Microsoft made headlines last year with the cancellation of Scalebound just before release. The game had been in development since 2013 and was being made by Platinum Games, who have been responsible for the big successes Vanquish, Bayonetta, Metal Gear Rising Revengeance, and Nier Automata. Scalebound was an ambitious title with great graphics, exciting gameplay, and a lot of hype from the media. It looked like a big part of Microsoft’s Xbox One early line up and overall the game was looking like a good exclusive for Microsoft to have under their belt. So… why was it cancelled? And why was it cancelled so late into development?
It’s not clear. Microsoft cite a couple of different reasons which all basically come down to, “we weren’t happy with it.” Whatever the reason, the news devastated excited fans. There was a general sense of sadness and frustration from the community, and a lot of sympathy for the developers. The game was so close to release, why couldn’t it just be given a little bit more time to be released? Surely it’d be better to risk a disappointment than just kill the game 99% of the way in?
We’ll never know. But the cancellation got us thinking, what other games have come close only to be killed at the last minute? What gems have we been denied because of corporate meddling? Well… let’s find out.
1. Van Buren
Fallout is a strange franchise with a long history. It finds itself (officially) starting with Fallout in 1997 but it was itself a spiritual sequel to the post-apocalyptic roleplaying game Wasteland. It was followed by Fallout 2 in 1998 and some minor spinoffs that aren’t particularly memorable. Most of us then remember a long hiatus between Fallout 2 and Fallout 3 which came out in 2008. But a lot of people don’t know that there was another Fallout 3 (codenamed Van Buren) that was never actually released, but which came very close to completion around 2003.
It had a lot of features that later turned up in Fallout New Vegas. It had dual real-time/turn-based combat, 3D graphics, was set in the Mojave Desert, and would have followed a plot involving a mad-scientist. Tech demos exist which show that the game was shockingly far into development before cancellation, and there remains a fully-fleshed out plot, characters, engine, weapons and much more that stand as a testament to the developer’s vision. While we’ll never see this game released, it’s at least nice to know a lot of its good qualities made it into the phenomenal Fallout New Vegas. Although it must sting a little that this franchise was taken away from the developers who started it, handed over to Bethesda, who then licensed it back to them with a long, long, list of restrictions on what they could and couldn’t do with the franchise they created.
2. This is Vegas
This is one you’ve probably not heard of. In fact, most people haven’t. It was meant to be a sort of GTA clone in Las Vegas. You get off the bus with a few dollars in hand and have to make it big by gambling, making connections, street racing, partying and fighting. It was set to be developed by Surreal Software who had some previous success with the Drakan and Suffering series which were both moderately well received. After that they were given a chance to make a really ambitious title and compete with the likes of Saints Row and GTA and they went for it.
The result was a game close to release when it was put down. There are full-blown gameplay trailers showing off all the core gameplay aspects and, for the time, it had stunning graphics. Perhaps what makes This is Vegas most interesting is that Midway and Warner Bros. pumped $50 million USD into its development making it, for the time, one of the most expensive games ever made. This makes it even stranger that the publishers killed the title so close to release and suggests there must have been some serious problems with the title to stop investors from trying to recoup their losses. Publishers aren’t exactly hesitant to release broken, buggy and terrible games with the hope that hype alone will sell enough to take some of the financial sting away. This is Vegas must have been an absolute wreck to make that option a no-go.
3. Call of Doomy
After Doom 3 ID Software hit a bit of a roadblock. They had, for a long time, dominated the industry but new releases like Call of Duty, Half Life 2, Far Cry, and many others, were beginning to erode their position. Doom 3 was liked, loved even, but it still disappointed a lot of people. And their follow-up game Rage? That was a huge disappointment. ID Software had once famously declared that plot in video-games just didn’t matter. Well, they were wrong. So very wrong. The company of a few nerds who’d made Doom in 1991 were now facing an industry of hard-working intelligent people with great artistic talent, people who had taken their formula and developed it into a medium for great storytelling and audiences responded. What followed were some awkward years for ID as the company was forced to spend some time struggling to catch up with the genre they invented.
The result of this catch up? The cancelled Doom 4. An almost admirable—albeit desperately misguided—attempt to go where the money was. Clearly ID Software saw what worked for others and tried to make a linear story-heavy shooter in the vein of CoD and Battlefield. Thankfully when ID Software was bought by Bethesda and the new owners came in to inspect, they saw the problem. The game was close to completion with an engine, art assets in place, weapons, gameplay, monsters, and much more, but it was painfully generic. So generic it was nicknamed Call of Doomy. It just didn’t play to ID Software’s strengths. ID Software did need to move with the times, but imitating other games was not the way to go. Thank God someone put an end to it and made them reconsider because the result was the gloriously well-received Doom (2016) which effortlessly takes ID’s talent for gore and ultra-violence and combines it with a select few modern conventions to bring Doom into the new millennium.
4. Silent Hills
Sometime during the mid-2000s survival horror died. Why? It’s not clear, but everywhere franchises like Silent Hill and Resident Evil were being reworked into action games with horror sensibilities. Resident Evil at the very least endured the change well with the stellar Resident Evil 4, but Silent Hill just never recovered and simply devolved into a mess. All over the industry publishers just stopped funding video games that emphasised the horror experience. Survival horror, we were told, wasn’t profitable. Looking back it’s nice to say this: the publishers were wrong. And where they failed to take initiative, indie developers didn’t. Amnesia, Slenderman, Penumbra, Five Nights at Freddy’s, Outlast and much more all flooded the market and absolutely dominated sales figures on platforms like XBLA, Steam and the PS Store. They cost nothing to make and spread like wildfire because of youtube reaction videos and viral marketing. Naturally, AAA games followed. Resident Evil 7 came out, and Alien Isolation blew everyone away. In the mid 2010s, roughly a decade after the first lapse, survival horror had made a helluva comeback.
So it only made sense that someone would turn back to Silent Hill with the aim of bringing it into the new decade. This was the franchise that many consider to be the absolute apex of the genre. Thus, Silent Hills was born.
Immediately the hype train got going, and not without reason. The new game had art design by legendary graphic novelist Junji Ito, was to be directed by the legendary developer Hideo Kojima, had cinematography by Guillermo Del Toro, and was to star fan-favourite Walking Dead alum Norman Reedus. A demo was released that had people crying themselves to sleep for weeks afterwards. Everything was there. It looked close to release—the gameplay demo proved the existence of working assets, engine, gameplay and much more—and it had so much potential. The market was ripe and waiting! And… it was cancelled. Why? Well, Silent Hills looks to be the unfortunate casualty of Kojima’s departure from Konami who as a company gave up on games and focused on gambling machines. From our perspective it looks like Konami may have gone a little bit insane to have made this decision, but err, who knows? All we can really do is mourn Silent Hills.
5. Prey 2
Prey was released 2006 after a disastrous 11 yearlong development cycle with numerous stop, starts, and restarts. What came out was a weird B-rate shooter that tickled some fans’ nostalgia bones with its fun over the top weapons, interested others with its bizarre gravity-bending gameplay and Cherokee protagonist, and was at the very least memorable for its bizarre setting. On the other hand it also bored a lot of people with its rote enemy design, confusing levels, bland protagonist, and shoddy combat. Ultimately, Prey was a linear sci-fi shooter that went up against the likes of Doom 3, Half Life 2, Quake 4, and Fear and it fell short. There’s no nice way to say it, Prey wasn’t a bad game, but it wasn’t great either. It was okay. Just okay.
And yet, Prey 2 looked incredible! It was said to possess a mind-bending plot, dialogue trees like Mass Effect, loot like Borderlands, combat to challenge Halo, and stunning photorealistic graphics. It burst onto the scene with an amazing E3 pre-rendered trailer and everyone was all aboard the hype train! Perhaps this writer is alone but, being there are at the front of the queue when Prey 1 was released, I certainly had a lot of questions about how Human Head studios—who struggled to make and release the milquetoast original—was going to achieve such an ambitious game. The answer?
They weren’t. The game was cancelled. We’ll never know why. Human Head studios attribute it to petty politics (because as we all know, when companies like Bethesda buy a game property they don’t want to make any money off it but just want to spite people, right?). Or maybe, as Bethesda have also said, Human Head studios weren’t up to the job. Questions were raised about outdated tools, planning, development and a disappointing end-product. Eventually, funding was withdrawn completely despite Prey 2 being very very close to completion. Bethesda continue to get a lot of flak to this day for their decision. And it only looks worse now that their own effort to resurrect Prey also kinda sucked. Most fans just want to get what they were promised, but this writer would caution that most developers would struggle to deliver on Prey 2’s original laundry list of features, and that chances were Human Head studios would not have delivered the next messiah.