Once Upon a Crime: The ‘100 Bullets’ Game That Almost Happened
At the turn of the millennium, Vertigo published the first handful of issues of 100 Bullets, the hard-boiled neo-noir from Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso. The heavy-handed narrative would take a decade to unfold, with a conspiracy so complex, you basically had to re-read every old issue every time a new issue came out just so you could keep all the twists, turns, changing allegiances, and lies straight. The idea of a video game based on a Vertigo comic seemed completely improbable at the time, and that's not even considering the subject matter, tone and style of 100 Bullets being a better fit for the graphic medium than the virtual one.
Despite the odds being heavily stacked against a 100 Bullets video game, ten years ago it almost actually happened. Thanks in part to the successes of Max Payne and Hitman, both of which proved there was a market for a story like 100 Bullets, Acclaim reached a deal with the comic's creators to develop and publish a video game based on the moody, violent comic. Back in 2003 and 2004, you might remember even seeing advertisements and preview coverage of 100 Bullets in its early stages. But that's as far as 100 Bullets ever made it, and we've never really seen what could have been. That is until PtoPOnline uncovered some of these early prototypes and shared them with the world this week.
Both Azzarello and Risso worked with Acclaim on making 100 Bullets a reality. Azzarello consulted on the story, and even created a new playable character named Snow Falls just for the game. Risso created character art, though it's hard to say from the limited amount of footage available whether or not Acclaim had any success bringing Risso's style to life in 3D form. Acclaim's hope was to challenge players with moral ambiguity, much in the same way Agent Graves did by offering characters in the story the infamous attache.
Now I don't recall the exact issue where the briefcase and gun premise was seemingly abandoned by Azzarello and Risso to focus on the larger conspiracy between the Minutemen and the Trust, but very few of the comic's storylines involved Graves' mysterious offering by 2004. What's more, the gameplay unearthed by PtoPOnline doesn't show very much moral ambiguity at all. Most of what we're seeing is a fairly rudimentary third-person shooter, though with a few familiar faces, including Graves, Cole Burns (who was also playable), and Mr. Branch, a journalist who has more than a few encounters with the Minutemen over the years.
Granted, a lot of subtext is missing given that these are incomplete snippets of a total experience, but the focus on massive shootouts doesn't really give the impression Acclaims was all that worried about making the players feel guilty about their choices. That was always what struck me as odd with regards to making a game set in the world of 100 Bullets. While there was certainly a great amount of violence in the comic, and more than a shootout or two among friends and enemies alike, the action merely punctuated the story, it didn't drive it. An all-out action game just didn't suit the foundation.
The real reason 100 Bullets never saw the light of day as far as the public is concerned is due to Acclaim's financial troubles during that same era the game was in development. Though the team of developers tried to keep things going on 100 Bullets, eventually Acclaim shuttered the project in order to help alleviate some of the money problems it had encountered in the mid-2000s. Strangely enough, in 2007 rumors of 100 Bullets being revived made the rounds, though at a different publisher. D3 Publisher had secured the rights some time after Acclaim lost them, but nothing every materialized.
In a 2009 interview with Wired, Brian Azzarello called the project "dead," though he was optimistic the story could work eventually as a game. Given how well Telltale Games has managed to turn properties like Fables and The Walking Dead into credible adventure games, perhaps Azzarello is right. Then again, there is talk about the potential movie adaptation making the rounds, so maybe there's still time for the Minutemen to live on in a new video game.