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Michael Mann’s Heat 2 is a crime novel, but was almost a video game

Heat sequel/prequel was once in very early development at Borderlands developer Gearbox

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A masked robber holds an assault rifle in a still from Michael Mann’s Heat Image: Warner Bros. Pictures
Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

Director Michael Mann is releasing a sequel to Heat, his explosive 1995 crime-thriller starring Al Pacino as eccentric police detective Vincent Hanna and Robert De Niro as his career-obsessive counterpart, bank robber Neil McCauley. The sequel to that tinnitus-inducing bank-heist film will arrive this summer in the form of a book, Heat 2: A Novel, which Mann co-wrote with prolific thriller author Meg Gardiner.

Heat 2 will tell the “before and after” story of the film’s primary characters, according to a trailer for the book, and promises a “deep dive” into Hanna’s life in Chicago six years prior to the events of Heat. Mann told Deadline, “There was always a rich history or back-story about the events in these people’s lives before 1995 in Heat and projection of where their lives would take them after.”

Expect a similar exploration into McCauley’s background and that of his accomplice, Chris Shiherlis, who was played by Val Kilmer in the film. Heat 2 will begin in the immediate aftermath of Heat’s botched bank robbery, with a wounded Shiherlis trying to escape Los Angeles. Deadline’s write-up of the plot of Heat 2 points to a global thriller, with a story spanning 12 years of crime drama that ping-pongs from Taiwan to Mexico to LA to Southeast Asia.

Mann previously spoke of a Heat prequel back in 2016. He established the Michael Mann Books imprint then, with the intention to plumb his television and film creations for new novels. Publisher William Morrow will make good on that long gestating plan on Aug. 9, when it releases Heat 2: A Novel.

But Mann had eyes on a Heat sequel/prequel much earlier than 2016. And his Heat successor was once conceived to arrive as a video game, developed by Borderlands studio Gearbox Software. At E3 2006, a company named Titan Productions announced that it had reached a deal with Heat rights owner Regency Enterprises to make a video game sequel to Mann’s film, with Gearbox handling development of the planned PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 game. According to a report from GameSpot, Titan claimed the project was in the “advanced stages with representatives for Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Val Kilmer to be part of the video game sequel.”

“There is something about this concept that I call ‘hardcore heist’ that has never really been done well in a video game, yet everyone on the planet has thought about robbing a bank or something at one time or another,” Gearbox Software president Randy Pitchford said of the project in 2006. “Heat pretty much defined what hardcore heist means and it gives us a narrative mechanism to consider both sides.”

At least one popular video game had already attempted to emulate Heat’s memorable bank heist by then: Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. The mission “The Job” put protagonist Tommy Vercetti and pals into coveralls and hockey masks, an homage to Heat’s armored car robbery scene, in Vice City’s plundering of El Banco Corrupto Grande. Like Heat, that heist culminates in a gun battle with an escape from a SWAT team.

Rockstar revisited the Heat-style heist with Grand Theft Auto 4’s “Three Leaf Clover,” a bank robbery with suits and ski masks, followed by a more dramatic, desperate shootout with Liberty City cops.

Another video game series that arrived years later, Overkill Software’s Payday, was directly influenced by Heat, according to studio co-founder Simon Vicklund. Payday 2 even had a map called Heat Street, a replication of Mann’s climactic shootout through the streets of downtown LA.

But Gearbox’s plan to bring Heat itself to video game consoles never panned out. In a 2009 interview with GameSpot, Pitchford said that development on the game had gone “nowhere.”

“We have passionate game makers that would love to do it,” Pitchford said. “We’ve got filmmakers that think it’s a great idea that would love to see it done. We have publishing partners that would love to publish it. But we have no time. That’s the limiting factor.”

“From a talent point of view, we had a lot of interest,” Pitchford added. “[...] no deals were done, but we had a lot of confidence that, from my understanding, Pacino was into it and that Val would do it. De Niro wanted to, but there needed to be some more conversations with him. He’s not a gamer himself.”

Pitchford said that Gearbox had done “some preproduction effort with some development partners starting to feel out asset creation and what the scope of the world can be,” but the project never progressed beyond the dream stage and into full production. The studio was also developing Borderlands and Aliens: Colonial Marines at the time — “at the brink of our capability,” Pitchford said — and eventually gave up on Heat, hoping that someone else might pick up the property.

It’s worth noting that Titan Productions also announced game projects with directors John Carpenter for a shooter called Psychopath and Guillermo del Toro for a post-apocalyptic zombie horror game called Sundown, both of which never came to fruition. So don’t lay too much of the blame on Gearbox for Heat: The Video Game’s failure to launch.