Frame City Killer

2006 Namco

Platform: Microsoft Xbox 360

Frame City Killer was announced back in May 2005 as a next-generation action adventure game for the Xbox 360, utilizing the new upcoming Unreal 3 engine and consisting of immersive and non-linear gameplay. The intention was to try and release the game in time for the system’s launch – but things were not to go to plan.

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Press release screenshot courtesy of Gamersyde.

GTW takes a look at the title, thanks to help and input from gaming historian John Szczepaniak. The game story had you controlling a secret agent named ‘Crow’, who has to hunt down a criminal drug lord. A press release from Namco at the time gave a bit more detail and background overall:

“Set in a futuristic metropolis in East Asia, ‘Frame City Killer’ casts players as Crow, an assassin sent to Frame City to identify and eliminate Khan – a mysterious terrorist and head of a deadly new-age drug cartel.

As a hit man, players track and profile targets, while utilizing numerous methods to execute the perfect hit. ‘Frame City Killer’ offers players a dark and gritty storyline, thrilling car chases and a variety of ways for players to achieve their goals.”

With a large city, there would be many different people to encounter, each with their own characteristics (and problems!). You would be able to use your special “InfoScan” device to scan people for hidden weapons and belongings to help plan and stay one step ahead. More details about the world can be read on Namco’s page on the game via Wayback Machine.

By digging into the small incidents that occur within the game and taking on missions that would crop up, you would gradually get closer to discovering Khan’s true identity to then take him down. How you act within the city and carry out various missions would also shape your situation within the city as a whole.

You would be able to drive around in different vehicles, and also enter many of the buildings dotted around the game. One such place would be Volkov’s Casino, which was depicted as the world’s largest casino and we assume where you’d be able to gamble or carry out a side mission of somekind.

The intention was to have around 20-30 hours of game play, though if you took detours or change the difficult level, it could last a lot longer. However, one planned feature upon release was to have regular updates on Xbox Live for at least a year, with one mission per week released to further expand the life of the game post-launch. There were no concrete plans for true online play, only basic online interaction between friends and data transfer according to Namco.

Namco were putting a lot on the title, hoping it would showcase their plans for next generation consoles at the time. It was the first time that they were also to use the Unreal 3 engine as well, and create a vast city that felt like it was alive. Close to 100 people were reported to be working on the title.

At the time the engine wasn’t quite finished, and the developers revealed to that they would make their own expansions to the engine to get the game working how they wanted. A lot of feedback would be given back to Epic Games to help them shape the engine too whilst they pushed to finish it.

Frame City Killer would miss the 360 launch in October 2005, and was initially pushed back to sometime in Winter. By December, there was news that the game would be pushed back further – and what was worse was that coverage of the game released to the press would result in ridicule due to the quality of the graphics.

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Press release screenshot courtesy of Gamersyde.

By early 2006, Namco were trying desperately to fix some of the issues reported and overhauling some of the graphics, though the team were still struggling with the engine that wasn’t quite there and having to make various customisations. The release date would now be pushed back to the Summer.

Interestingly, even though the game was behind schedule – an email was sent out to those who had signed up to the newsletter at the Frame City Underground site to ask for input and suggestions for missions to include within the game. Perhaps this was for later development post-launch for the Live update?

In the end, the game would never surface. It looks as if behind the scenes the game was a troubled development due to getting to grips with the Unreal engine, and perhaps being vastly underestimated in terms of the work required to get a game of its scale complete. The press releases also didn’t particularly wow the gaming industry, so it seems overall that Namco had lost confidence completely in the title and that it could be salvaged, deciding to cancel the game by mid-2006.

According to Japanese video game historian John Szczepaniak, the game may have actually been ready to release in Japan and Europe (where it was already localised). It was delayed to add some polish, but cancellation would occur before those improvements could be finished.

Those involved on the game have been reached out to to learn their story about the development, but have not responded. Once we do learn and hear anything more, then we will continue to update this page.

As for trying to find something of the game itself, there will be prototypes out there – and John is convinced that a full version is sitting out there somewhere too (albeit, minus the so-called “polish”). A playable version of the game was present at E3 in 2005, and the public were able to play it – does that copy still exist anywhere?

We have seen various 360 prototypes leak over the years, so it is hoped that some day something of Frame City Killer will make it out. If you know anything more, or even worked on the title – please do get in touch to share your story about the development of the game in some way.

With huge thanks to John Szczepaniak for all the screenshots and information gathered about the title to make this piece possible. This includes pulling together for screenshots and assets from Gamersyde, GamesPress and IGN, which we have pulled together here. Thanks also to Internet Archive, where some further screens and details were obtained.


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