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The rise, and fall, and rise again of TimeSplitters

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11 years ago today, TimeSplitters 2 was released, and a cult classic was born. Now, a cultish fan base has helped revive the series against all the odds

Released in North America first, with a European release a week later on the 18th, on the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube, TimeSplitters 2 was met with unparalleled critical acclaim. It currently sits as the highest rated shooter on the PlayStation 2 and the 28th highest scored game overall for the platform. There are 3,870 games on the PS2, and TimeSplitters 2 is better than 3,842 of them.

Developed by Free Radical Design at the turn of the millennium – pre-dating the enigmatic Halo – the original TimeSplitters came at a point when first-person shooters were only just beginning to take shape on console. It was a labour of love from a tight-knit crew of 25 games designers, and in the face of straight-laced military games and bald-headed space marines, Free Radical burst on the scene with its shotgun wielding monkeys and time-jumping storyline.

As such, TimeSplitters 2 was the refinement and sophistication of a game unlike any other, and arguably the most seminal FPS since Rare’s GoldenEye on the Nintendo 64 (indeed, the studio was founded by several members of the GoldenEye and Perfect Dark team). It was the last great split-screen shooter, before the influx of online console gaming took over. The sequel, TimeSplitters: Future Perfect, released a few years later in 2005, was also received very well (winning IGN’s shooter of the year), but it just didn’t quite match the lasting popularity of its predecessor.

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Still, with a trifecta of celebrated shooters under their belt, and TimeSplitters 4 seemingly a cert, Free Radical was the talk of the gaming scene. In June 2007 word first broke of the series making its way to the next generation, but as we know now it was a doomed prospect. By Christmas 2008, Free Radical Design would no longer exist.

In its nine-year lifespan, Free Radical went through four different publishers over five games. The sixth and final publisher, LucasArts, provided the fatal blow when an essentially-complete Star Wars: Battlefront III was cancelled – and their contract for the sequel canned. After years of development and a troubled relationship with Ubisoft, widely panned PS3-exclusive Haze left a bad taste in publishers’ mouths, with its lacklustre gameplay and technical hitches. So it was difficult to get their next project – TimeSplitters 4 – off the ground. In the end, they were left with a studio full of staff without any work and no money to pay their wages. The only option was administration.

Over 100 people were laid off, and TimeSplitters 4 was thrown into serious jeopardy. In February 2009, what was left of the studio was purchased by Crytek and the Nottingham-based developer was renamed “Crytek UK”. Many fans saw this as an opportunity and lobbied the company to resume development on TimeSplitters 4. Instead, the former Free Radicals were set to work on the Crysis sequels, and then given full reign over ex-THQ title Homefront 2.

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Silver linings

Crytek has made it abundantly clear just why TimeSplitters 4 will never see the light of day. CEO Cevat Yerli says he “wishes” the team were working on the next TimeSplitters, but it won’t happen because it wouldn’t be financially feasible. As an unrelenting businessman his primary concern is sales, and he believes that there simply isn’t enough interest in a sequel. “If we made a sequel to TimeSplitters,” Yerli told CVG, “nobody would accept this apart from some fans, and we don’t know how big the fan community is unfortunately.”

So with a resounding “no”, any notion of another TimeSplitters was seemingly put to rest. However, it was revealed in October 2012 that until 2008 – just before the company went into administration – an HD remake of the eternal TimeSplitters 2 was well into development by Free Radical. Their dissolution meant that it fell into oblivion alongside the fourth instalment, but word of another TimeSplitters release inspired the community to take the franchise into their own hands. Michael Hubicka, one of the men behind Facebook petition “100,000 Strong for TimeSplitters 4”, spearheaded the effort as Project Manager for a remake, and with the blessing of Crytek he and his team were able to begin development. Yerli’s concern about consumer interest became defunct, as it was the consumers themselves making the game.

And so began TimeSplitters Rewind, a completely free-to-play title originally set for release on PC, but after Hubicka and his team expressed interest in a console version Crytek has given the go-ahead for a PlayStation 4 release alongside it. Boasting cross-platform play, a complete HD makeover, and the promise of delivering every map and character from the entire series, it’s a remarkable undertaking and one sure to satiate the long-neglected hopes of gamers worldwide.

TimeSplitters Rewind is a community project, made up of a few dozen fans developing the game in their own time, but one enabled by the unique support from Crytek. There have been plenty of community-driven remakes in the past, of course, but what makes Rewind special is that they have been granted access by Crytek to use all of the original games’ assets. In a Q&A session with the public, Hubicka confirmed that original TimeSplitters composer, Graeme Norgate, has even joined the effort. It is a fantastic movement; the co-operation of indie developers and big corporations to deliver a long sought after title, and a great indication of the strength of the indie scene.

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Sony showed their support for indie gaming during their GamesCom conference in August

Sony is putting a lot of claim into the rising indie market with the PS4. OctoDad and Jonathan Swift’s upcoming The Witness are two titles that have received a massive marketing push, and it seems to be paying off. Microsoft’s unfriendly practices in regards to cross-platform play and indie self-publishing means TimeSplitters Rewind may never come to the Xbox One, effectively making it a PS4 console exclusive. Given its energetic and enthusiastic fanbase it might just become one of the biggest sellers of the console.

The release of TimeSplitters Rewind will mean so much more than simply a long-awaited nostalgia trip. The impetus from its creators proves that the indie scene is booming, and paves the way for other developers to step up and collaborate on their favourite series from the past (I think we’re long overdue a Crash Bandicoot remake). With a newfound platform for up and coming developers and bolstered support from Sony, it’s easier than ever to create a game from your bedroom and have it reach millions worldwide. Coupled with the great ease in collaborating with established publishers, we are about to see a revolution in how games are made. With a new generation comes a new dawn in game development, one focused squarely out of the office and in your own home.

You can follow the development of TimeSplitters Rewind on Twitter and its official website, and become part of the blossoming community on its Steam page.

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