If you look back at gaming history with the gift of hindsight, it’s easy to see where things went wrong and the decisions that led to the demise of countless franchises. It’s much less common to see a beloved series go from strength to strength and just vanish into thin air, and that’s almost what happened to Timesplitters.
If you’ve never played, let me set the stage. Timesplitters is a first-person shooter and a launch title for the PlayStation 2 developed by Free Radical.
It introduced many gamers to twin-stick controls, something that’s become a mainstay of console shooters ever since. Seriously, this was revolutionary at the time! Before this, movement was usually relegated to one stick or the Dpad, and the shoulder buttons were used for strafing.
On top of the controls, Timesplitters wowed audiences with its unique blend of Arcade shooter fun. There’s an eclectic cast of characters, all with unique voices and dozens of weapons, where balance clearly took the back seat. The maps are a mixed bag, but I could play on the Chinese penthouse map (literally called ‘Chinese’) all day. The icing on the cake was if you didn’t like the maps, you could cook one up yourself with the built-in map maker and bring them to your buddy’s house on a memory card!
Timesplitters 2 marked improvements across the board with a fleshed-out campaign and a dizzying amount of ways to create the shooter mode of your dreams. This sequel marked the first time Timesplitters hit multiple consoles, releasing on the PS2, Xbox, and GameCube in 2002.
Metacritic scores dropped slightly for 2005’s Timesplitters 3: Future Perfect, with reviews at the time citing a middling campaign experience. That said, everything fans wanted from a Timesplitters game is here, including a challenge mode full of unique scenarios.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget being chased by living cow carcasses with nothing but an injection gun to protect myself.
For a while, it felt like Timesplitters could do no wrong, and then suddenly, as if by magic, even after three incredible games, the series just vanished. So what happened?
A fascinating article by Gamesindustry.biz back in 2012 explains that after Timesplitters 3, Free Radical worked on Haze, a PS3 title that might just be the most average game I’ve seen reviewed on Metacritic:
It’s a story for another time, but Haze didn’t do well. It could have been better received and was incapable of living up to its pre-release hype. Haze’s commercial failure and Timesplitters‘ lack of marketability are both cited as reasons Timesplitters 4 was never greenlit despite Free Radical approaching multiple publishers.
Sadly, this rejection saw Free Radical go into administration in December 2008, although they were quickly acquired by Crytek in February the following year.
Fortunately, this story does have a happy ending. In May 2021, Free Radical was reformed by the original founders under the umbrella of the well-known publisher Deep Silver. Alongside this reformation, studio development director Steve Ellis confirmed they have a plan for the next Timesplitters game.
Perhaps alarm bells should be ringing, as this is the last we’ve officially heard about a new Timesplitters, but I’m hoping for news in 2023. As long as Timesplitters doesn’t go the way of Beyond Good and Evil 2, which was announced all the way back in 2008, I’ll be happy.
I am cautiously optimistic about a new Timesplitters game, but I’m not blind to how the gaming landscape has changed in the last 20 years. Online gaming is very different now, and Timesplitters, as it was, won’t appeal to a new audience with modern expectations. Still, the series couldn’t be in better hands with the original founders involved, and I’m eager to see what’s next.
Anthony is a freelance writer and has worked in the industry for three years. He’s furiously competitive and is always looking for the next big multiplayer hit. Anthony is a passionate PS1 collector and firmly believes in playing games in his collection rather than letting them collect dust on a shelf. He is also passionate about speedrunning and always looks forward to the next GDQ and ESA events.