Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Third Rate Game Play 2: TimeSplitters

Game: TimeSplitters

System: Playstation 2

Developer: Free Radical Design

Publisher: Eidos

Player: Tony Wanschura

Experience: Played Sequels

TimeSplitters was Free Radical Design’s debut game, and it being a first-person shooter was not too surprising considering where the developer originated. Free Radical Design was formed in April 1999 by a number of Rare employees who specialized on the Nintendo 64’s major first-person shooter titles, GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark. During Perfect Dark’s early development, a number of employees, including David Doak, Steve Ellis, Karl Hilton, Graeme Norgate, and Lee Ray left to form their own independent studio. The result was Free Radical Design. With a team of eighteen and a short time before the Playstation 2’s launch, the group worked together to create the first game in what would be the company’s main franchise.

Eidos, the game’s publisher, was formed in 1990 with a specialization toward video compression and non-linear editing systems (specifically for Acorn Archimedes computers). It was not until the company began a series of acquisitions that it would enter the gaming market. These acquisitions included Domark Group Limited, Simis and Big Red Software in 1995 as well as CenterGold (whose most prominent asset was Core Design, developer of the Tomb Raider series) in 1996. Over time, Eidos developed a large number of popular franchises, and with the release of the Playstation 2 on the horizon, the publisher turned to UK-developer Free Radical Design to bring out TimeSplitters as a launch title.

The TimeSplitters are an evil race dwelling outside of time and space. Roused from an ancient sleep, they cross the threshold from their shadowy dimension, ripping through the fabric of time itself to make humanity history. Can we unite against a common enemy? Or will we be condemned forever to a realm ruled under the shadow of the TimeSplitters. In the 1-player game you travel from time to time to collect different artifacts before the Timesplitters can. The multiplayer game is 4-player Deathmatch with the option of adding several bots.
In multiplayer games running on a single console you have to strike a good balance between looks and cost. The single-player game has to look different and original and has to show off the power of a next generation console. At the same time you have to build in an allowance for the fact that everything the game is doing will be four times as expensive in four-player, which is a significant load on any console. The graphics are designed to look great and to run at a consistently high frame rate.
– Karl Hilton on the splitscreen capabilities of the game, IGN Interview

TimeSplitters is a first-person shooter in which players travel around the world and through time in order to stop an evil race of monsters known as the TimeSplitters from removing humanity from time. The game is the first Playstation 2 game which allows for 4-players on one console, and it was the first first-person shooter for it, as well.

The basic concept for the main game is to retrieve a relic specific for the time period and return it to the starting point of each level. The game starts with three particular levels, and after all three are completed, another set of three are unlocked, and so forth. Once every “Story” level is completed, the game opens up a Challenge Mode in which more specific missions are introduced, such as killing enough of an enemy or preventing enemies from taking a relic back. These modes can be played by up to four players simultaneously.

The purpose behind the multiple difficulty levels and modes outside of multiplayer is to unlock a myriad of playable characters for multiplayer matches. The main focus of the game sits on a number of Capture-the-Flag-esque modes alongside the usual DeathMatch modes for first-person shooters. The most unique element of the game is the inclusion of an in-game MapMaker, in which players can very closely replicate levels developed by the original team or create even more intricate levels for multiplayer and single-player experiences.

The history of Free Radical Design goes far from here, seeing as this game was its first game created, so bear with us (no pun related to the banner above). After receiving great success from the launch title, Free Radical went on to produce a multi-console release with its sequel, TimeSplitters 2. With more time, the game itself could have cutscenes and a heavily-enhanced single-player campaign, using elements from the objective-based first-person shooters the team had worked on before. TimeSplitters 2 was claimed by many as the spiritual successor to GoldenEye 007, ultimately becoming the highest-rated and highest-selling of the franchise.

TimeSplitters 2’s great success would hasten the development of a third title, called TimeSplitters: Future Perfect. Unfortunately, the game was not taken by Eidos, which had undergone some changes in management since TimeSplitters 2, but Electronic Arts was willing to publish the game on all platforms. The gameplay retained some of the GoldenEye-based objective concepts, but character movement and longer missions related more toward the most-recent hit in first-person shooters, Halo: Combat Evolved. The game underperformed, however, and EA would later reject the publishing possibilities for future iterations. TimeSplitters as a series did not continue after Future Perfect’s 2005 release, as a result of Free Radical Design’s later projects.

Free Radical would work on two other franchises outside of the TimeSplitters IP. The first game was a third-person shooter with an emphasis on psychic powers: Second Sight. Despite TimeSplitters’ success, Eidos did not pick up the game for publishing, so Free Radical turned to Codemasters, another UK publisher, to release the game. Second Sight received fairly-positive reviews, but considering its quiet marketing, Second Sight most likely had a muted reception, sales-wise.

The second non-TimeSplitters game would be the company’s last. In an attempt to join the fight amid big first-person shooters on HD consoles, Free Radical Design developed Haze, a shooter focused on the conflict between a multinational war corporation and a set of rebel fighters surrounding around a unique sensory-enhancing substance known as Nectar. The game was originally planned for Xbox 360, PC, and Playstation 3, but the game was later pushed out as a Playstation 3 exclusive. Published by Ubisoft after months of delay, the game was poorly-received and sold just as badly. Because so much effort was put on the project, the company was put into financial limbo.

The deathblow for Free Radical Design was not just Haze’s poor reception, but the indirect results of its failure. The company had been working alongside LucasArts to bring Star Wars: Battlefront III out onto all consoles, but following the shake-up of Haze’s sales, LucasArts stepped back and canceled the project, cutting off any revenue source for the developer. Free Radical Design had been working on a TimeSplitters 4 at the same time, but without a secured publisher to fund the project, the company went into administration on December 18th, 2008, thus ending FRD as a developer in the industry.

The following February, it was discovered that Free Radical Design, headed by Karl Hilton, would be purchased by German developer Crytek, renaming the developer into Crytek UK. Since then, over forty of the original Free Radical Design developers have been rehired, and Crytek UK is now currently working on a number of projects. Its first major effort for Crytek was the development of Crysis 2’s multiplayer component.

Meanwhile, founders Dave Doak and Steve Ellis left Free Radical with some employees to found Pumpkin Beach, which vanished quietly some time later. Upon further inspection, it appears as though Pumpkin Beach was a flash MMO game akin to Club Penguin, based on a single screenshot released by the game’s 2D HUD artist. Doak and Ellis were later given funding to form ZinkyZonk, a Facebook game developer. The company’s only release to date is Gangsta Zombies, although it is reported that ZinkyZonk was given funding to develop Gangsta Pets.

Eidos has also changed a number of times since TimeSplitters released. In March 2005, the company received a takeover bid by Elevation Partners, but one day later it received another takeover bid by SCi Entertainment, the publisher most famous for the Carmageddon series. SCi would fully merge with Eidos that May. A few years later, the company had revealed that it was taking major losses, threatening the company’s existence. In 2009, however, Square Enix offered to purchase Eidos in February for £84.3 million, and its offer went through late April. While Square Enix stated that it would not change the company in any way, Eidos was recently renamed to Square Enix Europe, thereby ending the name of Eidos since its creation in 1990.

Currently, Crytek UK is starting work on at least one new game, rumored to be TimeSplitters 4. Eidos, now Square Enix Europe, is working heavily on Deus Ex: Human Revolution among other major Western-focused games.

Playing the game for the first time, Tony starts off the game right for the Story mode, hoping for something akin to the Story modes from its successors. It was quickly discovered that the Story mode took multiple players, so the first level was played with two-player cooperation. However, thinking a part of the story had been removed due to the cooperative element, the rest of the Story mode was played by Tony himself.

Following the completion of the first three levels on Easy, the second set of three was attempted. Once this was completed, a cooperative game of Multiplayer was demonstrated along with a swift attempt at the game’s MapMaker, with entertaining results.

It became swiftly obvious to us why the game did not get released onto other consoles. It was a swiftly-made game which clearly showed its roughness many years later. In our case, it only became worse considering we had played the much better games in the series beforehand.

TimeSplitters did not have a story, or at least it had a very hidden story. Furthermore, each of the game's missions consisted entirely of “get item and return,” essentially a Capture the Bag game for single player. What we did not know of was the Challenge mode with extra missions, but we could not get any further than the second set of levels, where the difficulty hiked up to the point where we would be incapable of progress within our playtime. The multiplayer was also less content-heavy than the other games, but the MapMaker seemed pretty close to the MapMaker in its future installments, clearly with less polish and themes to use.

It was not as humorous as, say, the Eternal Ring episode, but there are glitters of moments with plenty of laughter throughout. While disappointing in its delivery, the game's less-than-stellar presentation made our experience more interesting in hindsight.

3RM Says: Those monsters should be more careful. Splitting time is a serious matter.
Though time is separate from matter...

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