How TimeSplitters Split Apart Once Again

"They made you do WHAT?!... LIKE A MONKEY?! Those BOUNDERS!"

TimeSplitters 3

It’s time to split, or at least it would have been had the developers over at Free Radical been given the chance to actually complete their work on the revival of the iconic TimeSplitters series. Alas, it was not to be, as the TimeSplitters reboot has been canned along with the entirety of resurrected Free Radical studio, but the question is how did this even come to pass? Where did it all go wrong for what was supposed to be the most highly anticipated retro resurgence in recent years?


The First Death Of Free Radical

Timesplitters 2

In order to discuss the second death of Free Radical, we need to take some time to establish what happened to Free Radical the first time around. Founded in the late 90s by a group of former Rare developers, Free Radical immediately leveraged their work on GoldenEye and Perfect Dark to work on TimeSplitters, which ended up being a PS2 launch title. TimeSplitters was designed to carry on the gameplay and mechanics of those Rare N64 shooters, albeit with more ridiculous levels, weapons and characters, and it proved to be a multiplayer hit in the same way GoldenEye and Perfect Dark were.

A sequel was greenlit practically immediately after TimeSplitters 1 launched, with TS2 dropping on PS2, Xbox and GameCube in late 2002. Free Radical aimed for a “bigger is better” approach to the sequel, with a more ambitious story mode, bigger Arcade/Challenge mode and improvements to the game’s map editor mode, ensuring players could create their own fun for years to come. Or, players could at least just use it to recreate their favorite multiplayer maps from GoldenEye.

We all did it. Poorly, but we all did it.

Fast forward to 2005, and Free Radical had partnered with EA Games to create TimeSplitters: Future Perfect, the third and what would ultimately be the final game in the TS series. Again, Free Radical attempted to go even bigger than they had before, with larger levels, a more ridiculous campaign mode, map editors that even allowed for enemy AI and story mode encounter programming, along with online multiplayer for those lucky few who happened to be living in the future.

Despite plenty of critical acclaim, the TimeSplitters series would never see another installment, possibly due to weak sales from both Future Perfect and fellow Free Radical game Second Sight. Still, it wouldn’t be for a lack of trying from Free Radical. Around 2008, Free Radical did announce that TimeSplitters 4 was in the early stages of development, but due to a few unfortunate circumstances, such as the cancellation of a Star Wars Battlefront 3 project the studio were working on, and the poor reception to the PS3 shooter Haze, Free Radical were forced to go into administration.


Embrace A Second Chance

Future Perfect
Future Perfect

By the end of 2009, Free Radical was dead, absorbed into Crytek UK, which in turn would also be shut down by 2014. A lot of the staff involved at Crytek UK would move on to Deep Silver’s Dambuster Studios, which leads pretty neatly into the fate of Free Radical’s second chance. In 2018, it was announced that Koch Media, then a subsidiary of THQ Nordic AB which would later become known as Embracer Group, had purchased the publishing rights to the TimeSplitters series. Things were finally happening once again.

The ball would carry on rolling heading into 2019, as Embracer Group announced that series co-creator Steve Ellis had joined the team in order to help “plot the future course” of the entire TimeSplitters franchise. Two years later, Embracer announced via subsidiary Deep Silver that they were resurrecting the Free Radical name, with fellow co-creator David Doak coming back to work on the TimeSplitters franchise once again.

Unfortunately, we’ll never get to see the fruits of their labor, as Embracer Group announced in late 2023 that Free Radical would be shut down and their work on the future of TimeSplitters essentially tossed onto the trash heap. As for why, Embracer cites a deal worth over a billion dollars with a Saudi Arabia investment group which ultimately fell through, forcing Embracer to readjust their portfolio. See: tighten their belt to a ridiculous degree.

Before closing Free Radical, Embracer Group had made a point of being nostalgia merchants of sorts, taking renowned franchises and brand names and attempting to revive them in the modern era of gaming. Given that Embracer made their start reviving THQ and merging them with Nordic Games, of course they’d try to resurrect anything else they could get their hands on. However, it would seem that Embracer flew too close to the sun, betting it all on one lucrative deal that didn’t pan out. Now, thousands of employees and a handful of studio legacies, including Free Radical and Saints Row developers Volition, have been forced to pay the price.


What Went Wrong?

Source: Glen Fox

A couple of months after Embracer shut down Free Radical seemingly out of nowhere, the precise reasons why Free Radical have been shuttered haven’t been revealed. At least with Volition, Embracer could point to the poor reception that the last Saints Row game received, even if shutting down a whole studio seems like a harsh reaction to releasing a bit of a dud game. The same can’t be said for Free Radical though, as the team were never given a chance to actually showcase their hard work before the studio was shut down again.

Even now, a couple of months after Free Radical’s second closure, we still haven’t heard from those at the company about why Free Radical was on the chopping block. We did attempt to reach out to some members of the team, but were unsuccessful, so if we were to speculate, they’re either not allowed to talk about what happened, or they’re just looking to put the past behind them. Or, we did a terrible job trying to convince them to talk. Regardless, all we have to go on are a collection of social media posts from various former FR devs expressing their displeasure at their circumstances, with certain devs even posting some concept art assets on their LinkedIn and ArtStation profiles.

A full collection of the concept art that’s been posted can be found on the Fandom page for this Untitled TimeSplitters Game, but what’s been shown goes beyond concept art to include fully completed assets and reimaginations of classic characters and locations. We’d recognise the opening level to TimeSplitters 2 anywhere at this point. From what’s been shown, the project was pretty far into development, and had captured the look and feel of classic TimeSplitters, albeit with a fresh coat of paint, so forcing Free Radical to throw all that work in the trash just seems ridiculous.

Maybe one day, someone from Free Radical will give the world more of an insight into what happened during the development of this new TimeSplitters, as right now, it feels like an entire generation of fans have been robbed of an opportunity to re-experience their childhoods. Until then, we’ll just have to shake our fists angrily at Embracer Group while blowing raspberries.

Embrace these fart noises.

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