Video games! It’s always the great ones you don’t get to play. Whether it’s the sad demise of Star Wars: Battlefront 3 and Star Wars 1313, or the nebulous state of Prey 2, game development is the history of great ideas that might never see the light of day.
With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of 10 lost could-be greats that – due to everything from studio closure to internal politics to simply a change in the industry as a whole – never made it to our grasping, excited hands.
10. Call of Duty: Ghosts, With Actual Ghosts
Speaking with devs about Infinity Ward’s first post-Modern Warfare 3 release, it was clear that the studio was burned out on the present-day action formula and aware that audiences might be as well.
With that in mind, IW looked at the zombie modes in Treyarch’s alternate year CoD entries and started wondering how they might be able to get weird with their own game. And let’s be clear: “Ghosts” wasn’t simply going to be a multiplayer mode – instead, it would have been its own dedicated campaign.
The two-player co-op shooter would have put gamers in the role of Soap and Captain Price in an abandoned Russian nuclear facility, plagued with evil spirits (how and why, I don’t know). The duo would have to blast their way out using silver-imbued, WWII-era pistols and rifles, and later, futuristic ghost-killing melee and ranged weapons.
Perhaps the most exciting element of this alternate Ghosts involved possession: when a player’s health was low enough, a spirit could potentially possess it, allowing them to turn their guns on their co-op companion.
Ghosts with actual ghosts never made its way past the planning phase, but would have been an interesting deviation from the standard shooting model.
9. Firepro Meets KOF
Japanese game development has always been a little more secretive than here in the West (try to untangle some of the developer credits for anything pre-1995 or so). And it’s harder still to get reliable information on cancelled games.
But the nixed PS1 project, Firepro Wrestling x King of Fighters is one of those things developers in the region talk about in hushed tones, a mashup title bringing together the popular fighting game franchise with the wrestling property in a clever mix.
It was more of a Firepro rather than KoF game, though, bringing SNK’s fighting roster into the world of Japanese wrestling, complete with redesigned costumes and wrestling gimmicks.
It’s not clear what killed the game, but conceptually, it was interesting and a chance to see redesigns of SNK’s wildly popular fighting game characters was a huge missed opportunity.
8. Batman Starts a Gang, Arkham City Goes Online
Some of you comic readers might be familiar with Batman, Inc., the Grant Morrison-written book which saw the Caped Crusader traveling the world and recruiting would-be superheroes into the Bat-family in a corporation/charitable security organization managed by Bruce Wayne.
WB Interactive and WB Montreal (who developed last year’s Arkham Origins) briefly toyed with a similar concept: a loose blend of the familiar Arkham mechanics with some of the outsized craziness of a Saint’s Row game – a modern Batman title with a sense of humor.
The customizable bat characters could swing and leap around Gotham in solo and team-based missions around some of the odder corners of the DCU.
This was a case of the publisher breaking the individual elements down into multiple games, DC Universe Online was already out in the wild, and the goofy, class-based shooter Gotham City Impostors filled that lighthearted niche for capes versus crooks in Gotham.
7. Demon’s Souls, Except Ganon Is Trying to Kill You
Holy crap, why don’t we have a straight-up Zelda RPG?
This was something Nintendo contemplated on the Gamecube around the time that the development on Wind Waker was wrapping up. The third-person, dungeon-crawling RPG – which was being co-conceived with with the Metroid Prime studio Retro – would have been a slightly darker take on the franchise, with a greater emphasis on difficult, area-spanning battles against massive monsters (you can see a little pre-Shadows of the Colossus in there as well).
The concept was ultimately deemed too inaccessible – and worse, too demanding of the Gamecube hardware – and never progressed beyond some rough prototypes.
6. When Silent Hill Almost Used the FOX Engine
We’ve been cursed with some pretty terrible Silent Hill games over the last few years (The Room was maybe the last time the series wasn’t crushingly horrible in some way), but for a short time, it was on the way to a massive visual reinvention under Hideo Kojima’s (Metal Gear) Kojima Productions.
It’s not really clear whether the studio would have developed their own Silent Hill title or if they were simply providing support to their photorealistic FOX Engine. My theory is that we were going to get a full-on remake of one (or both) of the first two games – which makes sense given that Silent Hill 2 is one of the most acclaimed survival horror games around.
While the series has been plagued with gameplay and story issues for a while now (Homecoming was especially egregious), a visual update using KojiPro’s technology would have at least been interesting.
5. Jet Set Radio Adds Typing, Is Even More Awesome
For fans of Typing of the Dead, this SEGA follow-up would have been a treat – although I’ll be damned if it makes much sense how it would play.
Working from the same, basic concept of Typing, this remix of the cel-shaded rollerblading/graffiti game would have players executing tricks and movement by typing in words, letters, and phrases around – presumably – the same locations found in the Dreamcast classic.
Development on the project began after the 1999 release of Typing of the Dead in parallel development with the full Jet Set Radio, but SEGA’s struggles to keep their final attempt at the hardware market afloat saw them narrow their focus to proven franchises like Sonic and Phantasy Star.
4. Perfect Dark Returns
It’s hard to imagine much of anyone being excited about a new Perfect Dark now, but once upon a time, fans of developer Rare likely had a three-deep wishlist consisting of a modern Goldeneye, a new Killer Instinct and another adventure starring futuristic spy Joanna Dark.
Well for a brief time after the release of the Xbox 360 game Perfect Dark Zero, the studio had a team at work on a proper sequel to the N64 original. How far into development the sequel got varies depending on who you ask (I’ve heard it reached the prototype stage before Rare owners Microsoft shut it down), but supposedly, Perfect Dark 2, or whatever it was being called, would have resolved some of the issues with Zero, including more intuitive and easier-to-navigate maps as well as a collection of futuristic guns inspired, in part, by weapons in Halo 2.
3. Fallout: New Vegas Almost Had Mechs
Unlike the other entries here, this was less a full game and more a mechanic nixed at the last minute due to technical considerations.
Fallout: New Vegas, before it was officially unveiled to the public, was all set to include 20-foot-tall mech-on-mech action under the banner of an offshoot of the Brotherhood of Steel. In the game’s fiction, the Brotherhood would have discovered a cache of powersuit prototypes that were lager and more imposing than the armor they typically used to tool around the wasteland in.
It’s likely that it was a pain in the ass to include something which would dramatically impact how travel and combat in Fallout worked as well as messing with the scale of enemies and how players would deal with them. From what I understand, though, these mechs would have been repairable and upgradeable with their own skill and perk trees.
2. GTA IV: The Lost and the Damned (and a Bunch of Zombies)
This is less a case of a game being cancelled so much as its core concepts getting shuffled over into another title.
The Lost and the Damned was one of a pair of expansions for 2008’s moping criminal simulator Grand Theft Auto IV alongside The Ballad of Gay Tony; and originally, Liberty City was set to experience a zombie plague like no other at the hands of Rockstar North.
Like The Lost and the Damned, this supernatural expansion would have focused on the titular biker gang, but instead of getting into deals gone bad, they would have had to contend with an outbreak of the living dead across Liberty City, and be forced to fight their way through hungry hordes within the 24 hour game clock.
This version of The Lost and the Damned never made its way past the concept phase, with Rockstar instead opting to build out a more traditional storyline and working in a zombie expansion for their next big open world game, Red Dead Redemption – as well as a Halloween-themed zombie mode for GTA IV’s online mode back in 2008.
1. Going on a Quest With The Simpsons
Since the series made its debut back in 1989, The Simpsons has been a licensing powerhouse, and there hasn’t been a console generation where the franchise was represented in some way.
Everything from Konami’s beloved side-scrolling brawler, The Simpsons Game, to the less well-loved spate of side-scrollers and oddities like Bart’s Nightmare have given us virtual Springfields for nearly three decades.
And its unrealized moment of greatness came in the form of an uncompleted top-down RPG for the SNES from developer Ocean. Ocean had developed one other Simpsons game by the time the unfinished RPG was underway, and the studio was largely known for licensed games of… varying quality (their Robocop arcade game was admittedly dope).
From what I’ve been able to find, the 16-bit game was actually “code-complete” (all but finished), but never made it onto a cartridge. Story-wise, The Simpsons RPG would have put players in the role of Bart on a quest around Springfield (with a detour into Shelbyville) in order to save the town from a plot involving Mr. Burns and aliens Kang and Kodos.
And the unnamed Simpsons RPG might have been the next Earthbound if not for, you know, all of the not-great Simpsons games that came before.
While the handful of side scrollers releases for the Gameboy did steady business, publisher Acclaim was wary of dumping the resources into another ambitious failure like Bart’s Nightmare, robbing the rest of us of something truly weird and exciting in The Simpsons‘ universe.
Still, we’ll always have Virtual Bart.
Previously by Charles Webb