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How Bruce Willis Made Video Game History In Two Days

In today's gaming landscape, celebrity appearances are quite common. Gamers have seen Keanu Reeves in a major role in "Cyberpunk 2077" and titles like "Death Stranding" have delivered a roster full of recognizable names and voices. However, there must be a first for everything. The first celebrity to provide both their likeness and voice in a video game appeared on the original PlayStation, when Bruce Willis starred in Neversoft's Apocalypse. And while that title certainly brings to mind some of Willis' more notable films, like "Armageddon" and "12 Monkeys," this odd little game was something decidedly different for the star, holding a unique spot in his body of work.

Back in 1996, developer Neversoft finished the game engine for "Apocalypse," a 3D multidirectional shooter which utilized the PlayStation's new analog control scheme (per Den of Geek). The game was centered around a conflict with an evil scientist known as the Reverend, who acts as a cult leader centered around the impending apocalypse. He creates the game's version of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to aid him in the destruction of humanity.

Bruce Willis is easily one of the most recognizable names in Hollywood, with a storied career full of ups and downs. While most action movie fans will know him best as John McClane in the "Die Hard" franchise, Bruce Willis comes protrays the hero Trey Kincaid in "Apocalypse," a former colleague of the Reverend who is tasked with escaping jail and saving the world before its seemingly imminent destruction.

Willis' involvement changed the original plan

Earning the distinction of being the first celebrity to star in a video game was not Willis' original intent. Originally, Willis was supposed to voice an AI-controlled partner to the player-controlled protagonist. However, the sheer star power being added to the game convinced Neversoft to change up those original plans during production. The roles were switched up and Willis became the player character, which had the side-effect of reducing much of his planned spoken dialogue to one-liners and quips, although he still had some lengthier lines during in-game cutscenes.

The motion capture work was done at the House of Moves in California in January, 1997 and lasted only two days. The "behind the scenes" video is well worth watching, as it shows how Neversoft was able to get Willis into the game through the motion capture, and it illustrates just how far the industry has come in that regard. Additionally, the BTS clip reveals that Willis actually had some input when it came the game's spoken dialogue and worked with Neversoft to fine-tune Kincaid's character.

As noted in a retrospective by Den of Geek, "Apocalypse" was very much sold on Willis' undeniable star power. At the time, ads for the game touted the ability to "Take control of Bruce Willis. One of the greatest action stars of all time, motion-captured and cyberscanned for the most intense hardcore action ever."

Unfortunately, no amount of "cyberscanning" could make up for a mediocre game.

Apocalypse is Bruce Willis' only video game role

Upon release, Apocalypse received "average" reviews, with some criticism coming at Willis for his voice performance. GameSpot's review noted that the voice work felt like it was uninspired, citing the change of Willis character from sidekick to main character as a misstep.

Despite this reception, "Apocalypse" has gone on to be something of a cult classic. Its gameplay certainly hasn't aged all that well — and didn't exactly blow people away at the time — but the talent involved in the creation of the game has led to it becoming a fascinating artifact.

A decade-and-a-half later, "Apocalypse" remains Bruce Willis' sole foray into the world of video games. Although he would lend his voice to other projects — including films like "Over the Hedge" — it seems no game studio was ever able to interest him in a project again like "Apocalypse." And now, it appears as though he'll never add another game to his lengthy resume.

In a sad day for the entertainment industry, Willis' family announced in March 2022 that the star has been privately dealing with a number of "health issues," including a diagnosis of aphasia, which affects his "cognitive abilities." Because of these complications, Willis made the difficult decisions to move out of the spotlight and retire from acting.

The original PlayStation is full of classics and hidden gems, and even though "Apocalypse" may not stand tall amongst some of the platform's other standout titles, the game — and its star — will always occupy a special place in gaming history.