London, what a city! It’s the intestinal tract of the United Kingdom, built upon befuddled roads and surrounded by ancient train tracks that buckle in the summer. It’s a geographical mess, but it’s a special mess dotted with an architectural acne breakout of 360+ train stations and possibly as many vape shops. It’s not just Britain’s stomach, it’s the grease-filled heart and pollution-filled lungs of our fair country, but it’s also the centre of our patriotic soul.
So much of what many see as the quintessentially British spirit comes out of London. (I pose you this: how would Baker Street’s sexy-smooth saxophone riff exist without the existence of the underwhelming London street?) This huge, bustling city is where British entertainment bleeds: music, movies and, of course, video games are crafted in London more than anywhere in the UK. It’s our creative and financial hub.
They say that art imitates life, and while London is about as alive as any other collection of natural resources piled atop of each other and shrouded in gas emissions, its spirit is often emulated in modern art. But with video games being the only truly interactive art medium, which ones truly feel like The Great Wen? Well, that’s why we’ve gotten this handy list done for ya, guv’nor!
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate
After the underwhelming technical hodgepodge of Assassin’s Creed Unity, developer Ubisoft took the creative Eurostar from The City of Love all the way back to ye olde city of London, England. The rebellious streets of revolutionary Paris were sidelined for a proper Brit experience: the Victorian era.
Playing as twin assassins Jacob and Evie Frye, Ubisoft’s adventure in the city of top hats and wide streets is a remarkably faithful one. The developer’s attention to detail returns: streets are lovingly recreated based on old maps, pictures and paintings. It’s a more modern setting than prior Creeds, allowing the clustered and crowded architecture of London to truly shine, all covered in thick industrial smoke.
In order to sell its 1868 setting, Syndicate does delve slightly into the can of worms that is Victorian politics. When the twins aren’t getting roughed up in a good old-fashioned pub brawl – very London! – they’re rescuing kids from child labour factories. There’s even an opportunity to converse with Karl Marx who lived in the city until his death. If you’re willing to spend money on some DLC, you can truly get into the Victorian London spirit through everyone’s favourite pastime: being terrified of the murderous butchery of Jack the Ripper!
London Points: 8/10
The Order 1886
While you may be spending considerably less time with The Order 1886 due to its measly six-hour runtime, Ready At Dawn’s third-person shooter is a fine addition to our collection of London games. For starters, it features strong English gentlemen with a talent for sprouting the most incredible facial hair which, may we add, is undeniably London. Secondly, it’s a damn fine recreation of the city!
With a penchant for the theatrical, The Order’s mix-and-match of gorgeously ornate Tory-led mansions and the excrement-coated streets of the working class perfectly highlights the class dichotomy of Victorian-era London. Outside of the realm of the rich, the seedy underbelly of London is shown without remorse. Whereas Assassin’s Creed Syndicate aimed for an idyllic view of the era, The Order aims for near-hyperbolic interpretation. At one point you even see a geezer’s Brighton Rock!
Unfortunately, The Order 1886 does loose out on London points for relying on alternate history to tell its London tale. As anyone who’s met a true-born proud Londoner knows, real Londoners don’t shut up about the past.
London Points: 6.5/10
Clock Tower 3
London is horrifying, and that’s without the inclusion of Clock Tower 3’s rogue’s gallery of spectral spooks. But the horrors of London probably couldn’t carry an entire game by themselves, Capcom’s third entry in this classic horror franchise incorporates many ghoulish ghosties to make the city feel just that little bit more spooky.
Following the time-travelling adventures of 14-year-old Alyssa Hamilton, Clock Tower 3 incorporates a number of different London periods. Traveling from the then-contemporary time of 2003 into both the oppressive 1940s blitzkrieg and the sex-crazed swinging 1960s, Capcom gets a lot of time to play with.
Alyssa’s journey to both help various entities complete their unfinished business and make her way back to 2003 without being murdered doesn’t take her through too many iconic London buildings, but it’s still a lovingly created emulation of a stereotypical London. It’s also very cheesy as per Ubisoft horror tradition.
London Points: 7/10
GTA London 1969
Before Grand Theft Auto developer Rockstar Games created the fast-food loving Big Smoke character of GTA: San Andreas, the developer took a surprising stab at recreating the Big Smoke with Grand Theft Auto: London 1969.
More of a standalone expansion than its own game, London 1969 sees you playing as a street thug during the swinging sixties. It’s not just a simple reskin: while the title is mostly similar to the original Grand Theft Auto, Rockstar did make sure to include some bangin’ references to the iconic city.
In London 1969, cops are called the Cozzers; phone boxes are of the big red variety; the menu echoes the chimes of Big Ben; the police say “You’re Nicked!”, and the iconic “Wasted” screen is replaced with the Cockney phrase “You’re Brown Bread!”
While it may not be a wholly original game, GTA London 1969 bleeds London. From its stereotypical Bond-like villain to its frequent use of Cockney slang, Rockstar Games’ 1999 expansion pass is one of the most London games ever.
London Points: 9/10
When people think of traditional London entertainment, many will cast their minds to the crime-filled gangster traits of Layer Cake, Get Carter, Snatch and The Krays. Back in 2002, developer Team Soho released their own take on the criminal curiosity of London gangsters with the PlayStation 2 title The Getaway.
Following professional bank robber Mark Hammond and Detective Frank Carter, The Getaway is an intense conversion of pulp movies into the video game format. Team Soho’s loving homage to the film genre is boosted by its dedication to a HUD-less experience: instead of a health bar your character takes physical damage; instead of a mini-map you’re directed by flashing brake lights on the back of your car.
For 2002, The Getaway is a London recreation that feels like an adoration of the city. While it isn’t as large as other London games, its lovingly rebuilt 10-miles² open-world is currently the best recreation of contemporary London. In the original release, there’s a mission called ‘Filthy Business’ that tasks players with killing a worker from B.T. and stealing his van. Now that’s pure London!
London Points: 9/10
As far as London goes, Ubisoft’s 2012 WiiU launch title ZombiU has so much London pumping through its veins that it’s got a very English case of polycythemia. While we’d love to say that the title’s apocalyptic zombie invasion is some kind of political stab at the city’s overcrowded population following a rigorously repetitive day-to-day life, that would be giving Ubisoft way too much credit. Instead, it’s your typical survival game!
Set in November 2012, this melee-focused survival title tasks you with attempting the find a cure for the zombie invasion. Interestingly, while remaining a very linear title, the game introduces deep permadeath mechanics to keep you on your toes. Every character you take control of has their own name and attributes, and they can die permanently. Being a zombie invasion and all that, your deceased avatars will come back as the undead meaning you’ll have to smash their brains in to get your stuff back.
But it wouldn’t be a title set in London if Ubisoft didn’t go above and beyond with the incision of the all-important London iconography. Gorgeous red buses, those bloody phone boxes, the London Underground (complete with a working tube train), royal guards and even Buckingham Palace are all slapped in front of your face without hesitation. With Assassin’s Creed, ZombiU and the upcoming Watch Dogs Legion all under Ubisoft’s belt, the French developer seems to have a thing for this great city.
London Points: 10/10
As it stands, these are the most faithful London games we’ve seen yet, but they’re definitely not going to be the last. With Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs Legion taking players into a dystopian post-Brexit future early next year, time will tell how accurate that upcoming interpretation will end up being.