The saddest game cancellations from the NES era to present day.
By Leif Johnson
All forms of entertainment have their unfinished projects, but I’ve found there’s always something especially painful about learning that a long-awaited game will never come out. We never properly knew it, so it’s not exactly like the loss of a loved one; it’s more like spending years wanting to visit a well-loved landmark, only to find it’s been wiped off the map or irreparably damaged. The interactivity of games means these are real memories we’re losing out on.
Thousands of games have suffered such a fate. We don’t even know the names of many of them, but some have had their names shouted to crowds at shows like E3 and generated discussions even some properly released games should envy. These are the games we’re talking about here, and fittingly for the bad luck so many of them seem to have suffered, there are thirteen of them.
Fable Legends – PC, Xbox One
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Fable Legends is the youngest casualty on this list, having been officially cancelled only last month at the time of writing. Its gameplay borrowed heavily from a multiplayer concept made popular in games like Evolve, wherein one player acts as the villain while four others try to take him or her down. Legends’ main appeal is that it oozed with the Fable series’ signature personality, right down to individualized fart emotes for each hero and its wondrously vibrant hub city of Brightlodge. But hints of its eventual doom were apparent even shortly after its 2012 announcement, whether it was its frequent delays, the constant media blackouts and secrecy, or the shift to a free-to-play model early last year. The actual cancellation thus came only as a slight surprise, but the true gut punch was the total loss of Lionhead Studios, which never really shed the goodwill it had earned from 2008’s Fable II. Lionhead never gave us another game like that, but much in the style of Peter Molyneux, Lionhead’s famously enthusiastic founder, it was always fun to dream of what could be.
LMNO – PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
A concept image from Steven Spielberg’s cancelled action-adventure game, LMNO.
Steven Spielberg was once in the video games business as a result of a consultation partnership with EA, although his only released game from that effort was 2008’s puzzler Boom Blox. But in Arkane Studios’ LMNO, we would have had a chance to see what the storied film director could do with a narrative-driven game. The minimal existing footage is pretty stuff, showing a warmly lit ’50s diner and your companion, an alien-looking woman named Eve. As is only fitting for a project Spielberg was involved in, LMNO was meant to pull emotional strings, but it was also expected to deliver an unforgettable first-person adventure combining parkour-based escape sequences with roleplaying elements. But it didn’t last long. In 2010, EA confirmed that LMNO had been cancelled. In a sprawling longform feature, 1UP detailed the reasons for the cancellation, which basically came down to over-ambition, whether it was in its drive for new types of combat, new types of character interaction, or new replayability options. Ultimately, EA executives didn’t like the short demo the team made, and the majority of the staff was laid off in 2008. By 2009 the project landed in the lap of developer Louis Castle, who tried to turn it into a more traditional game called The Escape Artist, but in its push for online multiplayer games at the time, EA soon dropped that, too.
Prey 2 – PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
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Prey 2‘s story is a sad one. It would have been a first-person shooter that followed the events of 2006’s Prey by focusing on a human bounty hunter on an alien world called Exodus, and the E3 cinematic trailer showed displayed much of the personality we missed out on, right down to alien gang fights with Johnny Cash tunes playing in the background. But by 2011, production from developer Human Head came to a halt. Bethesda had reportedly said the Human Head team would get a year of extra development time after Prey 2’s impressive E3 showing that year, but following concerns about Human Head’s “dated planning, tools, and techniques,” Bethesda reportedly started withdrawing funding. In 2012 Bethesda denied growing rumors of Prey 2’s cancellation by saying it was merely delayed because “game development has not progressed satisfactorily this past year, and the game does not currently meet our quality standards.” The project was then taken away from Human Head and tossed off to both Obsidian Entertainment and Arkane Austin for a while, but in 2014 Bethesda confirmed Prey 2 had been cancelled. But was it really so bad? In 2013 former Human Head employee tweeted that Prey 2’s fate was “political” and “petty.” “Prey 2 was a full game. And a crazy fun one,” he said. “The team was small, but you wouldn’t have known it.”
B.C. – Xbox
A screenshot from Intrepid Computer Entertainment’s cancelled action-adventure game, B.C.
B.C. is a lost masterpiece from that wonderful era of gaming history when Peter Molyneux was full of great ideas and the world still had confidence he could pull them off. Developed by Lionhead satellite Intrepid, B.C. was not only a beautiful place where dinosaurs frolicked alongside humanlike “simians,” but it featured a working food chain where creatures higher up chomped on those below. The A.I. was impressive for its time, both for the surrounding animals and the tribe you helped evolve as you played. Part of its downfall was ambition, although former dev team member Joe Rider told GamesTM it was about 75 percent complete when work stopped. It stalled in part, he says, because Lionhead and Intrepid wouldn’t share their proprietary technology and thus speed development, but also because Lionhead threw all of its efforts behind Fable in order to release it for the Xbox before the Xbox 360 hit shelves. Molyneux himself announced its official cancellation in 2004 while suggesting that it might be revived, but that hasn’t happened. B.C. might be a fossil now, but game historians PtoPOnline at least gave us a glimpse of what could have been last year with some previously unseen footage.