South Park: The Stick of Truth arrives in Europe today – many months later than anticipated by THQ. What’s happened to the shuttered publisher’s other lost gems?
THQ’s end: a timeline
February 2012: THQ seeks a partner to help with Dark Millenium.
May 2012: THQ drops Devil’s Third.
August 2012: THQ drops Guillermo del Toro’s Insane.
December 2012: THQ gives in and files for bankruptcy.
January 2013: Major THQ properties sold at auction.
April 2013: Minor THQ properties sold at auction.
June 2013: Company of Heroes 2 released.
August 2013: Saints Row 4 released.
February 2014: Evolve revealed.
March 2014: South Park: The Stick of Truth released.
When THQ went balls-up in late 2012, we weren’t terribly surprised – but we were disappointed. Thanks to its slow exit from licensed games and a disastrous gamble on uDraw, the publisher floundered despite a strong line up core games and some rapid restructuring.
We mourn the bold hero, but THQ’s loss was not without its upside. Other publishers – some rather more flush in the pocket and with better reputations for polishing – fell on THQ’s suddenly-orphaned projects and snapped them up.
Some have made it to market; some languish in obscurity; some are still in active development; some were cancelled altogether; and some remain deeply mysterious. Here’s what we know about the last horses in THQ’s stables.
1666: Amsterdam – THQ Montreal, Ubisoft
1666: Amsterdam is no more. We know hardly anything about this project other than that it was historically inspired, but in May 2013, just four months after buying the project, its developer THQ Montreal, and the erstwhile Ubisoft lead Patrice Désilets, Ubisoft put the project on indefinite hold. Notably, it was not cancelled; if it had been, rights to the project would revert to Désilets.
Désilets, who was rumoured to have left Ubisoft under troubled circumstances in 2010, was welcomed back with open arms, but claims to have been fired. He filed suit against the publisher for the rights to 1666, but does not seem to have made much progress.
There has been speculation that Ubisoft’s cancellation of the project was motivated by the unusually advantageous contract Désilets had negotiated with a desperate THQ. For now, the project is in limbo, and may remain locked away in Ubisoft’s vaults until the end of time.
Company of Heroes – Relic Entertainment, Sega
One of the happiest stories of the THQ dissolution, Company of Heroes 2 released in June to pretty good reviews. Several content drops and patches have made it a much better game, and Sega, which remains committed to strategy and the PC, seems pretty happy with its acquisition’s place alongside sibling The Creative Assembly.
Darksiders – Vigil Games, Nordic Games
Back to tragedy now, I’m afraid. Despite reasonable sales of both initial titles, the Darksiders franchise failed to find a buyer at auction, scuttling developer Vigil Games’ plans for a four-player co-op affair starring all the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. This wasn’t surprising; hell, even THQ didn’t seem keen on it.
Nobody bought the team but Nordic Games won the franchise rights in a job lot, and has said it’s looking for the right team to work on it, so there may be hope. There’s been no peep regarding Vigil’s other project, a “truly unique” game codenamed Crawler, about which we know very little indeed.
The team at Vigil Games was mostly hired by Crytek to form new studio Crytek US; we don’t know what they’re up to.
Devil’s Third – Valhalla Game Studios, indie
Now here’s an interesting one. We had expected this to release as early as April 2013, but by May 2013 THQ had dropped the project as it struggled to shore up its finances. Happily, the publisher returned the Devil’s Third rights to creator Tomonobu Itagaki, paving the way for Valhalla Games to find a new publisher or produce the game independently.
At last update, early this year, Itagaki said the game is on track for a 2014 release, and that independence suits the team.
Evolve – Turtle Rock Studios, 2K
It’s probably too early to call this one a happy ending, but the plumply cashed-up Take-Two leapt on Evolve the way I pounce on kebabs at two in the morning. It’s a good fit for the publisher, which brought us Borderlands – another new take on the shooter genre. We don’t have a release date for this one yet beyond “sometime this year, probably”, but 2K recently began marketing efforts, giving the long-rumoured game a first reveal, and is throwing enough cash at it to give us hope. (Compare and contrast with the quietly under-marketed The Bureau, for example.)
Homefront – Kaos Studios/Crytek UK, Crytek
Homefront’s an interesting property; THQ really bet the bank on it, and ended up shuttering developer Kaos Studio when the shooter under-performed. The publisher remained committed to its bid for a position in the first-person shooter space, but farmed the sequel out to Crytek UK. Crytek prime picked up the rights at auction and expects to bring it to market this year, saying “nothing has changed“. We’ll see, eh?
Homeworld – Relic Entertainment, Gearbox Software
Quite a nice story here. An über-fan of the series, Gearbox COO Brian Martel talked Gearbox Software into buying the rights for Homeworld. Not only has the developer been working on a content-rich Remastered Edition, it licensed the rights to Blackbird Interactive, a team composed of people who worked on the original games, and agreed to fund its spiritual successor turned official series entry, Homeworld: Shipbreakers. Bless, I’m getting teary.
InSane – unknown developer, unpurchased
Now this one we’d really like to know more about; apart from the usual trademark and registration slips, THQ was amazingly good at keeping its projects under wraps. It signed celebrated filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, an avid gamer, to oversee a trilogy of open world horror games. We have no idea if anybody was ever actually working on the project, or if del Toro just turned up between movies to shoot the breeze with executives about his ideas, but THQ dropped the project several months before it finally declared bankruptcy – and well after projects like Devil’s Third, which seems to have been an actual game and not a vague collection of ideas.
Metro – 4A Games, Deep Silver
THQ failed to capitalise on Metro 2033′s success, but it was determined not to do the same with the sequel, delaying it in order to produce a genuine hit – not another rough diamond.
Sadly, THQ went under a good three months before Last Light’s scheduled release in March 2013, but Deep Silver managed to rescue it, getting it out the door by May 2013. It strongly out-performed its precursor and reviewed fairly well.
Saints Row – Volition Inc, Deep Silver
Gosh, Deep Silver did pretty well out of THQ. Saints Row 4 released in August 2013 and sold 1 million copies during its launch week. Deep Silver funded several DLC packs, and the franchise’s future looks rosy. We don’t know what else Volition might be working on at present.
South Park: The Stick of Truth – Obsidian Entertainment, Ubisoft
It’s worth noting that after Ubisoft got its paws on South Park: The Stick of Truth, it delayed it considerably; under THQ, we had expected the RPG to drop in early 2013. That’s around 12 months additional development time, which makes you wonder what kind of state it was in. THQ had probably been gambling on the licensed project’s sales providing a much-needed financial boost as its world crumbled, but Ubisoft had plenty of bankroll to keep it on hold for polishing. Obisidian – bless it! – has a bit of a reputation for enormous, ambitious projects with more bugs than a crack house mattress; Ubisoft’s stern hand and steady eye may be just what the developer needed to help lift its Metacritic rating.
Warhammer 40,000: Dark Millennium – Vigil Games, unpurchased
Ha ha, remember when THQ thought it would release DMO by March 2013? Good times. Before the publisher broke down, it had made dramatic changes to this project, downgrading it from an MMO to a multiplayer title, amid serious job cuts. We never had much concrete information about Warhammer 40,000: Dark Millenium (“Online” or otherwise), and during the bankruptcy proceedings, THQ representatives never actually confirmed where it ended up – or if it was just shelved. We’re hoping to have more answers for you regarding this shortly. In the meantime: