You might be surprised how many great video games get canceled far into their development cycles. Plenty of titles go all the way to having fully playable build, only to have the plug pulled at the last minute. Millions of manpower hours has been put into games that never saw the light of day, even though they look like they might have done respectably well if they'd seen the light of day.
But, thanks to the internet, games that never had a chance can still be seen and appreciated on the web. Even if they might not look good, you can appreciate what the developers were going for. You just might not ever understand why they got canceled in the first place. Read on for our list of the greatest canceled video games, and ponder about what might have been.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned
This was an action-RPG being developed by Propaganda Games, to be published by Disney Interactive Studios. It was first brought to light in the summer of 2009, just before E3. The story was going to take place prior to any of the Disney Pirates films, and the game involved typical RPG character progression and an adventure into the supernatural.
The screenshots were looking gorgeous, the morality system was sounding like something out of a Bioware game, and rumors about ship-to-ship combat sounded intriguing. Then the game was canceled in October, 2010. I’m not sure why, but from the previews I’ve seen of Risen II, it’s ostensibly not because no one is willing to buy a pirate-themed RPG.
When Black Isle Studios took their Baldur’s Gate 3 engine and tried to make a fully 3D version of the Fallout series, they code-named the project “Van Buren.” This clearly wasn’t the project that turned into the actual Fallout 3, but Van Buren is interesting if we try and trace its components and see where they went.
Van Buren was going to take place in the American southwest, and introduced the factions of the New California Republic and Caesar’s Legion. The Hoover Dam was a stronghold of the NCR, and there was even a Ballistic Orbital Missile Base. While Fallout: New Vegas wasn’t a remake of Van Buren, clearly there are connections between the two games.
Robotech: Crystal Dreams
I bought my N64 mostly for the sci-fi titles Shadows of the Empire and Rogue Squadron, and so would have loved it if Robotech: Crystal Dreams had been release. Originally conceived as a launch title for the system, Crystal Dreams was going to be a 3D space combat game, and some of the in-cockpit videos that have survived show a game that might remind of us the early Wing Commander and X-Wing titles. Unfortunately the game was too ambitious to be completed by such a small developer as GameTek, and never even made it to a beta stage.
This canceled game is so legendary that you probably already know the whole story. Ghost would have been the first third-person action title set in the Starcraft universe. Games would have taken the role of a psionically-enhanced Ghost espionage operative. Screens made the campaign look something like a Metal Gear Solid, but it was the multiplayer that had a lot of people excited. Stomping around as power-armored Marines and flame-throwing Firebats online sounded like fun.
Unfortunately, even though Blizzard still doesn’t list Ghost as “canceled,” it’s entirely likely that the novel StarCraft Ghost: Nova, which explains the backstory of Ghost’s heroine, is all that will see the light of day from this project.
Part of what makes Blizzard such a successful company is their willingness to abandoned design projects if Blizzard feels their times have passed. This is precisely what happened with the point-and-click adventure game set in the Warcraft universe called Warcraft Adventures, but if the good stuff that Blizzard releases is so good, wouldn’t even a near miss from them have been great?
Warcraft Adventures was so long in development while Blizzard tried to craft its puzzles and narrative together to their satisfaction, that LucasArts took the lead in the adventure game genre by moving it into 3D with Grim Fandango. Because Warcraft Adventures might have felt dated after this, Blizzard pulled the plug even with so much work put in, and just like that other, canceled Blizzard game, all that survived of Warcraft Adventures was a novel titled Warcraft: Lord of the Clans.
Irrational Games has been treating us to a bevy of their canceled games lately, but the one that we should maybe pay the most attention to was the zombie first person shooter called Division 9. According to Irrational Games Creative Director Ken Levine, Division 9 was going to involve groups of survivors heading forth from their secured locations to find supplies, ammo, and even other people. Those secured locations would be made more powerful as players brought back doctors or engineers to help out, and the tide of zombies would never end. Unfortunately, Division 9 was being developed around the time that Irrational was purchased by Take-Two, which caused the project to be shelved.
If there’s anything that can make a Nintendo Wii owner fume, it’s the lack of “hardcore” titles. Project H.A.M.M.E.R. was a beat-‘em-up game that involved stomping around with an armored hero who carried a huge hammer that he used to, well, bash things. Project H.A.M.M.E.R. seemed on the right track per mixing the unique Wii motion functionality with core yet accessible gameplay, yet no concrete reason was given for its cancellation.
Sega Dreamcast Version of Half-Life
It’s just the Dreamcast version of Half-Life which was canceled, and that’s why this is funny enough to stay on the list. First person shooters and consoles have a little reputation going, you know. FPS franchises have defined the Xbox historically, and online multiplayer in general has proved immensely popular with the modern console crowd. Imagine, then, how Dreamcast owners would have killed to play online Half-Life multiplayer. Half-Life’s Dreamcast port began too late, however, as the Dreamcast platform was discontinued before the project was finished.
Propeller Arena: Aviation Battle Championship
This is another Sega Dreamcast game which failed to see the light of day owing to unfortunate circumstances. Propeller Arena was an arcade-style air combat game, with integrated voice chat and extremely tight visuals for the platform. Not only did the imminent fate of the Dreamcast make releasing the game seem futile, but one of the levels of the game was made uncomfortable by the September 11 airline attacks on the World Trade Center. This was another, high-profile example of a game which might have actually taken advantage of the Dreamcast specs.
Peter Molyneux seems to have a thing for teasing audiences with ambitious projects that never see the light of day, like his virtual friend Milo. B.C. was going to be an action-adventure game where players controlled tribes of cavemen as they evolved and migrated. Early coverage of the game lauded its AI routines, like a food chain that could be broken if players killed enough animals, and its strategic aspect of putting together the right kinds of tribespeople to populate new areas. Unfortunately, the game was canceled in 2004 when Molyneux decided it was too ambitious to meet high standards.
Dennis Scimeca is a freelancer from Boston, MA. His weekly video game opinion column, First Person, is published by Village Voice Media. He occasionally blogs at punchingsnakes.com, and can be followed on Twitter: @DennisScimeca.