Gaming Veterans Team with Francis Ford Coppola to Adapt ‘Apocalypse Now’

'Psychological horror RPG' based on 'Apocalypse Now' in the works

Apocalypse Now
Nearly 40 years after its release, classic Vietnam film Apocalypse Now is about to get the video-game treatment — via Kickstarter.

American Zoetrope, the film studio founded by Apocalypse Now director Francis Ford Coppola, announced the project in a press release. A “psychological horror role-playing game,” it looks to adapt the classic film into a first-person experience that will not only tell the story of the film, but expand on it.

The team behind the game features such industry veterans as Montgomery Markland (producer for Wasteland 2), Lawrence Liberty (executive producer on Fallout: New Vegas and senior producer on The Witcher 3) and Rob Auten (writer on Gears of War: Judgment). Obsidian Entertainment’s Josh Sawyer (design director on Fallout: New Vegas and Pillars of Eternity) is also participating in a “special advisory capacity,” according to the release.

If Apocalypse Now seems like a potentially weird project for a video game adaptation, that’s because it kind of is. The film follows Captain Benjamin Willard (played by Martin Sheen), a soldier in Vietnam tasked with assassinating Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando). Deep in the jungles of Cambodia, Kurtz has gone renegade, and the U.S. government wants him killed before he becomes more of a liability.

Willard, already suffering his own mental issues from serving in combat, joins a Navy squad on the Erebus, a patrol boat that takes him up the Nung river to reach Kurtz. Along the way, they encounter a number of strange people — like surfing-obsessed Lt. Col. Kilgore (Robert Duvall, who utters the famous line “I love the smell of napalm in the morning”), and the Kurtz-worshiping photojournalist (Dennis Hopper).

The absurdity and horror of war are key themes of Apocalypse Now, and according to the press release, the game’s team are looking to “accurately capture the tone, themes, and characters of the original motion picture.” That explains the “psychological horror” focus. The Kickstarter describes the game as using some first-person shooter mechanics, but relying on elements like stealth to keep players alive as they hunt down Kurtz.

As for the RPG side of the experience, the Kickstarter campaign describes a semi-open world approach, as players interact with other characters and even factions on their way up the river. Characters will also react to players’ choices — Willard for example with choose to help players on their mission or not, depending on what they do.

While details are a bit thin at this point — the game is aiming to release in 2020, and is early enough in development that the Kickstarter doesn’t include in-game screenshots yet — the entire idea is intriguing. Apocalypse Now is a well-regarded film that should make for a strange experience. Its adaptation of the Joseph Conrad novel, Heart of Darkness, digs deep both into madness and into anti-war themes.

Those are tough things to convey through video games, which traditionally take a much more “fun” approach to warfare. But it’s not impossible: Apocalypse Now is preceded by another Heart of Darkness adaptation in the 2012 game Spec Ops: The Line. Yager Development’s title dealt with the same themes, attempting to turn game tropes of fun third-person shooter action on their heads.

The Apocalypse Now Kickstarter is looking for $900,000 from backers. You can check out the campaign here, and the game’s website here.

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