The Ryan Lambie column: Games of London

Ryan spends his week in London for the first time. But hasn't he seen all this before on a PlayStation?

The Getaway

So, I’ve started working in London, and the place hits me like a wrecking ball the second I step off the train. It’s a seething, thrumming hive of a city, where everything happens in a blur of diesel and ozone, and where even walking is undertaken at kamikaze speed.

For someone whose experiences of London are largely derived from occasional visits to museums and pubs, it’s an incredible experience. I’ve dwelled in towns where buildings would barely cover Godzilla’s ankle. In London, you’d never find the beast. There’s so much going on, so much for the eye to take in, that it took two days before I realised that I’d been walking right underneath the Telecom tower every morning.

And then there are the people. They’re everywhere, outnumbering the bricks, and they’re extraordinary. I’ve seen expensive business men in Saville Row suits pick their nose and eat the contents in front of an entire packed carriage. I’ve seen window cleaners with death wishes, wiping away at glass a hundred feet from the ground with only a length of string preventing them from an untimely trip to the morgue.

As I’ve shuffled around the capital’s teeming streets, I’ve begun to notice something else. The odd road that looked faintly familiar, but in an alarmingly unfamiliar way. The occasional building that gave me a crawling sense of déjà vu.

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Then, all at once, the realisation struck like a bright red London bus: I have visited these streets before. I’ve even been inside one or two of the buildings, albeit in a virtual sense, in the 2002 game The Getaway. I’d hurtled around Tottenham Court Road in a stolen Skoda, and had an epic gunfight in a Chinese restaurant a few blocks down. I’d even managed to botch a high-speed pursuit around Buckingham Palace and become horribly lost among the green expanses of Hyde Park, though the less said about that particular mission failure, the better.

Trawling through the Internet, it’s occurred to me just how few videogames have used London as a setting. Grand Theft Auto: London and defunct MMO Hellgate: London are two obvious examples, but compared to a city like New York, which has provided the setting for a gigantic array of games, from Max Payne to the dreadful Turning Point: Fall Of Liberty, games that use the British capital as a backdrop are in surprising short supply.

Tomb Raider III had several scenes set in London, including jaunts through St Paul’s Cathedral and the British Museum, and forgotten 8-bit adventure game Werewolves Of London saw the player in hot pursuit of human blood through the nation’s capital as the titular lycanthrope, but other examples are few and far between.

While far from perfect, it was The Getaway that captured the manic flavour of London most effectively, with its traffic jams, crowds and shotgun-toting dodgy geezers. This was possibly due to the fact that its creators are themselves based in London, allowing them to soak up all the barely constrained chaos and channel it into a free-roaming sandbox game.

Their knowledge of British gangster flicks probably also helped, with The Getaway‘s meandering tale of cockneys at war clearly inspired by films such as Get Carter and The Long Good Friday.

It’s a pity, then, that Team SOHO’s other gangster epics, Getaway: Black Monday and the PSP spin-off Gangs Of London were so inferior to their first effort.

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But who knows? Maybe The Getaway 3, a game initially thought to be cancelled, but now reportedly in production for PS3, could capture the majesty and madness of London in even greater detail than the last generation could allow, a city where Doric columns appear inches away from modern glass and steel, and cars, lorries and bicycles meander among roads as old as the Romans.

And, of course, London wouldn’t be London without the odd nose-picking businessman or two.

Ryan writes his gaming column every week at Den Of Geek. The most recent is here.