It’s Thursday again, and that means another look at a game from the past. The first person shooter genre is an enormous blanket with subgenres as varied as gaming itself. Now, as much as I want to talk about the unique weapons, memorable characters, sprawling levels and immersive story of a game like Perfect Dark or Halo, there is a title that perfected the arcade subgenre and did so in the silliest of ways. With the announcement a few weeks ago that THQ Nordic acquired the rights to the series, there’s no better time than now to talk about one of the most influential arcade shooters: TimeSplitters.
Console era arcade shooters are known for being a bit wild, with Perfect Dark’s DK mode or Halo’s grunt birthday party. However, while other titles end with something wild, TimeSplitters starts there. Developed by Free Radical Design from 2000 to 2005, the series was known for its unique wit, good use of stylized cartoon art, and references to – and potshots at – pop culture. All it takes is a quick look at the weapon list to see just how wild these games are, with several sounding like a trip through Willy Wonka’s Wondrous Weapons Manufactorium (see Ghost Gun and Scifi Handgun).
The plot can be summarized to “Travel through time defeating baddies to save the world” and I will leave it at that, as explaining time travel and paradoxes can get a little wobbly. I can, however, discuss the music of the franchise and how it perfectly represents the games. Most of the tracks I recall are based in rock and have influences of techno, but unlike P.N.03 where it is used as ambiance and everything sounds similar, TimeSplitters tracks are vastly different. As the games move you between timelines, from mid 70s to the far future and back the tracks offer twists on the theme of the era. From funk inspired beats to trumpet infused dance western, there’s a track for everyone somewhere in these games.
The thing that really set TimeSplitters apart from the earlier Rare titles that gave rise to the genre was the map editor and the multiplayer experience. As with the previous arcade titles, the standard game modes are still available; deathmatch, capture the flag, king of the hill, and elimination all have their take in the mode select. TimeSplitters doesn’t end there though, adding a plethora of unique modes. Flame tag is like tag, except when you get tagged you combust and die. Assault sets attackers in a map with a series of objectives to complete against the defending team’s base. Monkey Assistant was always the most chaotic in my experiences, as the person in last place was given a squad of monkeys to help them. And those trigger-happy chimps are capable of being a nightmare on their own, let alone in groups of five, with Monkey Guns. Point is, multiplayer is insanity, and with the level editor tool its possible to build your own flavor of chaos. And yes, the first thing I built was Temple because, to this day, I have never experienced chaos on the level of that classic map with the kinds of explosives TimeSplitters offers.
Free Radical was founded by members of the Rare team that developed the golden age of shooters, and eventually became Deep Silver, now part of THQ Nordic. With the acquisition of the rights, the IP has returned home. For those of us who are done with the Fortnite hype and are waiting for a renaissance of shooters, may this news be your beacon of hope, as the TimeSplitters series comes from a lineage of legends and stands its own among them.