles with titles like ‘the best games you never played.“

In 2005 the last TimeSplitters to be published by the studio was released, TimeSplitters: Future Perfect, this time with publishers EA. The decision to pair with EA for the release of Future Perfect was down to the sales figures of TimeSplitters 2, despite selling two million copies the studio knew under a large publisher greater commercial success could be achieved due to the game’s critical success. However, the future was far from perfect with the title only shifting one-million copies. The reasons for the underselling of Future Perfect are unclear, perhaps it was due to the greater focus on story with less time being devoted towards multiplayer, perhaps it was due to working under a new publisher with tighter deadlines, perhaps it was the shift towards more serious militaristic shooters. Whatever the reason the poor sales of the otherwise well-received game meant the chances of a follow-up were slim, not least with publisher EA.

In order to remedy the situation, and rebuild trust with publishers, Free Radical Design knew they had to create a new IP. That new IP would be named Haze.

Haze was dubbed a Halo Killer – before release. Upon release Haze was met with a generally negative reception, the futuristic military shooter was just pretty bland and forgettable, a far cry from the TimeSplitters franchise. The studio had had to promise a shooter that was similar to what had been successful for other studios, and this attitude was reflective of the risk adverse attitude of publishers due to spiraling costs of development. Free Radical Design was unperturbed by this challenge, feeling they could innovate on the tried and tested formula of existing games such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, promising revolutionary AI to eventual publishers Ubisoft. Technical problems coupled with a shortage of time and a gradual loss of creative control owing to Ubisoft’s deteriorating trust in Free Radical to deliver meant that this was never realised, with the final product, Haze, not being an accurate representation of what the studio had intended to create.

Despite the game not being true to their own vision the studio had been tarnished by the critical failure of Haze. The studio needed a saviour, so work began on TimeSplitters 4.

Work commenced in 2007 with basic pitches and concept art being developed – publishers were not interested. Reasoning that a prototype was required to justify the amount of money they required, the studio began working to develop just that in 2008. The prototype was shown to multiple developers to no avail. Steve Ellis notes in an interview with GamesTM:

“We pitched it to a lot of publishers, and from each of them, we got the same two responses. And from each of them we got the same two responses. Firstly, they would ask what happened with Haze. We were the company that made a series of high-rated shooters and then we had released Haze, which wasn’t as well received. This worried them. Secondly, their marketing person would say something alone the lines of, ‘I don’t know how to sell this.’ The unanimous opinion among all publishers that we pitched TimeSplitters 4 to is that you can’t market a game that is based around a diverse set of characters and environments – you need a clear and easily communicated marketing message, and TimeSplitters doesn’t have one. “

Leaked screen shot from Free Radical's canceled Star Wars: Battlefront III.

Leaked screen shot from Free Radical’s canceled Star Wars: Battlefront III.

With the general mistrust of Free Radical Design following the critical failure of Haze this spelled disaster for the studio. Worse was yet to come. The studio was working on Star Wars: Battlefront 3, which had the potential to save the company, when LucasArts canceled the project. Subsequently, it has been claimed that the game was 99% complete. Ultimately this culminated in the bankruptcy of the studio leading to the purchase of the company by Crytek in February 2009.

After the take-over, Crytek UK declared that TimeSplitters 4 would be put on hold until such a time that there is a demand for such a game. Despite various leaks over the coming years there has been no real development in the creation of TimeSplitters 4 by Crytek, with CEO Cevat Yeril reflecting a similar concern to many publishers in that there is just not an appropriate demand and hence not enough room for profitability by stating:

“I wish we were working on it. The thing with TimeSplitters is, if we made a sequel to TimeSplitters, nobody would accept this apart from some fans, and we don’t know how big the fan community is unfortunately.”

This prompted a show of strength from the fan community through the Facebook group “100’000 Strong for TimeSplitters 4, ” but as of the December 23rd, 2016 sits at only 48’835 likes.

So, where is the greatest hope for any kind of TimeSplitters action? No publisher is willing to take the risk on the series; there is insufficient public demand for the title according to Crytek which is evidenced by the Facebook campaign, we TimeSplitters fanatics have only one hope – TimeSplitters: Rewind.

For a few years now a team of part-time developers have been working on the project dubbed TimeSplitters: Rewind hoping to fill the void – a massive undertaking for a group of unpaid, part-time fans no matter how skilled. The team have at least been able to take advantage of help offered by former Free Radical developers as Steven Williams, community manager of the project, mentioned in an interview with Robert Zak of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, “these people are kind of like mentors for us. It’s not like they’re telling us what we should or should not do, but it’s great to have their perspective – hearing about what their experiences of making the games were, and where they got their inspirations from when creating the levels.”

However, looking through the TimeSplitters: Rewind community forum a comment from a developer known as dragonCASTjosh counters this point in a thread discussing a possible roll out schedule. “I also want to clean up a common misconception by making it clear there has never been any members from Crytek or FreeRadical on the team or helping the team.” Prior to this the user who is noted as being a developer mentioned that “We can’t say anything on Rewind‘s status due to contractual reasons, but I wanted to jump in and say that a schedule is close to impossible for us because we are all working in the little spare time we have, there are days that I know many of us on the team have had where we have to give up sleep just to made any progress”, indicating both the commitment the TS: Rewind team have but also adding to uncertainty surrounding the project.

As can be gauged from the above forum comments, there is no set date of release. On the site conceptual artwork and videos can be found, all of which look great, and various teasers are available from the developers. This, however, does not detract from the fact that any playable release seems to be a long way off, although it was difficult to be critical of a team working for nothing but the love of the game. But a further comment added by dragonCASTjosh may offer some solace, “Everyone on the team wants to share what is happening but currently, it’s not within our rights to do so, and we don’t want to get in trouble. But what I will say is that never lose hope with the TimeSplitters name as there is always something happening even if we never talk about it.”.

Although the facts around TimeSplitters: Rewind are murky, and information on the project is at a premium, it seems to offer us our best chance of playing a new TimeSplitters game based on current evidence. It is worth noting, however, that unlike the previous console orientated games TS: Rewind is focused on PC development and are first and foremost focusing on the production of a multiplayer gaming experience complete with bots of course.

So there it is, a not so brief history of TimeSplitters 4 and of the studio Free Radical Design who gave us lasting gaming memories through the excellent TimeSplitters 1, 2 & Future Perfect. If you have not checked out these games I would thoroughly recommend that you do, they are worth the time.

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