1. Robot uprising, Mega Man 2 (1989)
Creating a fiction based in the near future requires writers to go out on a limb—before they know it, real-world events will test their predictions. The creators of Mega Man 2 were at least clever enough to hedge their bets as they concocted a world where machines go mad. The global “industrial robot” revolt that provides the backdrop for Mega Man’s second adventure is said to take place in “200X,” giving the game a generous 10-year span in which its cybernetic dystopia could come to fruition. You can almost picture series producer Keiji Inafune crossing his fingers for the bot apocalypse as Dec. 31, 2009 rolled around. Yet robots remained pretty docile as history tested for every value of “X.” A recent 60 Minutes report on the encroaching threat of robots couldn’t come up with anything more threatening than a few squat orange warehouse helpers (although those do bear passing resemblance to Mega Man’s ubiquitous hard-hat “Met” bots). But starting with Mega Man 5, the series’ timeline shifted to the even more vague “20XX.” Can humanity hold out for another 87 years?
2. Presidential kidnapping, Bad Dudes (1988)
The year is 1988, and some shit has gone down. Ninjas have kidnapped President Ronnie (that’s Ronald Reagan for the whippersnappers), and there’s just one question: Are you a bad enough dude to rescue him from ninjas?! Only the arcade version of Bad Dudes mentions Reagan by name. Since Nintendo Of America in the 1980s was wary of anything that resembled political leanings, the NES version featured a nameless president looked more like George Bush. Regardless, as of this writing, neither Ronald Reagan or any other president has been kidnapped by ninjas—although Dennis Kucinich did insist that he saw a UFO during a presidential debate in 2005.
3. Alien invasion, The Conduit (2009)
The Mayans weren’t the only ones forecasting that 2012 would be a rough year. The Conduit predicted an invasion of Washington, D.C. by an insect-like alien race known as The Drudge. While cockroaches might be more popular than Congress right now, they’re not rampaging through the Capitol. Of course, the first sign of trouble in The Conduit is a flu-like disease spreading throughout the city, so maybe the predictions are just a few months off.
4. Cities ravaged by demolition derbies, Twisted Metal 3 (1998)
Los Angeles would have been a pretty terrible place to live in the mid-2000s according to the near future predicted by early Twisted Metal games. The City Of Angels is decimated in 2005 and 2006 by the mayhem of back-to-back demolition derbies in which 12 participants pimp out their rides with guns and gadgets in order to be the last vehicle standing. Psychopathic clowns firing missiles at your city’s infrastructure are bad enough, but L.A. suffers another big blow, from Mother Nature, in the form of “The Great Earthquake Of 2007.” It reduces the rest of the metropolis to rubble in time for Twisted Metal 3. Looking back now, traffic on Interstate 10 remained a close approximation of death in the 2000s, but it never blossomed into a car-pocalypse. On the other hand, an earthquake did indeed hit L.A. in August 2007, but it was a magnitude-4.6 temblor, a relative hiccup in Southern California.
5. North Korea goes even more rogue, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon 2 (2004)
It’s hard to imagine Tom Clancy himself coming up with a better foil for post-Cold War America than North Korea. In a country whose government deifies its leaders and proclaims with a straight face that it has discovered a secret unicorn lair, anything could happen. That’s why the plot of Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon 2 seems semi-reasonable. The Xbox and GameCube editions of the game—the PlayStation 2 version is somewhat different—are set in the year 2011 and feature a rogue general who seizes control of the country’s nuclear arsenal because he’s angry about the government’s silly domestic spending in the wake of a national famine. NATO, and consequently a Ghost Recon squad of super-soldiers, are soon called in to stop the general from igniting a war with surrounding Asian countries. 2011 didn’t quite happen that way, but perhaps an asterisk should be granted because North Korea did see a big leadership change in 2011. That was the result of Kim Jong-Il’s death, though, and there’s been no military coup—yet.
6. Russian rebels threaten Western powers, Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007)
The writers of the first Modern Warfare tried to one-up Tom Clancy with their own bit of head-spinning techno-thriller military fiction. It’s the year 2011, and Russia is embroiled in a civil war between government loyalists and a faction of ultra-nationalists bent on restoring the country to its U.S.S.R. heyday. One of the rebel commanders makes a deal with an officer in an unnamed, oil-rich Middle Eastern nation to distract the U.S. from the Russian problem. Decidedly non-wacky military hijinks ensue, including a U.S. invasion of the Middle East and a near-nuking of the Eastern Seaboard, stopped at the last minute by a plucky squad of Marines and British Special Forces. One part of the yarn did essentially come true: In Modern Warfare,, the U.S. military sends an elite unit into the Middle East to assassinate a high-profile target, fictional ultra-nationalist Khaled Al-Asad. A similar scenario took place in real-life 2011, when the target was Osama Bin Laden.
7. Hitler comes back to life, Bionic Commando (1988)
Bionic Commando was, depending on your perspective, either deeply cynical or deeply optimistic about the future. On the one hand, it predicted that just a year after its release, technology would have advanced so far that people would be able to swing around on bionic arms and revivify people that had been dead for 40 years. At the same time, the game also predicted that said technology would be employed in a modern war against a resurrected Adolf Hitler. Radd Spencer’s mission takes place in 1989—the date comes from a picture shown during the game’s closing credits—and its objective is to rescue a famous soldier from a ferocious Neo-Nazi military. It culminates in the resurrection of a burly Adolf Hitler, right before your eyes. As if that weren’t a disturbing enough, the only way to stop Hitler is to shoot him in the face with a missile. (Capcom deemed it necessary to portray the process in graphic detail.) The real 1989 was free from Nazi conquest—but also free of bionic grappling hooks. Shame.
8. Interplanetary travel is commonplace, Street Fighter 2010: The Final Fight (1990)
It’s not too difficult to follow the narrative logic from the original Street Fighter in 1987 to 1990’s Street Fighter 2010. After all, this is a world where martial artists can throw giant fireballs from their hands. The leap to Street Fighter 2010’s future of bio-engineered superhumans isn’t a big one. The bridge too far in the NES game was instead its presumption that interplanetary travel would be commonplace by 2010—and interdimensional travel on top of that. Hero Ken Masters zips between crazy plant planets and ruined-city planets just by hopping into glowing portals like they were nothing. He punches monsters and cyborgs aplenty, all the while taking for granted that he covers not just miles but light years in the blink of an eye. In actual 2010, President Obama signed the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 into law, granting our space program a measly $58 billion from 2011 through 2013. Know what NASA did with that cash money? Funded the final space shuttle launch. Street Fighter predicted interdimensional portals, and we can barely get into orbit anymore. This one’s not even close.
9. Zombie viruses ravage the planet, the president’s daughter is kidnapped, nuclear bombs detonate on U.S. soil; Resident Evil series (1996-2012)
Resident Evil started out so innocently back in 1996. Director Shinji Mikami was tasked with making a horror video game inspired by Capcom’s old NES oddity Sweet Home and he got to make a contemporary haunted house. He created a mansion full of zombies who were borne from a pharmaceutical company bent on world domination—perfect entertainment for the X-Files era. Subsequent entries in the series further developed Resident Evil’s insane otherworld timeline. In 1998, the government drops a nuclear bomb on a U.S. city (Resident Evil 3). In 2005, the president’s daughter is kidnapped by monstrous Spaniards (Resident Evil 4). In Resident Evil 6’s vision of 2013, a giant, bloody, eyeball-spewing T-rex attacks China—that one hasn’t come true, either, but the year is young.
10. Meteor impact in Nevada, Zombie Nation (1990)
Like the films Armageddon and Deep Impact, Zombie Nation predicted that an apocalyptic impact event would threaten our existence at the end of the 1900s. Nation’s Darc Seed meteor, which crashes into the Nevada desert in 1999, does more than kill Bruce Willis or guarantee president Morgan Freeman a second term, though. It turns most of the U.S. population into slavering zombies and brings the Statue Of Liberty to life, compelling Lady Liberty to do its dark (darc?) bidding. About 500 tiny meteorites hit the Earth each year, but none have possessed any major landmarks to date—although there was a possible major impact event in Nevada last year.
11. Nuclear war causes criminal uprising, Double Dragon 2: The Revenge (1988)
It’s 19XX, and there’s been some sort of nuclear war. As far as Double Dragon 2: The Revenge is concerned, though, the only place affected is New York City, which is overtaken by violence and criminal syndicates in the wake of the mushroom clouds. What does this mean for the Big Apple? Well, it looks a lot more prison-y, and all the buildings have been turned purple and yellow. One thing that’s nice about the “city overtaken by violence” future is it can explain away practically any dubious narrative premise—like why everyone wants to kill the heroes, Billy and Jimmy Lee, or why no one bats an eyelash when two karate-men fight a helicopter on a rooftop. Clearly this isn’t a future that involved the election of Rudy Giuliani. He would never have tolerated such savagery (or purple buildings).
12. Solar flare, Assassin’s Creed III (2012)
[Note: This entry contains plot details about the ending of Assassin’s Creed III.] December 21, 2012 has been a landmark date on calendars since the days of the ancient Mayans, who predicted there’d be a rebirth of sorts on this day—out with the old, in with the new. Or maybe they never could have predicted we’d be around this long. Either way, their prophesies were deemed apocalyptic in the last few years, and the doomsday “preppers” among us armed their shelters with SpaghettiOs just in case the world was about to end. Assassin’s Creed III’s take on the 12/21/12 mania involves another ancient civilization whose prophets predicted that a solar flare would erupt and wipe out 99.99 percent of the earth’s population. It’s up to Desmond Miles, the last in a long line of Assassins, to ensure humanity’s survival, one Templar neck-stab at a time. The game was released in November, leaving a brief window for players to save all of mankind in real time. But for those who waited, or who weren’t finished with the game’s 122,112 side missions before the big event, the doomsday prophesy felt like a whole lot of hot air.
13. Alien invasion, X-COM: UFO Defense (1994)
It’s common knowledge that extraterrestrials exterminated the dinosaurs to clear an evolutionary path for humanity (people generally accept the science presented on Ancient Aliens, right?). So what’s to stop them from coming back to wipe us out and continue the cycle? In the original X-COM, the alien invaders’ feelings about mammals vis-à-vis reptiles are unclear, but their hostility is unambiguous. The invasion itself is said to take place some time in 1998, and countries from around the globe contribute troops and matériel to a multinational strike force to counter the aliens. The idea that so many countries could come together in 1998 to effectively battle a common threat—like, say, global warming—now looks even more preposterous than the little green men.
14. U.S. president is a secret terrorist, Metal Gear Solid 2 (2001)
When presidents leave office, they usually have a number of post-White House options open to them. Some, like Carter or Clinton, become diplomats. Others retire to their ranch to pen bland memoirs. Still others utilize their genetic enhancements to wage a covert war against an Illuminati-esque terrorist group with which they were once allied. George Sears, the fictional 43rd president of these United States in the Metal Gear chronology, does just this several years after leaving office. Sears, a.k.a. Solidus Snake (in actuality a perfect genetic clone of a legendary mercenary leader) spends his twilight years trying to take down those that put him in power. To the best of our knowledge, George W. Bush—whose real-life administration timeline roughly coincides with that of Sears/Snake—has yet to do the same. Then again, we haven’t seen too much of the guy lately.
15. War over extraterrestrial oil substitute, Command & Conquer (1995)
The idea of “peak oil” posits that at some as-yet-undetermined point in time (sooner rather than later, it seems), the production of oil will hit a period of unwavering decline. Oil is, after all, a finite resource, and consumption continues to grow, despite interest in alternative energy sources. But maybe those alternatives are just the wrong alternatives. What if, say, a meteorite made of a super-mineral cratered Italy in 1999 and suddenly made oil’s desirability as a fuel something roughly equal to stale horse dung? Such is the reality of the Command & Conquer universe, which centers on this extraterrestrial substance, known as Tiberium. Its miraculous properties allow for all manner of technological evolution. Back in real life, we’re still pretty much relying on the same old internal combustion engines we’ve been using for the last century and a half.