Singleton’s vision for the game was a testament to his ambitious and imaginative spirit — an artist wanting to tell real stories through the interactive world of video gaming.
In September 2004, Midway Games announced that it was working on a new action and adventure game titled Fear & Respect. Set in South Central, Los Angeles, the game would “follow the realistic exploits of a reluctant gang member” who’s “forced back into the life of a criminal when uncontrollable circumstances drive him to it.” When the game was announced, video game websites made sure to center the news on the man chosen to be the game’s director and writer, a filmmaker who rose to prominence for a film that beautifully captured the love, loss, joy, pain, and tragedy of South Central in a way no one had done before — John Singleton, who died at the age of 51 on Monday.
Fear & Respect was supposed to be Singleton’s promising foray into the video game industry. The game was even the cover story for Game Informer‘s January 2005 issue, where an animated Snoop Dogg — who was going to portray the game’s protagonist Goldie — was the face of the cover.
In the cover story, Singleton explained how Fear & Respect‘s story was meant for a film but he wanted the experience to be more immersive and interactive. So, he decided to adapt the story as a video game.
“I actually have been pitching games around for awhile. I have my agent hook me up with different companies. I’ve been flown around the world by companies — France and different places — pitching games,” Singleton said. “And then it came up that Midway was interested in doing a street game. So, I got a meeting with them and I talked about one of the ideas that I had for a game and it evolved into being [Fear & Respect].”
Fear & Respect was coming about at a time where hip-hop culture and street culture was intersecting with video game culture. The year 2003 saw the release of Def Jam Vendetta, the fighting and wrestling game that pitted rappers like DMX, Method Man, and Redman against one another. The next saw the release of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the action-adventure game centered on former gang member CJ, whose life is upended when he returns home following the death of his mother. The latter is revered as one of the greatest video games ever made, and both critics and fans were quick to compare Fear & Respect to the Rockstar Games standout.
The irony is that San Andreas largely owes itself to Singleton’s magnum opus, Boyz n the Hood, his 1991 directorial debut that follows the lives of three black men navigating race, violence, cultural identity, and relationships in South Central’s Crenshaw neighborhood. Singleton was the first to bring Hollywood to South Central, introducing audiences to the feel, look, and sound of the neighborhood, its debut happening alongside the rise of gangsta rap coming out of L.A. Some of the talent Singleton enlisted for the film even went on to be integral to San Andreas‘ creation, most notably DJ Pooh, who produced the drive-by shooting sequence in Boyz n the Hood, as well as produced tracks for its soundtrack. Pooh was a co-producer and writer for San Andreas.
Singleton and Midway Games seemed confident in creating a game distinguishable from San Andreas. The game wasn’t open-world, according to Scott Lane, its executive producer. However, the levels did incorporate “sandbox” areas “where you can freely walk around, learning more about the storyline, missions, and characters in the game,” and “see barbecues, hear boom boxes blasting class West Coast hip-hop, and see people betting on pitbull fights.” Certain sandboxes were also controlled either by the Bloods or Crips, adding an element of danger and strategy to how players chose to navigate those areas, especially at night time, where players could avoid confrontation by sneaking through areas in the darkness.
There was also the game’s camera system and gun control system, which the author of the Game Informer story said shared similarities to Resident Evil 4 and Max Payne, respectively.
One of the more distinct parts of Fear & Respect‘s gameplay was its “Fear & Respect” meter “affects nearly everything in the game.”
“I think it’s exciting to have a game [in which] where you go in the game is dictated by the consequences of your actions,” Singleton said. “You make choices in the game that lead to you having more fear or more respect on the streets. You can’t just go through the game just mindlessly killing anybody. But you’re put in certain situations where if you have to kill, it’s your choice. And what you decide to do dictates where the story’s going to go.”
The inclusion would’ve added a layer of realism to the game that reflected the story Singleton wanted to tell, the meter a prototype to interactive drama games like Heavy Rain and Until Dawn, where players must make moral decisions on a range of scenarios.
To make sure that realism was properly captured, several members of the game’s team also went to South Central, where “they took photos” and “spoke with the locals” to tell the real-life stories of people in the area.
A trailer of the game was released the following month, according to a post by IGN. The clip shows Snoop’s character riding in a car with two fellow gang members when rival gang members stand in front of it and proceed to shoot at them. In attempting to get away the car crashes, leading Snoop to venture and defend for himself on foot as a montage of gameplay footage is shown. The trailer comes across as more True Crime than Grand Theft Auto based on the character and level design, and seems to be the only one released to promote the game.
Originally slated to be released in the fall of 2005, Fear & Respect was delayed for 2006 before ultimately being canceled.
“Fear & Respect is on the back burner. We are still working with Snoop and John Singleton to do a game, but the actual game Fear & Respect is canceled,” Midway CEO David Zucker told Gamespot. Zucker didn’t explain why the game was canceled at the time, instead telling Gamespot, “I think we’re at a juncture in the video game business. Everyone’s talking about it. How many times are you going to give me the 16th iteration of…I’m not even going to talk about the other products…The 20th iteration of a driving game isn’t going to keep the industry growing.”
After that, the game was never spoken of again. It’s difficult to find any interviews of either Singleton or Snoop talking about it following its cancellation.
It’s unfortunate that Fear & Respect never came to fruition. Maybe it was because of the comparisons to San Andreas. Maybe it was its ambitiousness, a game that seemed promising but likely wouldn’t have reached its full potential with the technology available at the time.
Still, there’s no denying that Singleton’s attention to detail and desire to tell a captivating and immersive story through the medium of gaming wasn’t a part of Fear & Respect, a project that fans and notable media figures in gaming still wish existed years after its cancellation.