So many hours, perhaps days or even weeks – I really do dread how many hours I pumped into the Timesplitters series in my teens. Yet, I can’t say I regret it. Free Radical’s goofy first person shooter series was a staple of my teen gaming diet: I played with friends, with family and alone; I loved every second. I cultivated so many fantastic memories from Timesplitters, especially from the fiendishly addictive Virus mode. The series second and third instalments are without doubt some of the finest FPS available on the original Xbox, PlayStation 2 and Gamecube. It’s nothing short of a crime the series never got the appreciation is whole heartedly deserved, and worse still a fourth entry never came to fruition. Even now dedicated fans beaver away on producing Timesplitters: Rewind a fan made HD PC port of the third instalment: Timesplitters Future Perfect.
During Timesplitters generation it was anomly. FPS games like Medal of Honor, Halo and the then new Call of Duty series were all drab serious affairs. They took themselves seriously in a way Timesplitters simply didn’t. The Sunset Overdrive the generation’s FPS Timesplitters was dedicated to the goofy and nonsensical; developer Free Radical expertly blended their light-hearted approach with tight gameplay and to deliver absolute hilarity. Timesplitter’s decision to embrace madness made it a breath of fresh air. While every one else told sombre stories and double checked their physics Free Radical was cramming as many playable variants of Monkey’s into their game as possible. Not just primates though: ducks, humanoid calamari, snowmen, cowboys, evil scientists, zombies, space marines and a circus lion in a fez were all playable too. All of histories inhabitants were free to join the party – the creators could run wild; just playing you could feel the developers having fun.
Perhaps it was the intensity of the wackiness that put off the uninitiated. On a store shelf sitting next to Call of Duty Timesplitters probably looked too silly. Like looking outside a coffee shop window and seeing a man in long trench-coat standing in the rain, hair egg yoked to stand on end with a far away glazed look in his eyes. He might be fantastic guy, but you’re not immediately keen to rush out and invite him to dinner. Timesplitters might look like that guy, but once you’d gotten past that skin depth analysis you’d find an experience made by the best. Goldeneye and the original Perfect Dark – just two of the games that Free Radicals’s formerly Rare employed staff worked on before setting up up their own company. These were creators well versed in the development of FPS, with the N64 Golden Eye in particular they were on the cutting edge of the genre on home consoles.
Considering the developers pedigree it’s little surprise the Timesplitters series played marvellously. Looking back it’s easy to spot Timesplitters parents genetics in it’s make up – just check out those iconic Goldeneye arched health and armour bars in the image below. Free Radical managed to build in more than just superficial elements of their previous successes though. They managed to translate their greatest strength to Timesplitters: phenomenally frantic and fun multiplayer. Their prior work over at Rare was well respected for high quality split screen multiplayer and that made the jump to Timesplitters intact, competitive split screen matches really could give the best of the era a run for their money. They were many a night my friends would compete in Timesplitters: Future Perfect rather than Halo 2. Timesplitters 2 is still rated as one of the best rated FPS of the generation – though I preferred Future Perfect.
Loaded with sixteen time spanning maps, each with virulent catchy music (I’m looking at you in particular disco stage) and packed with enough unique weapons to make each time period feel radically unique there was never a dull moment in Future Perfects arcade suite. The whole experience was fully customisable too. Players could pick which weapons they wanted to spawn on the stage themselves. Want an epic revolvers vs plasma rifles battle? Go for it. Or perhaps you’d like to have a bricks only on battle, with one shot kills turned on – don’t stand by the windows! The weapon variety was staggering: 1920’s WW1 weaponry, a flare gun, lasers, plasma rifles, double barrelled shotguns, bricks and even something called the monkey gun.
Weaponry was only the beginning though. Remember that the multiplayer had over 150 playable characters, each with their own set of statistics. Then there was the diverse range of modes.Typical team deathmatches and capture the flag modes were present but more zany options were on the table. Virus mode had players play tag, one person started the match on fire; it was their job to spread the flames other players by touching them – the last man unsinged won. Another mode played just like a typical deathmatch, only the player in last place would periodically have an army of ninja chimps rush the battlefield to aid them. The variety at the time was unprecedented and it made the arcade multilayer feel infinitely re-playable.
Timesplitters: Future Perfect wasn’t restricted to multiplayer modes though. It was the first game in the series to really try and make the campaign story make sense. As the deliberately Riddick inspired hero sergeant Cortez players travelled through levels spanning the 1920’s to the far flung future to stop a race of aliens from wiping out the human race. Free Radical capitalised on each setting telling goofy smaller stories in each era running inside the narrative. In the 60’s he battles a Bond like super villain with a very Austin Powers like spy. In the 90’s he investigates a haunted house with a college student on a dare. And because he was always teamed up with someone from the era the whole campaign was organically playable co-operatively.
Honestly, I could talk about Timesplitters forever. What made it great, what made it so fun – and it’s obvious problems too. I haven’t even touched on the expansive arcade and challenges modes which saw players complete objectives for medals. I haven’t even discussed the endless possibilities that the custom map maker afforded – players could build there very own levels and maps, this is long before LittleBigPlanet. It was simply unprecedented. There’s so much good stuff here, waiting for a second chance, which one day I hope it gets. For now at least though if you have an old system, and can get you hands on Future Perfect, I swear this – you won’t regret it.