19 incredible games you'll never play

If ever a company defined ‘troubled development’ it was 3D Realms. Duke Nukem Forever was announced in 1997 and, back then, looked freaking incredible. Then one year and one engine shift later, it looked freaking incredible. Then three years and another engine shift later, it looked freaking incredible. Duke, God bless him, liked chasing tail. 3D Realms, God bless them, liked chasing game engines. Always one step behind the next big thing, they would radically rework DNF, only to find themselves one step behind again.

Duke Nukem Forever’s history is the history of 3D engines. Quake II, Unreal, Doom 3: each spawned hits; Duke was never among them. 3D Realms became the kid with ever more desperate reasons for not doing his homework. The engine’s not good enough. The level design’s wrong. The dog ate our code. Those involved would later tell horror stories about the game being rewritten on whims. One day the producer demanded snow levels. Why? He’d just seen a demo of The Thing.

In May 2009 enough was enough. Twelve years with no results saw the development team laid off and hit with a breach of contract by publisher Take Two. And it needn’t have ended this way. Prey, another 3D Realms special, began work in 1995 before arriving in 2006. The king is dead. Long live the king.

Aliens: The Crucible

An Aliens RPG. Anyone who’s emptied a heat clip’s worth of ammo into one of Mass Effect 2’s Collectors will know it makes sense. Obsidian’s Sega-published effort wasn’t to be a dry Dungeons & Dragons affair but a thoroughly modern action-RPG. Leaked footage revealed darkened corridors lit up by gun muzzle-flashes as the oily killers emerged from the goddamn walls. Elsewhere we saw marines tap desperately on keypads to activate security measures. Shooty-shooty or thinky-thinky: Obsidian have always championed freedom of approach.

Above: Plus, there was this

In the eternal battle between action and brains, action always wins out – Sega cancelled the game in June 2009. Like the shady Weyland-Yutani, Sega never really expanded on the reasons why. But then... securing the licence in December 2006, Sega announced both Crucible and Gearbox’s FPS Colonial Marines. Factor in the acquisition of Aliens vs Predator and that’s a whole lotta Aliens to be promoting. That reminds us: what the hell happened to Colonial Marines?

While the squad-based shooter hasn’t registered on our motion trackers for some time, Gearbox’s one-man promotional army Randy Pitchford has confirmed the game is still on the way. It’s just incubating at the moment, waiting to burst from Randy in a fountain of gore and screaming. Crucible is not so lucky. In space no one can hear you get shit-canned.

Final Fantasy Fortress

With most of the gaming world donning their stomping boots to go to work on FFXIII, we look tothe great unreleased FF. Fortress, in development at Grin, was to spin off from FFXII, continuing the tale of Ashe – XIII’s one time resistance fighter. Leaked design documents reveal a straightforward action-RPG, not without a hint of Oblivion in the sweeping open world vistas. The game was to revolve, in part, around the invasion of the titular fortress. Think the battle for Helms Deep multiplied by chocobo.

Looking at the design documents, however, it’s hard to say which side you’d be on. Would you storm the gates or protect them? When it describes ‘planting bombs’ and ‘catapult rush,’ are these actions you’d perform or have to stop? Either way, the fortress looks to fall at the end, concluding with an emergency escape across an ice field.

But Grin went bankrupt in August 2009. Rumour is, Square-Enix withheld payment, leading to an “unbearable cashflow situation.” Yes, Grin’s shaky track record doesn’t inspire confidence – Terminator Salvation and Bionic Commando being evidence – but they thought they were on to something, referencing an “unreleased masterpiece that we weren’t allowed to finish”. That’d wipe the Grin off anyone’s face.

Cipher Complex

John Cipher. With a name like that he had no choice but to become a secret agent, did he? Employed by the US government to recover a downed recon satellite, John was ready to embark on some Metal Gear-esque espionage. Edge of Reality (responsible for, er, Over the Hedge and the rubbish Incredible Hulk game on last-gen consoles) were at the helm, dredging up PR-infused promises seemingly taken from the edge of reality. Said president Binu Phillip of Cipher Complex: “The concept and mechanics have been incubating in our minds for years. We can finally make our dream project a reality...”

What could these well-incubated thoughts be? Stabbing, apparently (which, incidentally, would make a great name for a Love, Actually sequel). Nearly every piece of concept art shows Mr. Cipher going at it with a blade the size of a small child. Knees, backs, necks and faces: he stabs ‘em all. He’s a one man ganking machine. The one time we do see him with a gun – a hulking great minigun number straight out of Predator – he uses it to hang off a zipline to flee a helicopter. The pro-knife agenda would bring a tear toDick Marcinko’seye. A tear he’d instantly stab, of course.

For reasons unknown, Edge of Reality never got to make their dream project a reality. Only a little bit remains: a half-rendered cinematic intro. A bizarre mix of characters and faceless mannequins, it looks like Metal Gear as directed by David Lynch.Check it out now.

Star Wars Battlefront III

The magic of Star Wars, to fans at least, was the operatic scope of the action. As intergalactic armadas clashed in the vast expanse of space, Lucas would take us down to planet surfaces or into the bellies of death ships, where individuals fought for the fate of the galaxy. Battlefront, one of last-gen’s more impressive online offerings, had all the right parts, but never in conjunction. Ground battles were fought and space battles were fought, but never at the same time. These were disjointed space arenas, divided and conquered.

Imagine a Battlefront free of loading screens. With the PS3/360’s brain, ships could be hijacked on ground level, flown into space and docked into star cruisers where the fight would continue. Tired of popping caps in ewoks? Why not take a breather in the Death Star trenches? This was Free Radical’s vision for Battlefront III: complete freedom of movement in battles worthy of the source material. And, with the blessing of King George, engines were primed and ready to go.

Battlefront 3’s story ends on a down note to rival Empire Strikes Back (alas, without Free Radical’s gobby Rob Yescombe frozen in carbonite). Project delays and communication difficulties led to LucasArts pulling the plug. A real shame. Leaked art reveals a zombified Obi-Wan, a surprisingly kooky direction for Lucas’ space-babble. And if there’s one thing Free Radical understand, its multiplayer. They were behind GoldenEye, Perfect Dark and TimeSplitters after all.

The bucket list

Other games that got lost on the way to the shops…

Frame City Killer
Free-roaming city. Now roaming free.

Long-lost MMO. Nothing to do with the pig.Looks tobe still coming to PC, but the 360 version is on indefinite hold.

Splinter Cell Conviction
The original Splinter Cell Conviction. Look for government agent with a hint of hobo.

The Collective promised that we’d actually feel the stake going through Dracula’s heart.

The Outsider
Let’s hope reports of David Braben’s unmade masterpiece’s demise have been exaggerated.

Apr 2, 2010

12 games you might never play
Are they dead? Our gaming triage separates the development deaths from the minor colds|

They had massive potential, but you'll never play them

Labors of love become labors of heartbreak when great games meet a legal demise