Free Radical Design’s TimeSplitters is a cult classic FPS series, but which of its games are best, standing up to the test of time travel?
By Alex Santa Maria
Published May 24, 2021
The original?TimeSplitters?released at a unique time in the history of FPS games. At the PlayStation 2’s launch, the standard FPS console controls players know today had yet to materialize. The?most?successful shooters in the console space were the Nintendo 64 games TimeSplitters’ developers had cut their teeth on at Rare before forming Free Radical Design. Following up on such legendary games was quite a task, and the end result was a trilogy of cult-classic shooters. With the recent announcement that publisher Deep Silver is reviving both TimeSplitters?and the studio that created it, now is the time to?look back at each game and see how well it stands the test of time.
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TimeSplitters?is remembered fondly for its off-kilter sense of humor, taking the quirks of Rare’s?Perfect Dark and?GoldenEye 007?to their logical extremes. Playing as an Oddjob-sized monkey wielding a gun that fires dozens of bullets in a single trigger pull is just something to be expected in the games’ extensive deathmatch suites. Each has a long list of game types, weapons, and unlockable character skins. Solo players can enjoy each game’s campaign as well as?challenges that test the trigger finger of even the most hardcore shooting fan. In retrospect, each?TimeSplitters?entry?feels like the end result of years of seasonal updates to a modern game.
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Each entry holds up remarkably well compared to a lot of PlayStation 2 games, at least on the gameplay front.?The series does show its mid-2000s vintage in its presentation, with?rampant examples of outdated racial stereotypes and hyper-sexualization of female characters. This was certainly not unusual for the time, but it definitely sticks out playing through them today. Still, with those elements scrubbed away or ignored, the third?game would modern enough to release today as an indie?”DOOM clone” and fit right in with the likes of Dusk?and?Ion Fury. When compared, each entry has its own strengths and weaknesses, but players will have a good time no matter which game they choose.
Every series has to start somewhere, as does every developer. In both cases, few start with as unique a vision as Free Radical Design’s?TimeSplitters. Building on prior success, the original?TimeSplitters?broke the code on console FPS a year ahead of?Halo?and presented concepts that wouldn’t be truly popularized for decades. Instead of focusing on a single hero,?TimeSplitters?had a pair of off-the-wall protagonists for each level of its campaign. There was co-op support in single-player and full bot support in multiplayer alongside a four-player splitscreen.?There were a set of challenges that utilized the wide range of characters and weapons to the fullest and an in-game mapmaker for those who just couldn’t get enough.
TimeSplitters?was a full package at the time, but there were a few consequences to the game’s relatively quick yearlong development cycle. The campaign does have the same variety in locales as the other games in the series, but the story is barely there even by the standards of the day. Even though not many were coming to?TimeSplitters?for an in-depth narrative, it was a problem that there were arcade games in the 80s with better-developed worlds and player motivation.
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The gameplay is also not at its best simply because it’s a PlayStation 2 exclusive. The DualShock is great for a lot of genres, but there’s something about the joystick placement that makes FPS games awkward. Also, because this is a PS2 launch title, the graphics just have not stood the test of time and the decades-old humor can be grating to modern ears. Some of these issues would be fixed in future entries, while others will have to be rectified in the just-announced sequel.
The only game in the series published by EA instead of Eidos,?TimeSplitters: Future Perfect?certainly showcases the benefits of a developer with an expanded budget. Releasing in the last days of the PS2/Xbox era,?Future Perfect?was where the franchise’s graphical style let it age gracefully. The cartoonish characters look great even by modern standards, and the campaign splits the difference between the rest of the franchise’s cast of thousands and a hero that Free Radical could slap on the front of the box for marketing purposes.
Cortez is a reliably funny Vin Deisel-looking meathead that gets the job done in both TimeSplitters 2?and?Future Perfect, but the character doesn’t really come into his own until he’s the one going through each time period and each level. The campaign he leads is the most cohesive, and Cortez has great chemistry with his sidekicks throughout each mission. The campaign does hit up fewer locales than the other games, but the improved cutscenes and writing make up for that in spades.
On the gameplay side,?Future Perfect?does have a few guns missing or altered from TimeSplitters 2, but the arsenal that is here is balanced and fun. This is vital to the game’s online component, as it was the first time players could extend beyond their living room for competition. The game’s robust map creation tools were a boon here as well, with players able to recreate famous arenas from other games and then play them online with plenty of willing combatants.
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Future Perfect?is?the first iteration of?TimeSplitters, and it succeeded in a lot of areas. However, digging into what’s here, it’s not hard to notice the influence of EA on the final product. Even though it’s easy on the eyes nowadays compared with its prequels,?Future Perfect?polishes off just enough dirt and grime to make it weaker than its immediate predecessor. It’s still a heck of a ride through time and the game that’s probably worth going back to the most out of the whole trilogy, but it just can’t match the franchise’s current peak.
The perfect balance between the original’s style and?Future Perfect’s substance,?TimeSplitters 2?is a loaded package that delivers everything an FPS of its era should. A story mode that introduces Sgt. Cortez but has players controlling different characters in each level. These locales have primary and secondary objectives to complete just like the N64 classics the series carries on from, making each world feel more natural and fleshed out. The challenge mode expands from the first?TimeSplitters, presenting a host of engaging side missions for solo players of all skill levels. Finally, the multiplayer boasts sixteen different gametypes and an overflow of characters and weapons that fans know and love.
Outside of just the bullet points on the back of the box,?TimeSplitters 2?strikes the right balance between over-the-top humor and intense shooting action. This is especially true in the campaign, where the alternate playable characters have no reason to crack wise every thirty seconds like Cortez in?Future Perfect. Parody and humor can be a great asset to any game, but?TimeSplitters 2?shows that arcadey gameplay doesn’t always have to be a humorous sideshow to more serious first-person shooters. While the concepts can be inherently ridiculous here, the core of all three?TimeSplitters?is a solid and refined gameplay experience, and?TimeSplitters 2?is the prime example of that.
All three?TimeSplitters games have been untouched since their release during the PlayStation 2 era, and that’s a shame. In an age where everything from?Destroy All Humans!?to?Stubbs The Zombie can get a rerelease, these cult classic shooters should already sit alongside every other retro classic on digital marketplaces. Now that Deep Silver has announced a new game in the series, here’s hoping it’s only a matter of time before the classic trilogy sees a rerelease and entertains a whole new generation of FPS fanatics.
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About The Author
Alex Santa Maria
(785 Articles Published)
Alex Santa Maria is a writer, editor, and critic based out of the Sunshine State. Raised on a healthy diet of gaming mags at an Xbox LAN center, Alex is an enthusiast who loves shooters, roguelikes, and arcade-style games. He has an unhealthy obsession with bad movies, a love of the 1980s, and the skills to rack up a high score on your local pinball table. When not covering the latest news on Screen Rant, you may find his byline on a growing number of webzones, including GameRevolution, TechRaptor, Mandatory, and WrestleZone.
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