Gone Before Their Time: The Video Games That Never Made It – Part II

Games projects are abandoned for a variety of reasons, from financial loss and over-ambition, to corporate meddling, and sometimes, it’s a little something in between. Loving video games is hard sometimes, but seeing our most anticipated titles cancelled without warning is harder. Last time, we took you through some of the most disappointing cancellations in recent memory, from the recently surfaced rumours of a third MediEvil game, to the wasted potential of the Darkwatch franchise. This time, we’re continuing the trend, lamenting the loss of another brilliant five games that could have been huge.

Fable Legends

Ah, Peter Molyneux. You always show such infectious zest and enthusiasm when you announce a new project, and yet nearly every time, you over-promise, and under-deliver. Fables Legends was a game that seemingly nobody wanted, and it didn’t take long for Lionhead Studios to realise their mistake. Designed as an online co-op game where groups of heroes and groups of villains faced each other in combat, Fable Legends had a tumultuous development cycle. After suffering numerous delays, and eventually becoming a free-to-play title, Lionhead Studios finally announced an open beta in 2016, where players would get to test the nearly completed experience. In the end, this just wasn’t to be, as the game was cancelled before the beta ever fully launched. While player impressions from the closed beta were mixed, there’s no doubting the potential that this game could have had if given more of an opportunity.

The world of Fable is rich and vast, and Fable Legends could have expanded on this mythos in ways previously unexplored. We know from games like Elder Scrolls Online that online titles can spring back from their mistakes, but Fable Legends never got the chance. The greatest shame of its cancellation is that it inadvertently led to the shuttering of Lionhead Studios, and presumably the death of the Fable franchise, crushing the hopes of many who patiently awaited the long awaited Fable IV. All that’s left to remember it now is ‘The Art of Fable Legends’, a wonderfully optimistic book produced before the cancellation, that features all the characters and worlds you’ll never get to meet.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned

Pirates of the Caribbean is a franchise that has never had a great game. Now, while one might argue that it’s the franchise itself that isn’t great, I would disagree. While recent movies may have sent the franchise careening of a very dangerous cliff, the potential for its video game series has always been there. Armada of the Damned was first announced in 2010, and looked to be the first great game for the series. Taking the role of pirate James Sterling, players would embark on adventures across the land and sea – swashbuckling, pillaging and looting in order to become the most legendary or dreaded pirate captain. It would have featured a massive open world and an original story set with the world of Pirates of the Caribbean, as well as a dense, choice based system based on your notoriety.

Early on, Sterling would have been able to accept or reject membership to The Armada of the Damned, a gang of menacing, ghostly pirates, thus setting him on the path to becoming a dreaded pirate captain, or a legendary hero. Featuring a range of locations from across the films, as well as new locations designed for the games, Sterling would meet with characters new and old while battle or aiding The Armada of the Damned on his journey to become the most fearsome pirate captain. Disney Interactive Studios made the decision to cancel the game with reason apparent, though the cancellation did lead to huge layoffs at Propaganda Games, who had been developing the game alongside Tron: Evolution. Initial gameplay looked gorgeous and exciting, and with an intriguing story to boot, it’s a great shame that Armada of the Damned never reached the public.

Prey 2

The original Prey was a revelation in the first-person shooter genre. The story followed Tommy Tawodi and his family, abducted by aliens and forced to survive aboard The Sphere, a harsh alien ship. Utilising alien weapons, as well as Tommy’s unique Cherokee spirit powers, Prey was a game that stood out in the genre and left a lasting impression. It was also one of the few games to feature a Native American protagonist with such layers of depth and respect.

With the success of the first game, work quickly began on a sequel, but it soon passed hands from original developer, Human Head Studios, to Bethesda. Both companies had a hand in working on the sequel, and several story ideas were floated. Initial plans had Prey 2 once again helmed by Tommy Tawodi as he abandoned Earth and fled to the stars, but this idea was soon abandoned. Once Prey 2 changed hands, plans went in a different direction, with the story then following U.S. Marshal Killian Samuels, who would encounter the alien Sphere, and eventually end up as a bounty hunter on a world known as ‘Exodus’. Ultimately, work on a direct sequel was dropped, with Bethesda electing to reboot the series with a new protagonist, Morgan Yu. This title is expected in May, and if first impressions are anything to go by, it appears it will expand on the brilliant legacy of the original game.

Gotham By Gaslight

There are a surprising multitude of promising superhero video games that have been cancelled suddenly in recent years, but none more disappointingly so than Gotham By Gaslight, otherwise known as ‘that steampunk Batman game’. Based on the Elseworlds DC Comic of the same name, the game would have featured a 19th century version of Batman as he hunted down Jack the Ripper and fought to keep the streets of London safe from crime.

Aiming for a release on the Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and PC, the only scrap of evidence left of the title is a two-minute video of prototype gameplay, and several pieces of concept art. The video is simple enough, following Batman through the streets of London, but the atmosphere and breadth of the demo made it an exciting prospect. Ultimately, THQ failed to secure the rights to the Batman franchise, leaving gamers to dream of the brilliant possibilities. Gotham by Gaslight had endless potential, and even the very idea of Batman fighting Jack the Ripper is enough to make the most hardened gamers weep. Batman fighting Jack the Ripper!

Final Fantasy Versus XIII

Now, if you were to accuse me of cheating here, you’d be right. Technically, 2006’s Final Fantasy Versus XIII was released, as 2016’s Final Fantasy XV. Throughout those ten years, however, the game saw some massive changes, the largest being the universal setting of the game. Versus XIII was initially a very different game, one set in the world of the Fabula Nova Crystallis, the same universe of Final Fantasy XIII, hence the original title. The gameplay and style of XV differed a lot from its original form, with combat more reminiscent of Kingdom Hearts. What remained largely unchanged were the characters, with Noctis, Prompto, Gladio and Ignis only receiving minor design and outfit changes for XV. In Versus XIII, Noctis gained his kingly powers due to his nature as a l’Cie, a human branded by divine entities and gifted with magical power. This explanation is glossed over in XV, with Noctis instead gaining power through his connection to the royal line as the prince of Lucis.

Other major changes included the revamping and rewriting of the entire supporting cast, with many characters being written out or changed entirely. Original love interest, Stella Nox Fleuret, who shared Noctis’ power over weapons and magic, was soon replaced by the somewhat more passive Lunafreya, and given less of a role in the final game, and characters like Umbra and Gentiana were redesigned entirely. With Final Fantasy XV drawing much criticism for its story, it’s very interesting to wonder if Versus XIII would have drawn similar complaints. Not all games survive development hell, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility to think that Versus XIII lost much of its potential stuck in development hell. While Final Fantasy XV was a great game in its own right, its flaws were glaring, and if it had remained Versus XIII, it might have been something greater.

Join us in our next instalment as we focus in on the most bright, colourful and downright delightful 3D platformers that never got off the ground. From foul-mouthed squirrels to carpet-riding monkeys, there are plenty of great games to lament. What cancelled games disappointed you the most? Tell us @theirisgames or on our Facebook!