The story of the 00s through British Video Games
What better way is there to tell the story of a decade than through its big name British video game releases? The answer to that is there are many ways to do that, but this - to be honest - is much more fun.
So, as a follow up to our first piece looking at the 1990s through British video games, here’s a quick jaunt through some of the most notable British releases of the 00s.
2000 - Shogun: Total War
Shogun: Total War was the first entry in the Total War series from Creative Assembly.
Inspired by, of all things, 1970s TV show Monkey, Shogun started life as an RTS with RPG elements. However the studio decided that, while the real time battles featuring hundreds of warriors looked suitably impressive, that it lacked depth without the addition of a meta layer.
This led to the birth of the Total War campaign map. By adding this feature to the game and setting it within feudal Japan at a turning point in its military history – when gunpowder was first introduced - Shogun transcended the RTSes of the time.
It established itself as an authentic recreation of the experience of historic medieval warfare from a strategic level. And in doing so, it laid the foundations for the future entries in the series set in the Ancient Period, across Medieval Europe, during the Napoleonic Age and into China.
2001 - Grand Theft Auto 3
The Grand Theft Auto series had established itself as a player in the video games space in the late 1990s. But it was the third entry in the series that saw it truly leap into the public consciousness.
Set again within Liberty City, but this time within a 3D version of it, DMA Design sought to make GTA III an entertaining crime romp that was set within a living, breathing city.
This wasn’t easy to do. While the PS2 was significantly more powerful than the original PS1, it was still hamstrung by technical limitations – such as its 32mb of RAM. Nevertheless, the company ploughed on with its efforts to create a vivid world using everything from motion capture to in game radio stations.
The results when it released were impressive. The game sold over 2m units in North America alone by February 2002 and accrued over a million sales in the UK. This helped establish the series as one of the major brands in the video games industry, a reputation cemented with the release of GTA IV in 2008 and GTA V in 2013.
2002 - James Bond 007: Nightfire
No James Bond game has ever been able to match the heights of Rare’s Goldeneye, which released in the late 1990s. But if there is one game that got close, Eurocom’s James Bond 007: Nightfire wasn’t far off.
Nightfire, which featured Pierce Brosnan’s likeness but not his voice, saw players going toe to toe with the villainous Raphael Drake in a single player adventure that traipsed from Paris, to Tokyo and all the way to the South Pacific.
It also doffed its cap to Goldeneye through the inclusion of a pretty entertaining range of multiplayer maps and options. As well as featuring a number of in game locations, Nightfire included some classic Bond locales – such as the submarine docking pen from The Spy Who Loved Me – and classic Bond figures like Oddjob and Baron Samedi.
The result was a reasonably well-reviewed FPS (except for the slightly naff PC port) that cemented Liverpool based Eurocom’s reputation as a purveyor of fine Bond related gaming treats.
2003 - The Getaway
With the success of Grand Theft Auto III still resonating around the industry, Sony’s Team Soho studio set to work on their own open world crime caper set in the mean streets of London.
The Getaway was the result. It was a remarkably ambitious game for the time. In particular, the commitment to accurately recreating London in game by mapping zone one and ensuring that in game art referenced the real streets perfectly ensured it was something of a monster project.
This led to a delay in its release, slipping out of its scheduled slot in 2002 into 2003. However, the game still shone upon its release. It went on to become one of the best selling titles on the PS2 in the UK and helped establish the reputation of Team Soho as a shining jewel in Sony’s crown.
And that good work is still being rewarded today. The studio recently released Blood and Truth, becoming the first company to top the UK sales charts with a VR only title with an action game that’s deeply rooted in London’s gangster scene.
You know what they say about history being doomed to repeat itself…
2004 – Fable
There is very little considered more quintessentially British in the UK video games industry than Fable. Microsoft’s (formerly Lionhead’s) action role playing game was one of the defining titles on the first Xbox and it was achieved – in part – in a highly anglicised world.
Albion (yes really) was the setting for an extraordinarily ambitious game for the time. The game’s twisty-turny narrative was supplemented in great depth by a moral choice system that led, in turn, to changes in the nature of your character. This included their appearance, which could easily be corrupted by negative behaviour.
But more than anything, Fable is known for its peculiarly ‘ye olde’ twist on the UK. Inspired by local aged architecture and by the desire to create a fantasy setting outside the usual tropes, Fable’s Albion became a world populated by the Brits – with later games featuring voice over performances from Stephen Fry, Zoe Wanamaker and John Cleese.
The question is whether it will return and who will carry the flame for the series. There are strong rumours of a fourth Fable game being announced soon that could be worked on by a British studio, so it’s one to keep an eye out for.
2005 – Sniper Elite
Sniper Elite has become something of an independent hit for the British industry. The ever popular sniping title has been the subject of four popular sequels, with one offering players the chance to headshot former games journalist and Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker.
But it had to start somewhere, and it did so way back in the middle of the 00s. The first Sniper Elite laid the foundations for the series by establishing much of its ongoing formula.
As well as popping down the core tenets of the series – namely, making it a third person action game with an emphasis on tactical stealth – it also put in place a number of series staples (e.g. the slow mo kill cam) that has defined the series to the present day.
2006 – DEFCON
DEFCON asked the question “is nuclear war fun?” And the answer it provided was really rather murky.
Introversion Software’s multiplayer desolate WarGames homage was one of the first games to really stretch the idea that every release had to be fun.
Challenging players to indulge in strategic intercontinental atomic warfare over the course of 45 minutes, DEFCON’s blasé attitude towards the total elimination of civilians across the world left players wondering whether winning was actually a good thing.
All that said though, DEFCON does have an important claim to fame. It was one of the first non-Valve games listed on the Steam platform. This allowed it to become a digital sales hit, racking up enough sales to ensure the studio had a steady future.
This made it a pioneer in both the digital distribution and independent development space. These achievements are both – unsurprisingly - somewhat cheerier than the subject matter of the game.
2007 – Manhunt 2
Was Manhunt 2 the biggest release of 2007? Probably not. The ultra violent survival horror certainly did not resonate amongst players alongside the many stone cold classics released that year, such as the original Mass Effect, Bioshock, Assassin’s Creed or Portal.
But it did have a significant impact on the industry because it did not release in the UK when it was meant to. The game was blocked from sale by the BBFC after it denied the game an age rating due to its “sadistic content.”
Yet Manhunt 2 eventually won the day. After a number of days in court, it was eventually sanctioned for release after the BBFC’s objections were twice shot down.
Importantly, it’s victory ensured two things. First, it prevented future secretive denials of age ratings from the BBFC. And second, the court battle landed at a similar time to the Byron review into age ratings.
Within four years of the case, the BBFC’s role rating games had ended and PEGI – the cross European age rating system created and backed by the industry – had become the UK’s legal standard.
2008 – Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise
After a run of games featuring snipers, nuclear war and controversy, it’s important that we take a moment to cleanse the palate a little bit. And is there any better game to do just that than Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise?
Rare’s second entry in the Viva Pinata series did not build enormously upon the original’s formula. It remained a game about caring for colourful and cuddly piñatas by tending to a virtual garden.
Nevertheless, Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise release was indicative of a broader change taking place in the console sector. With the Wii opening up the market to different players since 2006 and the iPhone in its first throes, the sector was opening up for peaceful games that attracted a different audience.
Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise is a neat illustration of how this was happening. And over the course of the next decade, titles such as this began to become increasingly commonplace across all platforms – making games accessible to a rather different market.
2009 – DJ Hero
One of the major trends of the 00s was the emergence of peripheral powered rhythm action titles. The likes of Guitar Hero, Rock Band and even Donkey Konga saw players across the land pile up plastic musical instruments in the quest for rhythmic fun.
DJ Hero was the last major game to jump on the plastic playable instrument bandwagon. Equipping players with DJ decks and throwing 94 remixes of banging dance tunes at them, Freestyle Games’ title received great critical praise from game reviewers.
However, it did not succeed in the same way as its rivals in the rhythm action genre. A combination of the lack of consumer familiarity with DJ decks, less knowledge of the mixes and the wider economic malaise of the post financial crash economy led to DJ Hero – comparatively – flopping.
Nevertheless, DJ Hero’s lack of success was not considered to be a fault of the studio responsible for it. Following the game’s creation, FreeStyle Games continued onwards until the mid 2010s upon which Ubisoft acquired them – keeping one of the jewels of the Silicon Spa running to the present day.