Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)
What it Tried to Do: Take gaming and movies to a new level of synergy. Synergy, people!
What it Did: Damn near killed Squaresoft.
What Went Wrong: Yes, cleverclogs, we’re well aware that Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was a movie and not a game. Don’t think you’ve caught us napping there! However it’s worth mentioning, as this is the project that could have ruined Squaresoft. With Fantasies VII-IX featuring increasingly sophisticated CGI cutscenes, Square figured: why not a whole movie of CG characters summoning monsters and brandishing weapons the size of a 747? But while gamers are willing to put up with second-rate cinematic tomfoolery in the context of a good game, the moviegoing public aren’t so patient. The Spirits Within lost around $94 million dollars, forced Square to temporarily close its motion-pictures division and almost put the kibosh on the company’s merger with Enix.
Red Faction (2001)
What it Tried to Do: Utterly overhaul FPS gaming by making the world itself destructible.
What It Did: Marginally affect FPS gaming by making a few bits of the world itself destructible.
What Went Wrong: It’s a long-standing complaint of action gamers: “how come a rocket launcher will destroy a tank, but won’t make a hole in a locked door?” Red Faction pledged to fix that by being built of material that wouldn’t just display a few bullet-hole decals: it could have holes blown right through it. Gamers’ imaginations ran wild with the possibilities – and were summarily brought crashing back to Earth when the game’s “Geo-Mod” tech was limited almost to the point of novelty by technical and structural restrictions. The idea would be best exploited in the game’s multiplayer mode, unhindered by mission structures: this partial success would inspire further exploration in later games like Crysis and Red Faction: Guerrilla. But the original would be remembered as an enjoyable diversion, not the genre-changer it set out to be.
State of Emergency (2002)
What it Tried to Do: Build on the success of Grand Theft Auto III.
What it Did: Turn a lot of people off Rockstar Games.
What Went Wrong: State of Emergency tried, as Dynasty Warriors had in the East, to revive the days of brawlers like Double Dragon and Final Fight. But gamers wouldn’t settle for such modest aims – not from the company that had just brought them Grand Theft Auto III. Sparking the obligatory violence-in-games controversy before release, State of Emergency whipped moral hand-wringers into a frenzy without even trying – with the knock-on effect of priming gamers to expect another GTAIII. When all we got was a cluttered, unambitious punch-up, Rockstar became a victim of its own hype. It didn’t ruin the company – changing gaming forever buys you some credit – but many folks still look sideways at anything the company releases without the words “Grand”, “Theft” and “Auto” in the title.
Blinx the Time Sweeper (2002)
What it Tried to Do: Pioneer “four-dimensional gaming”; give the Xbox a mascot.
What it Did: Inspired us all to stick to the three dimensions the Lord gave us.
What Went Wrong: Snarky feline Blinx was groomed to become the friendly face of Xbox, joining the pantheon of system-selling characters occupied by Sonic, Mario and Crash Bandicoot. Instead, he was relegated to the much larger pile of forgotten mascots, joining luminaries such as B.O.B, Titus the Fox, Zool the Nth-Dimensional Ninja Ant and Cool Coyote in gaming oblivion. It’s easy to spot the obvious reason: while Super Mario World or Sonic The Hedgehog are masterfully-created slices of gaming bliss, Blinx The Time Sweeper hinges on a single gimmick – “four-dimensional gaming” – that it fails to use to any great effect. But we like to think equal blame must be given to the creeptastic cat himself. Just look at this smirking putz:
Would you buy an unproven, high-end gaming system from this face? Yeesh.
Enter the Matrix (2003)
Above: It’s sickly green, it must be The Matrix
What it Tried to Do: Expand the fascinating Matrix saga in an unprecedented synthesis of game and film.
What it Did: Drag out the increasingly silly Matrix saga in a buggy, half-assed compromise between game and film.
What Went Wrong: When Matrix fever was at its peak, the movies’ creators, the Brothers Wachowski, announced they would be working with Shiny Entertainment to bring a chapter of the series exclusively to gamers. Featuring content overseen by the Wachowskis themselves and expanding the plotline of two of the films’ incidental characters, Enter the Matrix was to complement 2003’s twin Matrix sequels. But the finished product nicked scenes from the second movie, giving the picture an unfinished plot that was never resolved except for those who finished the game – which is to say, almost no-one. The software shipped buggy, unfinished and near unfinishable without severe patching. However, many were willing to forgive it all that because it featured this scene: