Just a few short years ago, it seemed as if the side-scrolling platformer had, for the most part, gone the way of the dodo. With the dawn of the next generation of consoles, the popularization of digital distribution for video games and the emergence of a burgeoning indie scene, however, they made a comeback in a large way. Games such as Limbo and Braid are considered modern-day classics and sold hundreds of thousands of digital copies. With the recent creation of a Facebook page by a fiercely loyal Timesplitter‘s fan calling for Timesplitters 4, it seems as if the classic first-person-shooter that was hugely popular last generation may (emphasis on the “may”) follow in the footsteps of the paltformer – despite Crytek’s attitude toward the series.
What makes this worth paying attention to, however, is what a new Timesplitters could mean for the FPS genre. In 2007, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare dropped a nuclear bomb on the with its extremely cinematic campaign and – most of all – its persistent online player progression. Since then, there have been many developers out there trying to get a piece of Activision’s pie and, as a result, have flooded the market with many “me too” games. What they fail to realize, however, is that CoD4 was successful not because of what it tried to copy from other developers, but because of what it did differently than other developers – this is where Timesplitters 4 comes in.
The reason the side-scrolling platformers mentioned above was because they represented a back to basics ideal. The simplicity was appealing to many people and the artistic direction these games took set them apart from many others on the market. Timesplitters 4 would could do a similar favor for the FPS, a genre that has become far too cinematically bloated and almost devoid of imagination in their pursuit of outdoing one another.
Timesplitters 2 was a game that allowed the player’s imagination to run wild. Each level, set it different periods of time, could have been its own standalone game. Players were dropped into these worlds with only a vague set of objectives and an equally nebulous understanding of what was going on. Timesplitters 2 didn’t throw the plot in your face and allowed players to think for themselves – an experience that was and still is wholly unlike any shooter post CoD4.
What also made the games great was their ability to bring people together. Split-screen, bots, system link and, with the release of Timesplitters 3, online play were all supported. Co-op campaign and a vast assortment of game modes, all of which could be modified a hundred different ways, could be played with your friends sitting right next to you or your friends on the other side of the world. Given the series’ notoriety for multiplayer and this generation’s focus on community play, it could be a great leap forward for the game to be able to take advantage of next gen online play (minus online passes, please).
Finally, and most importantly, the series never took itself too seriously. As strange as it sounds, the chaotic (albeit blood and gutless) violence onscreen seemed to be crafted with loving care. The game had a charm about it that didn’t require F-Bombs every two seconds or some brash jack ass (here’s to looking at you Bulletstorm) as its protagonist to have a little humor. Even if you were holding a gargantuan rocket launcher, the game felt more like a childhood game of laser tag or paintball – especially when you were shooting at an armed division of monkeys.
One of the larger hurdles Crytek claims is getting in the way of development is cost to interest ratio. What makes this seem like a cop out is that Timesplitters games are fun not because of their incredible graphics engines or realistic bullet drop physics – but simply by the nature of their mechanics alone. The art style was never super detailed and no one cared because the game play spoke for itself – it didn’t need to doll itself up to impress. Crytek needs only to find a good team of developers who 1) love Timesplitters and 2) are out to make a Timesplitters game, not a CoD, Battlefield or Gears of War.
Timesplitters represented all that was great about gaming. It was lighthearted, it brought people both near and far together and it allowed the player’s imagination to run wild. Much like the recent resurgence of the side-scrolling platformer, this back-to-basics approach could be a much needed shot in the arm for a genre that has become so concerned with being Mr. gritty-machobro-fuckwit-bazookaface that it has forgotten that games can be fun without all of that.
P.S. Crytek, don’t be so arrogant that you put yourself above a Kickstarter – great things can come of them.