So once again the TimeSplitters 4 rumour has kicked up, this time via a murmur out of Official PlayStation Magazine, that an announcement is coming soon. And you know what? I believe it this time. Crytek UK (once TS developer Free Radical) still love the series and have often talked about wanting to bring it back. Hell, they've even said it to my face. They're all done with Crysis 2, and now that they've proven themselves with a successful, high-profile, current-gen shooter, it's surely time they got a project of their own. We know that TimeSplitters 4 was already well into pre-production when Free Radical went under, before its rescue by Crytek, so surely it's the most obvious option for the studio's next one?
And Gamescom, Europe's E3, is just around the corner, and TimeSplitters has always been a huge Euro-hit. So yeah, I think it's happening. But if it is, there are nine things it absolutely has to get right. And as a massive fan of the series (as hopefully evidenced by my big TS2 love-in feature a couple of weeks ago), I decided that now was the time to write those nine things down.
Seriously. No-one is more hateful than the "wacky" guy at a party. You know the one. The lampshade-wearing, arm waving, loud-talking, self-confessed "bit of a crazy one" whose self-conciously crazy behaviour is simply a grotesque pain-shield to mask his inner inadequacy; one which will fall the instant he gets home to reveal nothing more than a torrential veil of tears which will not stop until his eventual vodka-induced blackout. Yeah, TimeSplitters 4 doesn't want to be like that guy.
Above: Do not be him
And there's a danger of that. After so long in the wilderness, and such a powerful reputation as last-gen's big comedy shooter, it would be easy for TS4's identity to become too concerned with living up to a precent that never really existed, suffering from a precedent skewed and twisted through the lens of time and reputation. The fact is, TimeSplitters' humour was always subtler than you remember, at least in campaign.
It was all about personality, style, and knowing, beautifully-observed nods to film. Obviously things became gleefully insane in the Arcade challenges, and they should in TS4, but the main story itself need rely on nothing more than character design, animation, and warm, jovial reverence for whatever it pokes fun at. And speaking of which...
The last we heard (and that was admittedly a long time ago), the rough idea of TimeSplitters 4 was to parody other games instead of films. Could be fun as a few isolated, really well-observed gags, but over the course of a whole game? Could get a bit trite and annoying. The fact is, film parodies can be pulled off a lot more successfully in a game because we're talking about two different media. When a game pokes fun at another game, it's all too easy to come across as mean-spirited or a bit lazy.Above: Also, Duke has done it to death
And more than anything else I want to play a new TimeSplitters game. I want it to look and feel like TimeSplitters. I don't want to launch into a TS campaign only to find myself playing the joke Gears of War level, followed by the joke Dead Space level, followed by the joke Call of Duty level, followed by the joke StarFox level, etc. etc. ad infinitum.
Above: But you don't have to
This was something sorely missing from the disappointing TimeSplitters: Future Perfect. You see where TimeSplitters 2 often gave the player a raft of tactical options with which to approach a level or objective, FP lost a lot of that by way of the forced hand-holding of its always-there, always annoying co-op AI partners. They were constantly instructing you and they were constantly setting the pace, making it feel like the player was just along for the ride. It reduced what had once been an inviting, explorable world of meaningful player interaction to the level of a Call of Duty-style semi-automated shooting gallery. And sadly, Future Perfect wasn't half as fun as TS2 as a result of it. So let's have level design with loads of options this time around, and let's do what TS2 wisely did in regards to co-op characters and get rid of them unless we're actually playing in co-op. Because...
Yeah, another Future Perfect mistake to fix here. TimeSplitters 2's general conceit was that Sgt. Cortez was leaping into the bodies of characters throughout history in order to collect the artifacts necessary to repel an alien invasion. When he leapt into a character, he essentially became them, taking on their physicality and their voice and having to play through whatever their own personal narrative was in order to continue his own. It was a brilliant concept. Each fantastically sketched world contained enough detail and individual personality to carry a whole game on its own, and each one managed incredible immersion despite its brevity, maintaining internal narrative integrity by co-existing alongside Cortez' over-arching story.
Above: I love Harry Tipper, but I want to be him, not be shouted at by him
Future Perfect steamrollered over all of that by making Cortez travel in time as himself. It tried to up the comedy by re-writing him as a big lumbering goofball, and attempted to play that off for even bigger laughs against TS2's cast, who now operated as NPCs (the previously-mentioned, bloody irritating co-op characters). Unfortunately, none of it worked very well. It was all a bit too try-hard and not overly funny, and the series lost a lot of heart as a result of it.