Games that never escaped E3 - the potential classics you'll never play

You smell that? The teases, the leaks, the promise of plentiful announcements and release date trailers? That's the sweet smell of E3 2017 right around the corner. Over the course of a few days in June, the entire industry gathers together to show off the latest projects in the works for one spectacular celebration of gaming goodness. Most of the time, the process works like this: you see a trailer or vertical slice of gameplay at a press conference, you get excited, and you wait a while before said game finally hits store shelves for all to enjoy. Not all titles are so lucky, though. Some are announced to massive fanfare and then disappear for years; others are quickly shelved, their deaths far quicker than those left to languish in development hell. It's time to remember the promises of E3 past and pour one out for the games that seemed like a great idea at the time, but had their lives quickly extinguished before ever seeing the warm light of day. 

Killing Day (revealed: 2005)

Though no official cancellation notice has ever been provided by Ubisoft, it’s been almost 12 years since the studio first revealed Killing Day at E3 2005 and, like a piece of lifeless flotsam, the first-person shooter has been drifting further and further away from the public eye ever since. The game’s original 30 second CGI trailer, which frankly hasn’t aged all too well over the last decade, represents the only thing we have to go on for Killing Day -  an experience set to be a fast-paced shoot-em-up with a focus on destructible environments and dual wielding gunplay. Ubisoft has filed a trademark for the IP name twice since that fateful E3, the second time being as recently as 2013, but the steadfast radio silence beyond these murmurations sadly leaves Killing Day as good as dead for now. 

Project H.A.M.M.E.R. (revealed: 2006)

When the Wii was originally unveiled at E3 2006, Nintendo showcased an array of games to cement the pitch for its then-unheard-of motion controls, with a press conference full of beautiful people flailing Wii Remotes around as if they were swords, baseball bats or giant novelty hammers. While demoed games like Red Steel, Wii Sports, and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess all eventually found themselves in the hands of the customer, it was Project H.A.M.M.E.R. that became doomed to get the axe. Nintendo Software Technology’s follow up from Metroid Prime Hunters saw you play as a beefy Marcus Phoenix-esque character covered in power armor, who could swing around a massive sledgehammer to obliterate every enemy and object in sight. That seems to be about as far as the dev team got, though, as the game was considered "paused" as of E3 2007. Ten years later, and there’s been no more talk of Project H.A.M.M.E.R from Nintendo, so make of that what you will. 

The Phantom (revealed: 2004)

Some console names are questionably weird (seriously Nintendo, the Wii?), while others are bang on the nose, perfectly encapsulating what the machine stands for (like the PlayStation). No name, however, is more perfect than that of The Phantom, a console developed by Infinium labs that, other than a brief showing at E3 2004, has since disappeared from the industry without so much as a trace. Arriving at E3 in 2004, the idea behind The Phantom was certainly ambitious. For under $399, it was to be a PC that hooked up to your TV like a console, letting you download and install games directly to the device via the internet. It was essentially a Steam Machine before Steam was even a thing, but release dates came and went as the machine's projected launch window ended up pushed beyond 2005, before finally being removed from Phantom Entertainment's website in 2006. Perhaps the world just wasn't quite ready for a living room PC solution, but at least there's a silver lining to this story: Phantom Entertainment still exists, and continues to sell PC lapboards - a couch-based keyboard originally designed for the The Phantom console.

Fable Legends (revealed: 2013)

First announced at Gamescom in 2013, Fable Legends made its gameplay debut during Microsoft's press conference at E3 2014 - and it couldn't be further from what series fans were expecting. Rather than using the power of the Xbox One or Microsoft's cloud servers to create a fully-realized, next-gen version of Albion, Fable Legends scaled way back, transforming the action-RPG into a condensed four-on-one multiplayer game. Fable Legends went into closed beta later that year, and by all accounts the game was fine, but neither the fans nor even its own publisher appeared to be all too excited about it. It wasn't a proper Fable sequel, series creator Molyneux was long gone from Lionhead, and other four-on-one multiplayer games were either cancelled outright (like BioWare's Shadow Realms), or landed flat on their face (like Turtle Rock's Evolve). Originally meant to release during Microsoft's 'greatest games lineup in Xbox history' in 2015, Fable Legends was pushed to 2016, with an open beta available earlier that same year. Unfortunately, Microsoft shut down Lionhead Studios, cancelled development in March 2016, and turned off the game's servers in April.

Agent (revealed: 2007)

Exclusives are an important determination for any console manufacturer. Each box essentially does the same thing, so you have to give people a reason to buy your machine over the competition’s. So when Sony announced in 2007 that a game from the studio behind Grand Theft Auto was coming exclusively to PlayStation, it was perceived as a big get for the company that had been sitting firmly in second place for quite some time. It's unfortunate, then, that the only official image we've ever seen of the game since its E3 unveiling is the logo. A few screenshots have leaked out over the last decade, however, and publisher Take-Two still claims that the title hasn’t been cancelled. Rockstar Games is known for taking its sweet time when it comes to games development, but ten years on a single project doesn’t bode well for the fate of poor Agent.

Fez 2 (revealed: 2013)

Outside of E3 2013, a small, indie-focused games conference captured the world's attention for a brief moment thanks to a surprise, out-of-left-field announcement. At Horizon that year, a bunch of independent developers were exhibiting their latest games, but it was the cryptic trailer for Fez 2 as the conference's "one more thing" announcement that made the biggest waves. Seriously, go watch it again. For a trailer that says basically nothing over 48 seconds, it sure is packed with a ton of mystery, atmosphere, and style. And then, a month later, it was cancelled. A public dust-up on Twitter may not have been the direct catalyst, but it was that spark which caused outspoken developer Phil Fish to throw his hands up, cancel the sequel, and leave the games industry - much to the surprise of his own company. Considering Fish is a bit of an enigma himself, one of two things is true: either Fez 2 is actually cancelled, or it's still quietly being worked on and won't be spoken of again until it's finished. For the sake of posterity, let's consider this one as not happening for the time being.  

Star Wars 1313 (revealed: 2012)

The 21st century hasn't exactly been kind to LucasArts. For every Knights of the Old Republic, there was a Star Wars Kinect; for every Mercenaries, there was a Fracture. It therefore wasn’t a surprise when LucasArts ceased operations in 2013, following Disney's acquisition of the Star Wars franchise from George Lucas. But it was still a shame - especially because it meant cancelling the one project that could have put LucasArts back on the map: Star Wars 1313. Starring a young Boba Fett, Star Wars 1313 would have followed the bounty hunter's first adventures, and the only video footage available made it out to be a third-person shooter filled with heavily-scripted set-pieces, similar to Uncharted. Except, y'know, it's Star Wars. While the demo looked promising, 1313 was officially canned a year later, as LucasArts laid off the majority of its staff. Luckily, Amy Hennig’s upcoming Star Wars project with EA will apparently draw inspiration from LucasArts’ eternally unfinished title, so we haven’t necessarily seen the last of 1313 quite yet.

Prey 2 (revealed: 2011)

While a sequel was reportedly in development shortly after the first game's release in 2006, Human Head Studio’s Prey 2 wasn't officially unveiled until E3 2011. Taking place after the events of the first game, the equally ambitious sequel would have followed the adventures of US Marshal Killian Samuels, a single human living among an array of alien races, hunting bounties and earning cash to survive. Recent reports have revealed that the title would have introduced some really interesting twists on the nature of player death and fail states, but Bethesda officially called it quits on Prey 2’s development in 2014, before reintroducing the IP as a totally rebooted experience at E3 last year. Luckily, Arkane Studio’s Prey turned out to be great, but the potential of the original still lingers as a big “what if?” in the minds of the franchise’s fans today. 

Vitality Sensor (revealed: 2009)

Once Nintendo struck gold with the Wii, games like Wii Fit and Wii Sports flourished with an audience who would have never thought to pick up a gaming console in their lives. In an effort to keep that gravy train rolling, Nintendo wanted to create a controller that everyone could use, a controller so simple, all you had to do was to put your finger in and sit there. Enter the Vitality Sensor. In an ideal world, the Vitality Sensor would have gathered the user’s biometric data (namely their pulse) and whatever game being played could then react accordingly. But despite an initial announcement by Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata at E3 2009, the device essentially disappeared for good. It wasn't until 2013 that Iwata confirmed why this strange peripheral never got released: turns out, it only worked for 90% of the people who used it. It doesn't sound like that big of a gap, but when ten percent of the people who buy your product are returning it because they think it doesn't work, shelving the idea doesn’t seem like an entirely irrational business decision after all. 

Project Milo (revealed: 2009)

Peter Molyneux is basically the Willy Wonka of game design - except Molyneux's gaming equivalent of Fizzy Lifting Drinks provide little more than a slight caffeine buzz. This isn’t to say that he makes bad games; it's merely that they end up as somewhat pedestrian in comparison to the pie-in-the-sky promises that he makes leading up to their release. And there's perhaps no greater example than Molyneux's ability to overpromise and underdeliver than Project Milo. The idea, as these things tend to go, looked promising. The game saw you interacting with a virtual young boy through voice and hand gestures via Kinect, and the boy would react to your statements and change over time. It all sounded a bit too good to be true, especially considering the quality of most the 360's Kinect games. Plus, Microsoft apparently never intended it to be a product, despite Molyneux's insistence to the contrary. Considering Molyneux's departure from Microsoft in 2012, and the gradual abandonment of the Kinect during the company’s transition to Xbox One, it's highly doubtful that this project will ever be completed.

Contra (revealed: 2011)

Konami's E3 conferences and pre-E3 briefings have made for legendary viewing in previous years, and 2011 was no anomaly. That year, Konami didn't just announce the arrival of HD versions of Metal Gear, Zone of the Enders, and Silent Hill, but it debuted the grand return of a classic action franchise; Contra. The 30-second teaser may not have shown any gameplay, but the giant flaming 'C' logo along with the slogan 'They're Coming' was all that was needed to fuel fan excitement for the upcoming reboot. Alas, this video is the only evidence that a new Contra game was ever in the works, and Konami now seems more interested in making pachinko machines than great games anymore, leaving this title - whatever it was - as dead in the water for the foreseeable future. Unless, of course, it transformed into the Neo Contra slot machine the company released in 2014. Best not to think about it.

Project Giant Robot (revealed: 2014)

Back in 2014, Nintendo was hard-pressed to prove that its Wii U gamepad could provide legitimately interesting experiences beyond acting as a glorified map and inventory screen. Legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto himself attempted to craft several games with the gamepad as their core, revealing three different projects he was working on at E3 that year. Two of those projects have since been released: Star Fox Zero (which is mostly terrible), and Star Fox Guard (which is pretty good). The last title in the works, however, Project Giant Robot, was cancelled earlier this year. As the name suggests, Project Giant Robot intended to transport players into the circuitry of skyscraper-sized machines, who would battle it out against each other using the Wii U’s motion controls. What had been shown made it sound even more painful to play than Star Fox Zero, though, and Shigeru Miyamoto had already suggested that progress hadn’t gone much further than the initial prototype stage. After the transition to the Nintendo Switch, another awkward Wii U game stuck in the design mentality of the past sounded like more of a headache than anything else, so perhaps this was one cancellation that made the most sense.

This Is Vegas (revealed: 2008)

Las Vegas, that strip of hedonism and hubris out in the middle of the desert, has never really been immortalized in video games (though Fallout: New Vegas gets it pretty close). There are casino games, sure, but there's never been been a game that fully encapsulates the celebrity DJ, bottle service, $7.99 all-you-can-eat buffet experience that Las Vegas is known for. And thanks to the cancellation of This Is Vegas, we're going to have to wait even longer. First hinted at in 2006, the splendor of This Is Vegas wasn't fully revealed until 2008, and was scheduled for release later that year. Unfortunately, thanks to publisher Midway's own personal financial woes (many of them likely brought on by This Is Vegas' ballooning costs), the game and studio were sold to Warner Bros. In August 2010, Warner Bros. officially cancelled the Vegas fantasy simulator (a fantasy which apparently includes pressing buttons in a dancing mini-game).

StarCraft Ghost (revealed: 2002)

Here it is: the White Whale of vaporware. Blizzard is known for only releasing games when they're "done", which of course means it takes years longer to make than most, and the studio isn't afraid to shelve something if it's not worth continuing - even if that means cancelling a game after years of development. StarCraft: Ghost would have put players in the role of the eponymous sniper as she sneaks her way through various sci-fi environments, completing objectives, and generally shooting a lot of Zerg baddies in the face. Development didn't go as smoothly as Blizzard had hoped. Originally planned for a 2003 release, Ghost underwent numerous delays, and even changed hands from developer Nihilistic to Swingin' Ape Studios. It was then relaunched at E3 2005 and slated for a release in 2006. This window came and went, and Ghost was still a no-show. Around that time, a little game called World of Warcraft released, and Blizzard decided to pour resources into its new MMO rather than continue working on a stealth-based console project, leaving Ghost on indefinite hold. If you're still holding out hope, don't: Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime finally put a bullet in this one, confirming its cancellation in 2014.

Scalebound (revealed: 2014)

Take a look back at Microsoft’s recent history with Xbox One exclusives, and you can understand why some of the console’s owners aren’t too happy about the track record. Fable: Legends cancelled, Project Spark taken offline for good, a Phantom Dust remake rendered MIA, and now Scalebound - one of the Xbox One’s long-awaited major exclusives - thrown into the lion’s den, never to be seen again. Players had been awaiting Scalebound since E3 2014, and the game had an extensive demo on the floor of Microsoft’s press conference only last year, but the company announced an end to production on the project only seven months later, without giving much reasoning as to why. As an original IP from Platinum Games and famed creative auteur Hideki Kamiya (Resident Evil, Bayonetta), the unexpected cancellation of Scalebound was a real kick to the stomach, though Microsoft recently renewed the trademark for the title last month, suggesting there’s still a chance for this dragon-starring RPG yet.

Alex Avard

I'm GamesRadar's Features Writer, which makes me responsible for gracing the internet with as many of my words as possible, including reviews, previews, interviews, and more. Lucky internet!