timesplitters 4 prototype featured image
Screenshot via MrPinball64 & Low Resolution's YouTube channels

The TimeSplitters 4 prototype is a stark reminder of what we’ve lost

We've come so far, but look at what we left behind.

In March 2024, user Flimsy-Zebra3775 posted about an eBay listing for a PS3 development kit. One of the images for the console showed a game that never made it to market or even close to the light of day. TimeSplitters 4.

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Initially, they checked in with the PS3 community. After all, the developer of the TimeSplitters franchise, Free Radical, all but disappeared after its PS3 launch title Haze failed to impress. It’s since completely closed as a result of the Embracer Group layoffs. However, it seems as though this development kit managed to make it through both events relatively unscathed.

“I asked the seller a lot of probing questions without giving it away, they indeed had a friend who worked at Free Radical until November 2008 a month before the studio shut down. They are going to boot the game up at the weekend to see what it is and send me a video, if it’s legit I’ll buy it and if someone who knows hdd dumping helps me I’ll upload the drive.”

Flimsy-Zebra3775 took the risk and purchased the console, where they found a working partial build of TimeSplitters 4. After working hard to get it running, they streamed what pieces of the game would run and dumped the files for anyone to use on their own dev kits.

Timesplitters 4 prototype is a bittersweet discovery

Obviously, this is a huge win for game preservation and one that’s close to my heart. I grew up playing the TimeSplitters franchise, but that’s why this discovery also brings with it a tinge of melancholy.

The TimeSplitters 4 prototype consists of a multiplayer match in a classic-feeling arena shooter map where bots spawn, and the player hunts them down. Other footage has surfaced online showing that the game had a third-person camera and played much more like Fortnite, but it’s this first-person gameplay that shows the core experience fans know and love.

Half of me is happy we all get to see what the passionate team behind TimeSplitters was cooking up next, but the other half of me is sad because there’s nothing like this out there today, and there probably never will be again.

The TimeSplitters series consists of three games that share a core set of values as their DNA. They’re single-player focused but are built to be incredibly enjoyable in local or online multiplayer. That multiplayer can still be accessed solo and without an internet connection, and players have a plethora of unlockables to work through that will take them longer than most JRPG runtimes to collect.

These games each feature campaigns with zany characters that ooze personality. Even those that are made up of a skin and flavor text have more personality than most characters in modern free-to-play shooters.

Every campaign mission has three difficulty levels, and the objectives change across them all. You don’t get the same experience playing Neo Tokyo in TimeSplitters 2 on easy as you do on hard. This is also true for co-op, meaning every level has six variations to complete for six separate unlockables.

Diving into these games when I was younger saw me lose weeks to them. I poured what feels like a thousand hours into the main trilogy with my best friend, and we still had things to unlock.

A good chunk of that time was spent in the arcade and challenge modes, too. Arcade is a mix of multiplayer modes, of which there are several, with medals to earn based on your performance. Challenges are, as you might expect, specific mini-missions with tough objectives, like throwing bricks through windows within a time limit to earn even more medals.

Seeing a modern version of these absolute gems makes me want someone to remaster the trilogy right now. I don’t even need remakes, but those would be nice. The breadth of content to dive into rivals every major multiplayer shooter out there, and these games were all released for the PS2. That’s three console generations ago, and there’s still nothing that even comes close to beating them.

A new Timesplitters makes perfect sense in today’s gaming scene

enemy in timesplitters 4 prototype
Screenshot via MrPinball64’s YouTube channel

Nostalgia is a powerful drug, and I’m willing to admit that the graphics and some gameplay elements haven’t aged well. But while some games are great because they hit at just the right time, these ones could have dropped at any point, and they’d still be amazing.

I continue to be genuinely shocked when I hear a TimeSplitters game was canceled or forgotten or that someone hasn’t even heard of the series. I would happily connect online with anyone, any day of the week, and walk hand in hand with them through the TimeSplitters 2 campaign so I could hear the joy in their voice as they snuck around cameras, set the tree dude on fire, or get frustrated with the final showdown against UFOs.

This irks me even more when we get remakes and remasters of games that don’t need that treatment. I’m confident that if TimeSplitters 4 had been completed and put up for sale, we’d have seen it smash concurrent player numbers just like Helldivers 2 is right now.

The game could easily justify a battle pass for more quirky character skins. A TimeSplitters take on battle royale would almost certainly make it desirable, just like how Apex Legends was at launch.

Ultimately, we win. We’ve seen this game against all odds, and I mean all the odds. I don’t even know how this PS3 made it out of the office in 2008, but I’m so glad I did. I was crushed back then when I realized I’d likely never see a new game for my favorite franchise, and I’m crushed again now that reality has come back around.

If you’re curious as to why I’m so damn passionate about these games and why the existence of a prototype has had such an impact on me, do yourself a favor and find a way to play TimeSplitters 2 from start to finish with a friend. Play it side by side, and then play some arcade matches. Revel in the art style, play as Mr. Underwood, and shock yourself with how different every mission plays when you up the difficulty. You won’t regret it.


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Author
Jamie Moorcroft-Sharp
Jamie is a Staff Writer on Destructoid who has been playing video games for the better part of the last three decades. He adores indie titles with unique and interesting mechanics and stories, but is also a sucker for big name franchises, especially if they happen to lean into the horror genre.