Despite critical acclaim for several fan-favorite titles of the 1990s and early 200s, the Star Wars video game brand has struggled over the last decade. In recent years, the series has found success with younger players, mainly in the form of LEGO tie-ins and mobile titles, but hasn’t delivered a particularly impactful “core” gamer-friendly project in a long time. For some, The Force Unleashed came close but any momentum the game provided was later dashed by what many considered to be a “lazy” followup, The Force Unleashed II, fell short in gameplay evolution and, worst of all, muddled the strength of the original (award winning) story.
As a result, franchise fans were happy when early details for Star Wars: 1313 were revealed – promising a cinematic third-person action experience set in the Galaxy Far, Far Away (with iconic Boba Fett serving as protagonist). Sadly, the game was cancelled after Disney purchased LucasArts (only to shutter the studio months later). Hope for a quality adult-oriented Star Wars title remains in the form of in-development Star Wars: Battlefront, as well as the hiring of Uncharted-series writer Amy Hennig for an entirely new game project; but, in the meantime, we have a glimpse at one more canceled Star Wars title – a Darth Maul-centric game from Red Fly Studio.
According to a new Game Informer report, the developer worked on the game for eight full months before LucasArts finally pulled the plug. The write-up paints a pretty unsettling picture – highlighting a very chaotic relationship between the studio and publisher, not to mention infamous Star Wars creator George Lucas.
Amidst middling reviews for its HD competitors, Red Fly Studio’s Force Unleashed II Wii version was, surprisingly, held-up as the preferred iteration – with a better story, multiplayer, and extra levels. As a result, the developer was commissioned to create a Nintendo exclusive action game centered on Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace baddie, Darth Maul. LucasArts even considered purchasing the studio to streamline development and lock the team down for future projects. Yet, despite their interest in both Red Fly and a game based on the Sith Lord, LucasArts offered little guidance for the studio – both in terms of game design as well as educating the team on Maul’s backstory (and planned return in the 2012 season of The Clone Wars animated series).
In spite of LucasArts’ hands-off approach, Red Fly pressed on (expanding development to Windows PC, PlayStation 3, Wii U, and Xbox 360 at the publisher’s request) until, months later, they met with Lucas – who drastically altered the game’s intended design to pair Darth Maul with female Sith Lord, Darth Talon. Beyond the usual criticisms of Lucas (and his increasingly bizarre track record), the choice to include Talon is especially strange – given that, despite physical similarities, the character doesn’t actually arrive on the Star Wars saga scene until nearly two centuries after Maul. In fact, the character is most famous for helping turn Luke Skywalker descendent Cade Skywalker to the Dark Side. GI asserts that Red Fly attempted to rework the game and incorporate Talon but, after two weeks of unanswered calls to LucasArts, the project was suddenly scrapped by their now-defunct publisher.
Red Fly could have probably found a way to include Talon (by ignoring Extended Universe fiction) but Lucas’ push for including the character was, likely, to force co-op multiplayer into an otherwise straightforward single player story – in an effort to make the game more accessible to a broader (read: younger) audience. The approach is in-keeping with on-going struggles within the Star Wars franchise, especially the game division, which by the end appeared to be walking an impossible line between creating unique game experiences and adjusting to pressure from the larger Lucas brand mega-machine.
A game based on one of the Star Wars saga’s most underused and mysterious character could have been a genuinely interesting experience – especially if the developer was allowed to dig into Darth Maul’s history for, at the very least, a “T for Teen” rated story. Leaked footage is a poor indicator of any final product but the Darth Maul gameplay video suggests that Red Fly might have been able to improve upon The Force Unleashed series format with fluid implementation of both lightsaber melee combat and force powers – not to mention the story possibilities that are implied when seeing the Sith Lord taking on a squad of Mandalorian soldiers.
While Red Fly isn’t known for redefining gameplay experiences or breaking new ground, that doesn’t mean that they were not capable of surprising gamers with a solid Star Wars action title – if LucasArts had provided adequate support and creative flexibility. After all, some of the best (and most memorable) games are developed by small teams that are inspired and passionate about their project. While it was ultimately a sensible move to cancel the project, especially after Lucas made it clear there was a disconnect between publisher and studio goals, it’s hard not to think about what Red Fly might have been able to do with Darth Maul.
Star Wars: Battlefront will release in 2015 on next-gen consoles and the PC.
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