Invincible Iron Man
Image: @KevEdwardsRetro

Update [Wed 3rd Jul, 2024 13:00 BST]: A demo of the game has now been found and recovered by the former Genepool developer Kevin Edwards, so we've decided to update the original piece below, which was originally posted on September 29th, 2022.

With Marvel Entertainment and EA Motive supposedly in the process of making a new Iron Man game, it recently got us thinking back to a topic we looked into back in 2021Invincible Iron Man — a cancelled game for the PS2, Xbox, and GameCube that was in development between 2003-2004.

In case you're unaware, Activision was the publisher of this cancelled project, with the Greater Manchester-based studio Genepool Software supposedly making the game to loosely tie into a film project that was in development at the time. The team at Genepool had previously worked with Activision on X2: Wolverine's Revenge, a multi-platform action game that got somewhat mixed reviews, but got the job on Iron Man thanks to Activision's executive vice president of worldwide studios Larry Goldberg who was impressed with the company's work ethic.

Dave Anthony, one of the co-founders of Genepool, told us back in 2021, "The reason we got the Iron Man contract was the guy who was running studios at Activision at that point was called Larry Goldberg…and he knew that we had given that project our all. He knew that it didn’t work out as well as anyone wanted. But he really appreciated the effort we went to, and I think he knew that we’d grown from going through that process, and he gave us another shot."

Throughout 2021, we did our best to contact as many people who worked on the game as possible, which put us in touch with Justin Heyes-Jones, a former programmer at Genepool. Jones was able to share his memories of the project with us, including that Tony Crowther (of Monty Mole fame) was apparently involved.

"There was a lot of work done on the game engine and tools [for Iron Man]," he told us. "After Wolverine’s Revenge, we had hired a number of people that all came from another studio that had shuttered. These included Tony Crowther and Stephen Robinson who are both very distinguished in the industry...

"They had very similar ideas on how to build a development platform that would speed up development by letting game designers have more control over how to build and script the game. I was leading the AI team and we had a similar focus on tools for describing behaviours and realistic-looking path-finding."

As we continued talking to the team, we eventually uncovered various pieces of concept art for the game, which were sent to us by Anthony. These seemed to indicate that Black Widow and the villain Ghost would make an appearance at some point during the game. Ghost, in case you're unfamiliar, is an inventor and hacker in the Marvel Comics Universe who wears a suit that can turn himself invisible. The character debuted in Iron Man #219 in June 1987 and was originally created by Bob Layton and David Michelinie.

In addition to concept art, Genepool also produced a demo, which we initially thought was lost before the former Genepool programmer Kevin Edwards posted some screenshots and videos of the game in July 2024.

We asked Edwards a few questions including how he came to recover the build and whether he could share it publicly, to which he responded, "I just found a milestone Xbox build DVD amongst the hundreds of disks I have in my archive. Not sure I can share at this stage. I shall be posting more from the game during the next couple of days so keep an eye out! AFAIK no one else has any builds of the game, so this is 99.99% the only one in existence. This is the Xbox version that I worked on. There was also a PS2 and PC version."

We've asked Edwards a couple of additional follow-up questions about the nature and will update this article when we hear back.

From those we spoke to, this demo of the game featured Iron Man attacking an underground base, flying around, and fighting a group of robots and machines. Those who saw it at the time, including Richard Browne (who was then at THQ) called it "impressive", but sadly it never got much further than this early build.

"I will always remember, I was sat in my office with [the producer] Jason Blundell and I had a phone call," Anthony told us. "It was like a minute long and I just looked at him and said, ‘The project has just been canned.’ He was just as dumbfounded as I was because we’d just had a review of the game where we were told it was one of the best prototypes they’d seen.”

The exact reasons behind the game's cancellation are still something of a mystery to all involved. Some suspect that the Iron Man film the project was tied to had entered development hell, causing Activision to change its plans. But, around the same time, the publisher was confusingly also working on another Iron Man game with Dave Mirra: BMX Freestyle developer Z-Axis, which was in development for a year longer than Genepool's project before later being canceled. It's possible, therefore, that Activision had simply spread itself too thin, and wanted to focus on one project over the other.

Regardless of what the reason was, the news was devastating for the studio. Genepool had spent six months working on the project and had no chance to repurpose the material due to the specificity of the license and the tools that had been created — most of which had all been tailored around Iron Man’s flying abilities.

Genepool tried to use it to get other work, but eventually, the studio closed its doors in 2004. Iron Man, meanwhile, wouldn't star in another solo game until 2008's Iron Man, from Sega.