Every year new games are announced and some of those games seemingly disappear off the face of the earth. Big studios and publishers cancel games after years of hype — leaving us all wondering what we missed. Everyone feels the same way. We all want to know what cancelled games like Starcraft: Ghost actually played like. Were we missing a secret gem? Were the developers right to pull the plug? For some games, we can find out ourselves.
The last few years have seen an uptick in leaked old games — games we thought were lost forever that are finally playable. No, these aren’t complete old games, but they’re absolutely playable in some form. Leakers don’t just release files into the world. People have to actually put these things together so people can play them, and they’re very rarely released willingly. Nintendo shocked us a few years back by finally releasing Starfox 2 as a bonus game on the Super Nintendo Classic. Gaming’s most stolid company very rarely lets the world see unfinished products — even if that game was also available anywhere if you were willing to search rom sites.
Here we’re going to share some of the coolest discoveries in recent years. These are games that gone forever that people have found and shared.
Resident Evil 3.5
Originally revealed in 2003 during an E3 presentation, this weirdo prototype for Resident Evil 4 has been dubbed “Resident Evil 3.5” by the community. A playable version of the game called Resident Evil: Code Madman was shared, showcasing the same demo locations as that original old Capcom presentation. And it is an interesting look into what could’ve been.
The unreleased version is more horror-oriented, with a fixed camera as series protagonist Leon explores a spooky castle filled with ghosts and other hauntings. If you really squint, you can see some of this demo’s DNA in the finished version of Resident Evil 4 — you do explore a massive castle, but it is much less focused on supernatural horror. The series would give supernatural horror another try many, many years later in Resident Evil Village. Personally, I love it when RE gets weird, and Resident Evil 4 was originally going to be even weirder.
Tomb Raider: 10th Anniversary Reboot
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was a big deal back in the PS1-era, but the limitations of the console made the game absolutely perfect for a total overhaul remake. On PS1, Lara Croft is an achingly slow and stuttery shooter that plays pretty awkwardly by modern standards — so after 10 years, a remake was under development exclusively for the PSP. At least, that was the plan. Before it could be finished, the game was unceremoniously cancelled, and Crystal Dynamics went on to make a different Tomb Raider reboot for the PS3 / Xbox 360 era soon after. This was the first remake, and not the Tomb Raider (2013) reboot, which was also developed by Crystal Dynamics.
Confused yet? What you need to know is this: there’s a playable version of Tomb Raider: 10th Anniversary on PC. You’ll have to take some steps to get this thing working. It was meant for the PSP after all. To play, check out the instructions on the Tomb Raider fansite Tomb of Ash. Much like Lara Croft herself, you can delve into the ancient corners of the internet in search of lost treasure rarely seen by the outside world. You too can play a weird remake that was never seen by the gaming public.
Once upon a time, Rare released a weird Star Fox platformer / collect-a-thon called Star Fox Adventures for the Gamecube. Before dropping on the NIntendo Gamecube, a previous version of the game was being developed for the N64, and that version was called Dinosaur Planet. And anyone that’s intensely interested in seeing an older version can now play it thanks to Forest of Illusion on Twitter. You can download the files here.
The N64 version of Dinosaur Planet still features Fox McCloud, the space fighter captain of StarFox, as the main protagonist. Armed with a sword, players would jump through colorful levels and fight bad guys. The story went through multiple revisions, and while the character models are obviously improved on the Gamecube, the game really doesn’t look that different on newer hardware. The more some things change, the more they stay the same. This is an interesting (and playable) look into tumultuous years for Rare.
Here we have a PS2 game about: a tank top babe slicing up Hell. Nothing about that description jumps out to me as interesting — it sounds like a bog-standard budget PS2 / Xbox OG game. Dozens of games like this came out and left no mark on the greater cultural landscape of video games. But The Lost is special. It was developed by Irrational Games. The same devs behind Bioshock.
How did this all happen? Irrational Games were a favorite of mine due to Freedom Force, SWAT 4, and System Shock 2. These developers were the real deal. So how did something like The Lost happen? Bad publishers and bad development cycles happen to the best brands, and it was only due to legal troubles that The Lost was ultimately cancelled in 2002. Somehow, the game was actually finished before getting canned. Being a complete game, someone eventually bought up the leftovers and released it in India, Russia, and Poland. And now we can play it thanks to MyAbandonware.com — where you can download by clicking this link.
This thing is interested purely because it is the Irrational Games project we all forgot existed. I wish every publisher dumped unreleasable games on the internet to sate my curiosity.
Goldeneye 64 Remake
Here’s an unreleased game that might actually get released officially in the near future. Until then, we’re counting this as an interesting experiment in what-ifs. Goldeneye 64 proved that FPS could be fun on console — and an entire generation learned to love playing splitscreen multiplayer. Rare (the same developers we talked about above with Dinosaur Planet) iterated on the design for Goldeneye 64, making the even-better Perfect Dark. Why am I explaining all this?
Perfect Dark got a fancy, clean remake on Xbox 360 — and that version of the game is still playable (and available) on Xbox Series X. It was such a hit, work immediately began on a similar Goldeneye 64 remake. The remake was actually finished completely, but due to licensing issues with Nintendo, the game has been in limbo for years. It looks and runs great, and you can play it right now on PC right here. The rom is for the Xenia Emulator (Xbox 360), so you’ll have to learn how to get that thing running yourself. The coolest feature? Instantly swapping between old and new graphics. You’ll quickly realize how much effort went into the remake.
2D Breath of the Wild
Can a game be “lost” if it was never meant to be seen in the first place? In this case, we’re going to say yes, because the 2D version of Breath of the Wild is so interesting, everyone should seek it out — WinterDrake, developer of Breath of the NES made that possible. During development of Breath of the Wild, Nintendo used 2D assets to test and get a feel for the gameplay. Instead of just releasing the tools, WinterDrake made a playable demo with new assets and other features — turning a weird piece of testing software into a game.
Warcraft Adventures: Lord of the Clans
Before World of Warcraft, before Warcraft 3, there was Warcraft Adventures: Lord of the Clans. Developed by Blizzard, Warcraft Adventures was a point-and-click adventure game that doesn’t take the lore of the series seriously at all. Developed a whole bunch of years after the boom of adventure games, Warcraft Adventures just made no sense as a commercial product — it was silly like Lucasarts games and completely irreverent with the fantasy setting. This game would’ve instantly changed the direction of the series. And that makes it doubly interesting to trash-pickers like me.
So, the game was cancelled. Naturally. 18 years later, an almost complete version of the game appeared on the internet. Originally hosted on Warcraft fansite Scrolls of Lore (which is now defunct), seekers of lost treasures can find the game hosted on the Internet Archive. Apparently, Warcraft Adventures was cancelled late in development, because the leaked version of the game has most everything in it. But not everything. You can’t finish it. This playable thing just lets us explore the wild sensibilities of 1998 video game fantasy storytelling.
From one Blizzard cancellation to another. StarCraft: Ghost sounded awesome — a 3D action game where you play (and sneak) as a Ghost infiltrator, using your silenced sniper rifle to headshot enemies and calling down nuke strikes. The chance to play around in a fully-modeled StarCraft world? It’s what all the Y2K kids wanted! And yet development dragged on until StarCraft: Ghost was unceremoniously cancelled. We’d never get to play as Nova, sneaking past Marines and dodging Hydralisks.
Until now. A playable version of StarCraft: Ghost appeared online in 2020 for the CXBX Emulator (Xbox Original) — it isn’t finished, but it does give us the best possible look at this lost game. You can download the playable demo here. It looks cool, but I also kind of understand why it was cancelled. You be the judge. I still think the concept is great, and with the right amount of polish, this might’ve been something special.
Half-Life blasted an unaware video game industry like a surprise alien invasion. It changed everything — after Half-Life, games were hungry for more cinematic experiences. We just wanted more Half-Life no matter what. There were two major expansions for the original Half-Life; Opposing Force (good) and Blue Shift (boring). I always wondered why Valve would sell a boring mission pack like Blue Shift, which adds nothing of interest except an ugly HD model pack. As it turns out, Blue Shift was never meant to be a standalone expansion. It was a bonus for Half-Life on the Dreamcast.
The Dreamcast port for Half-Life never happened for a very obvious reason. After multiple delays, the Dreamcast just wasn’t a viable console anymore. Sega stopped supporting it, so releasing a port just made no sense in 2001. Still, this wasn’t just a 1-for-1 port, there is new content to find here. It was actually finished, only cancelled a month before the proposed release date and after sending out review copies to the press. Even the strategy guides from Brady Games were printed. This thing was complete!
And now we can all see what we missed. Which isn’t much, but even a boring add-on for Half-Life was a must-play. You can download it here via the Internet Archive.
Penn & Teller’s Smoke And Mirrors
One of the biggest cult games of all time for good reason. Smoke And Mirrors is everything we want out of a lost game, a twisted joke designed specifically to prey on people that aren’t in-the-know. Smoke And Mirrors is a collection of trick mini-games, such as a mini-game where a gorilla can guess your card, or the game accurately predicts your date of birth. The game claims to be psychic, but in reality, the second player would input the answers via secret menu — it’s a game specifically designed to mess with people. This is the Desert Bus game.
Desert Bus has transcended the bounds of Smoke And Mirrors, becoming a known internet joke. Desert Bus is a cruel joke game, tasking the player with driving interminable long stretches of identical desert in real-time for hours. You can’t leave the controller alone or use a rubber band because the bus randomly slightly changes direction, requiring constant course correction — like if you were driving for real.
This is another case where an 100% complete game got cancelled. This time due to financial trouble at the parent company — but that didn’t stop the sleuths of the internet. You can download the Sega-CD rom from Hidden Palace.org here.
Lost games just keep resurfacing. What lost games did we miss? Learning all about weird gaming trivia is kind of our thing, so if your favorite lost games weren’t mentioned, reach out and slap us for leaving them out. Preferably with a download link.