Every console has their share of games that begin development yet for one reason or another don't make it to our shelves; be it company restructuring, negative user feedback or simply running out of cash. As games get more and more ambitious in their scope, the budgets required to make them can turn into serious money; with stakes this high and so many games to compete against it's easy to see why projects often get canned.
Of course when it comes to the Dreamcast there was an additional factor in the equation; Sega's shock premature exit from the console race. Lots of publishers at the time decided that it wasn't financially viable to continue development work on Dreamcast games, even ones that were nearing completion, and it would be better to simply write off the losses spent developing the game for tax purposes. For avid Dreamcast gamers who'd been waiting patiently to play them, it was more disappointing news.
Propeller Arena was one such game that never made it to our shelves, though the story behind why is a little more complicated. Developed by AM2; the team behind the Shenmue series, Outtrigger and Ferrari F355 Challenge; PA was to be an arcade-style aircraft combat game in which you battled it out death-match style using a range of planes and weapons over a selection of attractive looking landscapes. Preview copies had been sent out to gaming magazines and sites and had received a generally positive reception, IGN.com took particular note of the attractive graphics and enjoyable multi-player experience. So everything was looking good for a Fall 2001 release date.
Unfortunately then came the tragic events of September 11th. Considering the scale of this tragedy Sega deemed it inappropriate to release a flight sim with 9/11 so fresh in everyone's minds. The game itself never had a plot featuring anything to do with terrorism and wasn't set in New York, but Sega were concerned about players recreating the events of the tragedy in online play (there was a level set in the unfortunately titled 'Tower City') and as the game was to feature online voice chat via the microphone add-on, it was the recipe for a PR disaster. Sega decided the best thing for them to would be to hold off on the release of the game for the forseeable future. With the Dreamcast already so close to the end of it's lifespan it was clear PA was never going to get a Dreamcast release.
That would have been the end of the story; with the best anyone could hope for was for Sega to bundle it in one of their retro compilation packs at some point in the future. That was until early 2004 when a group of people on the assemblergames.com message board (A site for collectors of gaming rarities) managed to get hold of a disk containing, what appears to a complete copy of the finished game. Mysteriously, not long after the game was leaked on-line via peer to peer sites so that anyone with a CD burner and no moral aversion to downloading copyrighted material could play it.
So in the interest of good investigative journalism Dream On magazine have braved the murky pirate world for you dear reader, to get a copy for review.
You can choose from one of four modes; Championship - a career mode of sorts, Quick battle - for a one off dog fight, Training Arena - A training mode, along with a selection of mini-games and Network - For online play (which is unfortunately non-functioning).
Fans of Crazy Taxi will feel right at home in the game, the presentation, the punk rock soundtrack and the instant accessibility definitely harks back to the classic series.
It truly is a shame the game never got released and we'll never get to experience the online multiplayer mode, if the split screen mode is anything to go by it would have certainly been up there with the better online Dreamcast games. Of course flight sim games have never sold consoles and it's unlikely to have improved Sega's fortunes in the hardware race but it's easily one of the most enjoyable flight sims (of the admitedly few that are out there) we've ever played. Of course we would never suggest anyone go out and break the law by downloading a copy, but if there are any bays you know where pirates congregate you could probably find a copy...
I still have to write the review portion of this (I haven't played the game in a long while :lol:) and do lots of tidying up of grammar and clumsy language- but feel free to crit away.