The TimeSplitters series has now been absent for more than a full and lengthy console generation, and bar an upcoming, unofficial ‘greatest hits’ release on PC in TimeSplitters Rewind, we are likely never to see another. Despite being one of the more unique shooters of its time, the series appears doomed to be forgotten by all but a few.
If you haven’t already, play…
This series will take a look at select game’s of the past which demand to be played today. These are titles which I believe to be true stand outs in their respective genres, and which offer an experience that has not been significantly diminished with time. That is not to say that these titles would be considered to be without deficiencies by modern standards, but rather that they remain playable despite them.
TimeSplitters released as a launch title for the PlayStation 2 in 2000, developed by the newly formed Free Radical Design. Whilst TimeSplitters was the first game developed under the banner of Free Radical, expectations were relatively high given the fact that many of its developers had migrated from Rare, which had developed a little-known game by the name of GoldenEye 64, you may have heard of it.
The original TimeSplitters was rather rushed to release so as to be available in time for the PS2’s launch, and as a result the game is missing any real depth or story in it’s single player ‘campaign’. The single player missions play out as simple one-way capture-the-flag (bag) whereby the player has to locate an artefact somewhere in the level and return it to a base. This summary is representative of every mission, though it does not necessarily mean that this aspect of the game is bad. Firstly, each ‘mission’ is timed, which encourages repeated attempts to better your time. Secondly, the game is hard, even on its normal difficulty. This isn’t because of sophisticated AI nor due to scarcity of ammunition. In fact, given the generous auto aim enabled by default, which will be familiar to fans of GoldenEye and Perfect Dark, and lack of any intelligent AI, you might be forgiven for thinking TimeSplitters should be a breeze. However, this is a game where weapons, including those of enemies, deal massive amounts of damage (you’ll find no bullet sponges here) and where there is no regenerating health.
There is also a challenge mode, where players are tasked with various…challenges, some of which are timed, which include shooting the heads off waves of zombies (way before something very similar was made popular by Call of Duty: Black Ops), shooting renegade human-sized ducks, escort missions etc. This mode keeps things varied when a second person isn’t at hand to jump into the multiplayer with.
Whilst the single player is undoubtedly fun, if not comprehensive, it is in multiplayer that TimeSplitters truly shines. TimeSplitters was released at a time before online multiplayer was prevalent on console, and so here it is restricted to local split-screen, both competitive and co-op. This is not a weakness however, as the frantic nature of the gameplay is, at least to me, best suited for situations where you can talk trash to your friends sitting beside you on a couch (and throw things at them when you die as and when necessary). Supporting up to four players (two in co-op) multiplayer games are heavily customisable, enabling players to add bots (each with programmable difficulty), change weapons sets, score criteria, handicaps, time limits and so on. The game even goes a step further by including a level editor so that players can create their own multiplayer maps. Whilst this is undeniably limited by today’s standards, it is very user friendly and can truly extend the game’s life for those willing to give it a try.
First-person shooters are, bar some exceptions, only ever as good as their guns and shooting mechanics. TimeSplitters has a huge armoury consisting of conventional weaponry, like the usual pistols, shotguns, assault rifles, rocket launchers, various types of grenades/mines etc., as well as futuristic ‘Scifi’ variations of the above. What helps the game feel particularly frantic is the fact that many guns can be dual wielded. Being the first in a game of deathmatch to find dual miniguns will have you feeling pretty bad ass, that is until you slip on someone’s proximity mine. Shooting is fast-paced, even with pistols, and the games lack of fancy reloading animations mean that you won’t be required to hide behind a box whilst you insert shells into your shotgun(s). Spark-like bullet trails fly from your guns which, in keeping with the arcade nature of the action, serve to make fire fights look like mayhem.
It is impossible to talk about a multiplayer shooter without reference to its maps, and TimeSplitters has some of the most memorable of its era. Particular standouts include a Chinese restaurant, fishing village and Egyptian tomb. Elements of some maps are also interactive, where for example the Chinese restaurant features breakable plates and glass windows. The art design is varied and helps distinguish the tone and feel of the selection of maps. This also extends to the character design which, what they may be lacking in the way of polygons, more than make up for in variety and absurdity. Players can choose from the various humans (males and females of various races), robots, cyborgs and undead, which each have their own entertaining animations on the character select screen.
One of the reasons TimeSplitters holds up better than, say, GoldenEye would be due to its controls. Whilst GoldenEye relied on the now rather dated n64 controller, with its sole analogue stick, TimeSplitters uses the now standard two stick layout. The control scheme therefore offers a level of familiarity that just isn’t there with GoldenEye. That isn’t to say that TimeSplitters feels or controls much like a modern shooter however, as this is obviously not the case. The PlayStation 2 controllers analogue sticks are not as accurate as those on the following generations of consoles, and therefore precise aiming is more difficult. By default TimeSplitters uses a rather generous amount of auto aim (though it can be switched off), which works in the games favour. The games auto aim makes it more accessible to those less experienced with shooters, and yet doesn’t overly compromise the games difficulty due to the combination of limited health and powerful weapons.
An important consideration when revisiting older shooters is their frame rate. A low frame rate was often overlooked during the sixth generation of consoles (and prior), and shooters almost always targeted 30fps. This means they usually appear sluggish and unresponsive by modern standards, however the TimeSplitters series is a welcome exception in this regard and runs at a (usually) consistent 60fps. Naturally, split screen multiplayer will impact the games frame rate, however it always remains playable, whereas the same can’t be said about some of its contemporaries (e.g. Killzone).
Apart from the game’s rather shallow single-player mode, the game’s most notable weakness is its loading times, which unfortunately seem to take far longer than they should. The wait is probably exacerbated by the fact that no music is played, nor any interesting information is shown during the duration. The game also lacks the ability to jump, which whilst catered for by the level design, may be jarring to those less familiar with older shooters. Also, as mentioned above, the game can be difficult, particularly on the hard setting, though one of the ways this is achieved is due to the pinpoint accuracy of your enemies rather than any increase in their AI intelligence. This can be frustrating, particularly when you consider that the story mode must be completed in order to unlock characters and maps for multiplayer.
Whilst more can be said (and probably should) about the games excellent sound and level design, it will suffice to say that TimeSplitters brings enough to the table that it deserves to be revisited, despite its age. There is nothing generic about it, and it harks to a time when FPS relied purely on fun shooting mechanics rather than the now standard progression systems and online-focussed nature of modern shooters. Those looking for a more polished game experience would be better served by the game’s sequels, but for a truly chaotic local multiplayer experience, TimeSplitters remains difficult to beat. It’s a shame therefore that the only way to play it, bar emulation, is on the PlayStation 2, as this will undoubtedly prevent most from ever experiencing it. However, for those who still have the hardware, the original TimeSplitters remains highly recommended.
Please note: in-game screenshots have been taken from the Classic Game Room (Lord Karnage) YouTube channel (Original Video). All rights belong to its respective owner.