The now probable return of the franchise with Timesplitters 4 reminds us of the Ship Of Theseus thought experiment when it comes to gaming. Which of course, we learnt about in the season finale of Wandavision. Anyway, the Ship of Theseus thought experiment is this – the mythical Theseus’ ship is slapped in a harbour as a museum piece. As the years pass, the wooden boards start to rot so the harbour master replaces those boards. In time, every board is replaced. Is that ship still Theseus’ ship? What if all the rotten boards could be taken out and have the rot removed before being returned? Would that ship also be Theseus’ ship?
In a similar way, it raises the same question about game franchises. The Timesplitters series, particular Timesplitters 2, is a big favourite here at Any Button Gaming. Back in the PS2 days, it was possibly our favourite FPS series to play with friends (honourable shout out to Halo of course). It has been many long years since we have had a Timesplitters title – we are talking over 15 since Future Perfect released in 2005. The original developers, Free Radical Design, went into administration shortly afterwards before being bought by Crytek, though this was essentially the end of the studio as it had been. This brought to an end any active development of Timesplitters 4.
Back from the dead?
Rumours have been floating since Koch Media bought the IP of much of Crytek’s work in 2014 that Timesplitters might be on the comeback and now, years later, Free Radical is reforming with some of the original talent. Indeed, David Doak and Steve Ellis, former leads are now going to be Studio Heads and they are now engaged in making Timesplitters 4 a reality. Which is great news – don’t get us wrong. It just made us ponder – what does a new Timesplitters mean to us as modern gamers? Taking it beyond a singular game, can any IP return from the void?
The gaming industry is no stranger to nostalgic IP’s being launched years after their original entries. It is also not unusual for a popular IP to go through different studios and creative teams. Development teams grow, they contract, they change. That is the nature of things. So even a sequel to a game made by the same studio is going to have different people working on it. Still, it is often blamed (normally unfairly) that studio changes are to blame for sequels people don’t enjoy. Have you ever seen any conversation about Halo that doesn’t lament the loss of Bungie and bemoan the entries brought in by 343 Games? Yet they released several Halo games in relative quick succession from the Bungie releases.
We have also seen games like the much teased, still not released ‘Beyond Good and Evil 2’. The original was a great single player narrative story. The new sequel has fans worried as it is… well… a massive online open world adventure. Even though it shares similar creative heads.
Yes… but Crash 4 was good!
On the flip side, there have been some great revivals of old titles, such as Crash Bandicoot 4… a well-received follow up to a remaster of the original trilogy. Not to mention Streets of Rage 4, a sequel 26 years in the making that hit us right in the retro feels. Neither of these though had much, creatively, to do with original teams (for good reasons). Were they just lucky in capturing the magic of the originals?
Because capturing magic is very subjective. Timesplitters is an interesting case in point. Timesplitters stood out in an age of FPS competitors. It was fun, smooth and great fun. But what makes Timesplitters.. well.. Timesplitters? The FPS genre has evolved through many iterations over the last few years. What would set it apart from Overwatch, or COD or Battlefield?
For diehard Timesplitters fans, I’m sure there are lots of things they are looking for. Will they get them though? If the developers delivered a pure Timesplitters game now it would feel… anachronistic. Update it too much and… it isn’t Timesplitters. Which brings us back to the ship of Theseus. Yes, Free Radical is reforming with some key team members. Still, even with those team members being in place, like the boards of the ship, does it still make it Timesplitters?
Is Timesplitters 4 the Theseus ship of gaming?
It all comes down to nostalgia in the end. It is clear that Timesplitters, like Streets of Rage 4, will not be a successive title but be about trying to capture that nostalgia. If someone plays it and gets a kick out of it like they did on the original game, they’ll like it. In that case, it will be Theseus’ ship. If they don’t, it will be a cash in, a pale successor. Because ultimately, Timesplitters was a set of excellent FPS games. We just have such fond nostalgia that we want it to be the same despite it being impossible for it to be. So we are really just hoping for a good game.
Will you be getting Timesplitters 4? How do you feel about older games getting much waylaid sequels.
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Rudy Manchego has been gaming since the days of the BBC Micro Computer and spreads himself thin with a love of retro, indie and mainstream gaming. He’s one half of the Jambags Comedy Gaming podcast and likes nothing better than kicking back with a nice pot of lapsang souchong, a good game and a background podcast on the intricacies of Spanish cheese making.