After 16 years, the canceled FPS TimeSplitters 4 gets saved and preserved through a seemingly unremarkable eBay listing for a PS3 test console

TimeSplitters 4
(Image credit: Free Radical Design/Free Radical Archive)

A prototype of Free Radical's canceled FPS sequel TimeSplitters 4 has been found and preserved online, all thanks to one observant collector who spotted a tiny detail in what seemed like an unremarkable eBay listing for a PS3 test console.

Earlier this month, Reddit user Flimsy-Zebra3775 posed a question to r/PS3 members: "Is this a prototype game?" (Thanks, Time Extension). Included in that post was an image from an eBay listing for a PS3 test console - one that showed a logo for TimeSplitters 4. "It's from a reputable normal eBay seller," Flimsy-Zebra3775 explained. "They were as surprised as me when I asked them about it."

After some back and forth with the seller, Flimsy-Zebra3775 learned that "they indeed had a friend who worked at Free Radical until November 2008, a month before the studio shut down." A video seemed to prove that the prototype was legit, and Flimsy-Zebra3775 quickly bought it and got in contact with preservationists to ensure the game could be archived. "£525 down but for history and my collection it's worth it," they joked.

The history of TimeSplitters is a long and complicated thing, but you can get a detailed breakdown from our friends at Retro Gamer magazine at that link. In short, developer Free Radical was formed by veterans of Rare, and hot off the success of early console shooters like GoldenEye and Perfect Dark they built the TimeSplitters series as a sort of spiritual successor. Similar mechanics, but TimeSplitters ditched the spy setting for a goofier time travel conceit.

The three TimeSplitters games quickly became cult classics, but by 2008 - with the lackluster response to Haze and the cancellation of the studio's work on Star Wars: Battlefront 3 - it was in dire straits. A prototype for TimeSplitters 4 was shopped around to various publishers, but it seems nobody was interested. Free Radical went into administration - that's basically bankruptcy, for my fellow Americans - and its remnants were acquired by Crysis developer Crytek shortly afterward.

This newly preserved prototype, which you can check out over on Hidden Palace, appears to be the same one Free Radical was shopping to publishers at the time it went under. It's a pretty simple demo, featuring a single multiplayer map that you can populate with a variety of bots, but it does showcase the series' trademark visual charm, and the visuals look pretty impressive for a pre-release bit of PS3 software. If you want to play it yourself, you'll need a modded PS3 to do so, since it currently crashes on the emulator RPCS3.

But the demo is probably of more historical than gameplay value for the average TimeSplitters fan, anyway. The preservation of this prototype has caused quite a stir among the game's community, even prompting a response from Free Radical co-founder David Doak. "This is exactly the kind of nonsense that <insert any publisher name> wasn’t interested in back in 2008," Doak writes on Twitter. "You’re welcome."

This is the most substantial look we've had yet at what might have been TimeSplitters 4, though fan projects like the Free Radical Archive have been collecting traces of concept art and teaser videos over the years. Still, it's mostly been bad news for TimeSplitters fans in recent times. The Free Radical name eventually ended up under the Embracer Group banner, and the studio was reformed a few years ago with several of its original creative leads aiming to helm a new TimeSplitters game. The new Free Radical was shut down in December 2023, amid Embracer Group's massive wave of cancellations, shut downs, and layoffs

Back in 2022, a Battlefront 3 test build turned out to be an entirely different Star Wars game.

Dustin Bailey
Staff Writer

Dustin Bailey joined the GamesRadar team as a Staff Writer in May 2022, and is currently based in Missouri. He's been covering games (with occasional dalliances in the worlds of anime and pro wrestling) since 2015, first as a freelancer, then as a news writer at PCGamesN for nearly five years. His love for games was sparked somewhere between Metal Gear Solid 2 and Knights of the Old Republic, and these days you can usually find him splitting his entertainment time between retro gaming, the latest big action-adventure title, or a long haul in American Truck Simulator.