The Trouble with TimeSplitters

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Back in December last year Free Radical Design employees arrived at work to find the doors locked, facing Christmas redundancy packages. A distress call was sent throughout the industry to help the bankrupt independent developers, and fans and industry boffins alike waited cautiously to see if anyone thought FRD was a tasty enough acquisition.

After a few desperate days Crytek confirmed a buy-out and FRD was renamed Crytek UK. And so the fans and industry boffins did a damage assessment, were Crytek the saviours of the beleaguered developers of the much hailed TimeSplitters series and the universally lambasted Haze?

Well yes and no, on the one hand FRD had avoided being sucked into the corporate web of an EA or Activision (if they did indeed make an offer), but on the other were Crytek really the right people to take on a game already well into the development process? Or did they just purely want the foothold in the UK? Especially with the German government’s debilitating stance on violent video games that could see Crytek shifting development away from Germany.

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Unsurprisingly we don’t know. Six months down the line Crytek has not confirmed any continuing development on TimeSplitters 4 in any regard, and it seems increasingly likely that the project is permanently shelved. The official line is pretty much ‘it depends’ and some factors that are pretty hard to shake.

The MD of the newly established Crytek UK, Karl Hilton, suggests “it will be up to us to talk to publishers about what they want, like with all businesses; content is dictated by the desires of the market”. It’s a get out of jail free card statement, but I’m not entirely convinced.

He suggests publishers may doubt the profitability of an arcade, non-serious shooter alongside industry big-hitters like Call Of Duty and Gears of War. But each of these titles have their own identity and their own distinct place in the market. It’s not that the market is saturated with similar titles, as each of those titles exists in its own universe, as does TimeSplitters.

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Not to mention TimeSplitters games never had trouble securing a publisher before, with big names such as Ubisoft and EA backing their titles without ever signing their studio rights away. Consumer interest however, is another issue entirely. Barring the existence of a dedicated hardcore fan base, it would be a fair statement to say that the generation of people who spent a summer completing TimeSplitters 2 and 3 have moved on.

TimeSplitters4.net, an unofficial site for those who won’t let go of the possibility of TimeSplitters 4, has only managed to collect just over 5000 signatures for their cause. This would suggest such a market for the game no longer exists. Then again, this is a game that never had any real information released into the public domain, other than the concept art within this article. It was going to have monkeys, but we kinda knew that already.

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But what of Free Radical? We’ve now got a legitimate right to doubt their competence. Far from the creators of the critics’ darling TimeSplitters 2, Haze was ugly and boorish and showed it was either rushed out too soon or that the initial execution was so poor it couldn’t be salvaged.

Another problem is so many of the minds behind FRD didn’t get saved by Crytek or left the company on their own terms. In fact only 40 of the original 185 staff still remain, with the other 80% lost as a result of the company’s financial woes. As such, the minds behind TimeSplitters are scattered and you have to wonder if any of them would even want to go through with TimeSplitters 4.