Why the Man Without Fear game was canceled
While there’s no shortage of Marvel-related media today, seeing the Avengers and their contemporaries outside of the comic book medium was a rare treat 20 years ago. Marvel’s superhero dominance in today’s media landscape was still in its infancy, and Marvel was looking to license their hottest properties to game studios and Hollywood in order to ease their financial difficulties. The early 2000s saw games featuring heroes like the X-Men, Spider-Man, and Blade all achieving varying degrees of success.
Not every Marvel game would see the light of day, let alone success and legacy enjoyed by titles like Spiderman 2 for PlayStation 2 or Marvel vs. Capcom 2 in the arches. It was around the same time that developers 5000ft Inc. acquired the rights to make games featuring heroes like Captain America and Daredevil. The small team of twelve were all big fans of The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, and enthusiastically began working on Daredevil: The Man Without Fear.
Originally a series of vignettes celebrating Daredevil’s most iconic moments in the comics, the game’s scope and direction changed dramatically when Sony got involved. With plans for a Daredevil movie in the works, a proposal was made to release the game in time to capitalize on the expected success of the 2003 film. It would expand into an open world fighting game set in Hell’s Kitchen, with several unique mechanics and storyline inspired by classic Daredevil comics, especially the Elektra revives Frank Miller’s race script.
The open world would have examples of petty crimes around town, allowing players to choose whether to intervene as they explored between story missions. It was planned to be released on PC, Xbox and Playstation 2. While Microsoft left more or less 5000ft to their work, Sony got heavily involved, making a number of requests and meeting monthly to oversee the development of the game. .
To make matters worse, 5000 Feet had to run every aspect of the game by Marvel, which often had ideas that conflicted with Sony’s vision. Marvel wanted a product that was true to its comics, while Sony had more experimental gameplay ideas that took creative liberties with the source material. 5000ft was caught in the middle, struggling to please both sides.
One such conflict arose when Sony suggested implementing game mechanics inspired by the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series, of all things. Although the Tony Hawk the games were massively popular at the time, Marvel was not happy with Daredevil creaking on telephone wires and the edges of buildings as he was way outside established hero conventions. Although there was a precedent with Spider Man (2000) for the Playstation 1 using the Tony Hawk engine, the value of Sony’s gameplay innovations over character consistency didn’t sit well with Marvel. Other traversal methods in the game stayed closer to Daredevil’s roots, which saw him use his signature billy club to swing from devices all over town and use acrobatics to swing from flag poles.
Daredevil: The Man Without Fear had another unique mechanic reminiscent of Detective Vision in the batman arkham Games. Despite being blind, Daredevil’s powers heighten his remaining senses to a remarkable degree, allowing him to perceive the world in another way. The game’s “Shadow World” mechanic would allow players to switch between viewing the world normally and viewing the world as Matt Murdock would. Shadow World would emphasize Daredevil’s reliance on sound, allowing players to follow weak footsteps and detect enemy weaknesses.
This system was intended to help players locate criminals throughout the city, although its application to the combat system had to be scrapped. In concept, players would have used Shadow World to see various weaknesses in enemies, but this had to be scaled back as the developers struggled to meet deadlines. When the February 2003 deadline passed and the game was delayed, more and more features had to be reduced. Maps have become smaller, gameplay has become more linear, and resources have been reworked multiple times to make the game run smoothly.
It was arguably just a symptom of much larger issues that 5000ft faced. Growing from a team of 12 to 50 experienced the typical growing pains of hiring new employees, compounded by allegations of misconduct. While many of the new hires have become invaluable to the company, some contract workers have reportedly benefited from 5000ft’s somewhat lax management style. Perhaps the most troubling allegations were those of substance abuse, which was a significant issue at the time in Reno, Nevada, where the studio was located.
Despite all the roadblocks that 5000 feet had to overcome during Daredevil: The Man Without Fear development, the game was coming to an end. It wasn’t the internal conflicts caused by new hires or the struggle to get the game’s engine running that killed it, but the delicate balance between Sony and Marvel. 5000 Feet had apparently strayed too far from what Marvel wanted from the game in their efforts to appease Sony, and as a result, had lost Daredevil’s license. It is only through the efforts of Unseen 64, an online archive of beta, canceled and unknown video games that Daredevil: The Man Without Fear resurfaced all these years later, though a playable version of the game may be lost forever.
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