The games industry doesn’t handle economic mess. A well-oiled PR machine, the industry is designed solely to pat itself on the back. Big sales! Big games! Big us! But what happens when things go wrong? A canceled game is a monument to failure - the result of poor creative judgment or upper management mishaps. What do you do when there’s a stinking corpse in your house and blood on your hands? You bury it under the patio. Until, that is, a disgruntled employee or enthusiastic hacker digs up the body. Read on for more…
N64 classic GoldenEye on a current-gen console. It was real. The powers that be might deny it, but we’ve seen it with our very own eyes. Imagine Rare’s Bondtacular in glorious HD. Reworked textures and character models stink of new, but it moves like the game you know and love. Scientists can be painted red with blood. And yes, a DD44 Dostovei to the balls still results in a comically slow crumple. And if your eyes don’t fancy rose-tinted spectacles? A click of a button switches the world back to classic GoldenEye, warts and all.
Factor in four-player online play (split-screen, naturally) and online time trial leaderboards (for skimming those precious milliseconds off Facility) and you have the greatest downloadable game never to see the light of day. Why not? Boot the game up and a message appears: “Do you expect me to remove this Nintendo logo screen?” “No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die.” Therein lies the rub: Nintendo. Rare sweetened Nintendo of America with a promise to port the game to Wii and release their Nintendo back catalogue on Wii’s Virtual Console. But when the suits in Japan refused to work with Microsoft, Activison (holders of the Bond licence) got spooked and put the kibosh on Rare’s plans.
Perfect Dark HD goes some way to easing the pain, but Joanna Dark can’t replace digi-Brosnan in our hearts. GoldenEye sits, finished, in Rare’s vault. For their eyes only. You know who to blame.
Indiana Jones and The Staff of Kings
Here’s a rarity on our list – the kind of historical artifact Jones would go nuts for. Announced in 2005, Staff of Kings appeared briefly to dazzle with its incredi-fighting: fisticuffs livened up with Euphoria physics. As LucasArts’ internal development shifted to The Force Unleashed, Indy’s resources were yanked out like Mola Ram going to work on a sacrificial maiden. Here’s where the story should end, with a few details and a couple of screens of Indy swinging his fists atop a San Franciscan tram. But thanks to continued work on the Wii port we can sort of see how it would have played out.
Wii’s Staff of Kings is not a great game, but it’s a great Indy experience. Take the opening San Francisco segment. A quick bar brawl develops into a rooftop shootout before sprinting through an explosive fireworks factory setpiece, descending to a subterranean pirate ship for some tomb raiding and emerging for a tram car chase. Packed into 15 minutes of play, the pace is breathless and truly worthy of Spielberg’s throwaway fun. But it never plays as more than a blueprint for a shinier PS3/360 game. Combat is clunky, lacking that Euphoria fluidity, and visual rough edges detract.
Nowhere are Indy’s ambitious PS3/360 roots more apparent than in the grand finale – a motorbike chase THROUGH the Red Sea. As Indy pursues a maniacal Nazi, parting the Red Sea with a mystical trinket, the Wii groans with the effort and we groan with the missed opportunity.
What was it Obi-Wan said? “If you strike me down I will become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.” With LucasArts putting a Vader-style death grip on Battlefront III (see the third page), the FRD boys could get back to what they knew best: TimeSplitters. Beloved on last gen – Free Radical’s work with GoldenEye and Perfect Dark shone through in the splitscreen deathmatches – a shiny next-gen version would have brought their mix of murdering, modes and monkeys kicking and screaming to the online world.
And where previous iterations had poked fun at movie cliche, this new instalment had gaming in its sights. Teaser art plopped the TimeSplitters monkey in the Gears of War logo, dressed him up as Master Chief and kitted him out as a Big Daddy. Anyone who’s played TimeSplitters 2’s parody of GoldenEye’s dam level will know Free Radical’s awesome spoofing ability – a whole game of the stuff proved an enticing prospect. Hell, after their over-hyped mess Haze, we could all do with a laugh.
Unfortunately, Haze had left a haze of its own upon Free Radical – not unlike that emitting from a recently laid dog-log. LucasArts’ sudden withdrawal left them looking for a publisher. The Haze debacle left publishers wary. With no one taking the bait, Free Radical went into administration in December 2008. There is time yet for a comeback. Now part of Crytek, could TimeSplitters 4 live again in CryEngine?
Pity poor Ensemble. After ten blissful years happily developing Age of Empires they hedged their bets on Halo and their own empire crumbled. As the developers behind Halo Wars, this wasn’t their first stab at riding the Bungie money machine. Project Titan, started in June 2005 and cancelled in June 2007, was a Halo MMO. Never announced by Microsoft, we only know about its existence due to ex-Ensemble chaps spilling their guts upon the studio’s closure last year.
Prototype screens reveal a rather straight forward World of Warcraft clone. Bungie’s penchant for garish bright colours only feeds the vibe - squint and the screens could have been snapped in Azeroth. Bizarrely, it doesn’t feel particularly Halo-y. Master Chief makes a stunted appearance – as if someone had slipped Kenny Baker some Mjolnir Armour – but where are the neon alien weapons and Warthogs? Worse, some characters perform mind-melting magic; if Halo was to be infected with fantasy, we’re almost glad it didn’t see the light of day.
By the info-leaker’s admission, the game never got beyond a pre-production stage. Everything seen here was developed by a team of eight – one of Ensemble’s many mini teams brainstorming prototypes (another went on to become Halo Wars). We’re quite happy to see Bungie churning out their potent mix of online FPS, but doesn’t the epic scale of the Halo mythology demand a genre more capable of showing it? Titan’s not the MMO we wanted, but we still don’t want it any less for all that.