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Top 8 Defunct Video Game Companies

November 25, 2022 | Posted by Marc Morrison
Bioshock Image Credit: Take-Two Interactive

Welcome all to another edition of The 8 Ball! This week I’m here to talk about defunct video game companies. When I say “company”, I don’t mean developer. At least two of the picks on my list wouldn’t technically qualify for that, but they are still a part of the video game world in one form or another. One of the companies on this list might technically still be around but I get into that below. Let’s begin:

#8: Psygnosis

Honestly, I was never a huge Wipeout fan. I appreciated the games from a technical perspective but the whole air-braking/turning thing always felt unnatural to me. Plus, I always wished they made a Wipeout game based on the footage they made for Hackers. However, I did like other Psygnosis games like Destruction Derby, Colony Wars, and G-Police. The one racing game I really did dig though was Rollcage. It had a really weird physics system but once you got used to it, you could have a lot of fun with this futuristic racer. GRIP: Combat Racing tries to be a spiritual sequel to it but it doesn’t quite have the handling or soundtrack of Rollcage.

#7: Digital Anvil

For all intents and purposes, Freelancer was the last game Chris Roberts was actually able to put out. And the funny thing is, he got fired in the development of the game, fairly early out. Digital Anvil only made three games, Starlancer, Freelancer, and Brute Force and two of them were great. For those keeping score, the game that doesn’t end with “lancer” is the bad one. Starlancer was a very immersive and technical combat spaceship simulator that is fairly punishing, even on lower difficulties. Freelancer takes the opposite tack of giving you a pretty big galaxy for you to explore, an intuitive control scheme, and just a fun combat system for you to play around in. And Brute Force is…Brute Force. The legacy of Digital Anvil isn’t entirely gone, Roberts still has his Ponzi scheme of Star Citizen going on, but if you want your Starlancer/Freelancer fix, Chorus or Everspace 2 are the games for you.

#6: Pandemic

Say what you want about Pandemic, most, if not all of their games were really about just having fun. While a game could be bad from a gameplay perspective, you can at least see that they were trying to draw something out, even if they weren’t always successful. Their big franchises were Destroy All Humans, Star Wars: Battlefront (the good ones) and Mercenaries. The first Mercenaries games remains a high point to me and the way Mercs 2 was rushed out to market, I have to imagine at EA’s insistence, remains a crime, and something they have been known for, for years. Also, I wish The Saboteur PC port had been better.

#5: FuncoLand

This is probably the one controversial choice on this list, but it’s my list, so who cares? I have very fond memories of FuncoLand, of walking in and seeing the four TV’s set up with current games, and three more TV’s in the back with older titles. Of the store being an actual game store with the paper list of buy-prices, so you could see what your games might be sold for. I don’t think my town had Babbage’s, Electronics Boutique, Software Etc. much and FuncoLand is the big one I remember going to as a kid. FuncoLand eventually got swallowed up/morphed into Gamestop, and we can all see how well that is going these days. Yuck.

#4: Radical Entertainment

Radical is known to me as creating some of the worst games I can think of, but also some really great ones. The worst games were Independence Day, Beavis & Butt-Head, and above all else, Bebe’s Kids. Not only is Bebe’s Kids one of the worst games on the SNES, it’s one of the worst games ever made. Anyone who worked on that thing should be exiled to a desert island. Not all of Radical’s games though are crimes against humanity, Simpsons: Hit & Run is a very good GTA clone, Prototype 1 and 2 are decent, and Hulk: Ultimate Destruction remains a favorite of mine. When they were on their A-game, Radical was great. When not, they were…less great, to say the least.

#3: Bizarre Creations

Project Gotham Racing died so that Forza Motorsport could live! I’m only slightly kidding when I say that, but there is some truth to it. Back in the day, PGR was seen as the more flashy/exciting racing game on the Xbox console. Hell, the first PGR was an original Xbox launch title while PGR 3 was an Xbox 360 launch title. This way was back before Forza was the well-oiled machine that it is now, they were making Forza games but they came out a lot more slowly. Aside from PGR though, Bizarre was also responsible for Geometry Wars, The Club and Blur. Not a bad list of games for the studio even if they are somewhat forgotten now.

#2: Irrational Games

Now, technically, Irrational might still be around but just rebranded as “Ghost Games”. Considering though, that there’s been barely a peep out of them for the past five years, I’m pretty confident in saying they are defunct, or at least, not in danger of releasing a product anytime soon. Irrational made some really great games, but their biggest was obviously BioShock. BioShock was the game that really felt like a more cinematic FPS game, more than prior games in the past. They also made two of my personal favorite games, SWAT 4, a tactical FPS game, and Freedom Force, a RTS superhero game. Unlike with most of the companies on this list who got acquired/shut down, or made bad decisions, Irrational’s downfall can be traced back to Ken Levine who started to buy into his own hype. He bought into all the auteur garbage that was said about him and over 100 people lost their jobs.

#1: Working Designs

This is another case of a company shutting down though not entirely due to their own fault. Unlike with Irrational, whose closer is due to one man, Working Design’s closure was due to shifting genre trends. Basically, Sony wasn’t allowing them to publish Japanese games on the PS2, and that was a big reason for the closure of the studio, among other factors. It sucks because while Working Designs was seen as crazy back then, with their costly translations and even more costly collectors editions, were really ahead of their time. Think about when a game gets released now, especially a big game, it’ll have at least 2 to 3 different editions, and a lot of the time, it’s for really bad stuff. Was there anyone seriously wanting a $400 collector’s edition of Darksiders 3? Judging by the fact there’s still one for sale at my local Best Buy four years later, I’m going with “No”. Still, Working Designs made some of my favorite games, Lunar 1 & 2, Vay, Growlanser Generations, Silhouette Mirage, among others. And I’m still pining for a friend’s (Dave) copy of Elemental Gearbolt, which is one of the rarest things I can think of.

For comments, list which defunct video game company you miss and why.

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Irrational Games, Marc Morrison