Tour of Britain: top video games set in the land of hope and glory
Britain has a rich history of games development, but it’s always nice to also see it be featured as an environment in games. Lets have a look at ten examples…
Picture this: it's 2012, the Olympics are on in London, the Queen’s having her Diamond jubilee, and the previous year there was a big Royal Wedding with street parties galore. Life was good and the summer was hot. Even the French agreed that we were onto a good thing:
"With the Olympics being in London and the Queen's diamond jubilee celebrations this year, London was in the centre of the world's attention and a city that everyone felt a connection with," said producer Guillaume Brunier in explaining why they chose London as the setting for the Ubisoft-developed Wii U exclusive, ZombiU.
ZombiU, a zombie survival game, was intended as the Wii U’s first foray into a more mature video game. The game was entirely set in London, featuring a pastiche of lovable stereotypes like policemen being called “bobbies” and a chap called Dr Knight who was the physician to the Royal Family.
The chosen explanation for the in-game zombie outbreak was that 16th century philosopher John Dee (advisor to Queen Elizabeth I) prophesied a plague would descend on the streets of London, and that only the vaguely-named “black angels” would save the day. By the end of the game, its revealed the hero “black angels” are the RAF who swoop in.
The Getaway (2002)
The 2002 Playstation 2 title The Getaway is remarkable even by today’s standards in its digital depiction of London. It’s so accurate that, if you fancy a bit of procrastinating, you can actually find YouTubers giving taxi tours in the game of landmarks and places of interest.
The technology behind recreating the city was ahead of its time. Though it may look graphically dated now, the London depicted in the game remains a convincing replication of the actual city itself.
“We didn’t want to break the recreation of London into areas and impose loading times,” said the Director of Animation, Gavin Moore. “We wanted the player to remain immersed in the game. But there was no hard drive on the PS2 and no way to load the whole city into memory.”
“So the engine was completely rewritten to stream geometry and textures of areas that the player was close to, which was ground-breaking at the time. To load and stream the data that fast put a lot of pressure on the PS2 disc drive, so the data for the city was burnt onto the disc in sequential order to reduce the strain.”
Apparently, the team took over 500,000 photos of London to use as a reference, resulting in some members of Team Soho being banned from local planning offices. But that short term pain produced the long term gain of a truly accurate representation London in a video game.
Grand Theft Auto: London 1969 (1999)
While The Getaway may make the reasonable claim of being most realistic representation of London in a gangster game, there was one memorable entry in the Grand Theft Auto (GTA) series that brought the players to Blighty.
1999 release GTA: London 1969 let you have a go at being a gangster in Swinging Sixties London. And though the city may not have been the most accurate representation of London - especially due to its American city grid like design - it nevertheless immersed players deeply into the culture of the city through charming Cockney lines such as “remember, I’m the monkey and you’re the cheese grater”.
Part of the reason GTA: London 1969 felt like a spin off from the original Grand Theft Auto games is because, well, it was. Rather than being an entire instalment in the series, GTA: London was simply a mission pack for the wider game.
Nevertheless, it received fantastic praise for its 60’s soundtrack and won an award for Sound at the BAFTA Interactive Entertainment Awards in 1999. And even though there aren’t plans for a GTA in London in the pipe, GTA: London remains a fond favourite for many fans of the rampantly chaotic series.
Everybody's Gone to the Rapture (2015)
Most games and blockbuster movies set during an apocalypse usually involve sprawling shots of crumbling New York, hundreds of guns, giant monsters, or all three at the same time.
Which is why it’s quite nice to see what a British apocalypse would be like: with a bus stop sign announcing “Emergency town meeting”.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture constructs an eerily accurate typical English village, complete with thatched cottages, gently swaying grass, and a town sign politely asking visitors to please drive carefully. The only slightly odd aspect is that everyone is, well, missing.
Set in 1984 (that date which is seared into British literary consciousness), the game follows the aftermath of an apocalyptic event which has wiped out the world’s population. The player must pick up the narrative pieces through telephone voicemails, voice recorders and radios.
It’s so typically English, not just in the beautiful design of fictional Shropshire village Yaughton, but in how matter-of-fact the end of the world is.
It is, as said by the developers The Chinese Room, a deliberate contrast between the mundane and the monumental. And the ability to strike that balance within such a convincing representation of middle England was just one of the reasons why the game picked up three BAFTA awards in April 2016.
Tomb Raider III (1998)
Considering Lara Croft is one of Britain’s iconic video game characters and emerged from British games company Eidos, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that one of the main entries in the series would end up being set in the country.
Tomb Raider III sees Lara traipse through London in search of the Eye of Isis, one of four meteorite artefacts that are scattered throughout the world which you have to collect. As well as allowing you to live out the fantasy of running across the rooftops in Thames Wharf, you can live out the even less realistic fantasy of tubes actually running on time at Aldwych station.
It’s a shame there hasn’t been a return of such a level since. However, in the second instalment of the present reboot trilogy, Rise of the Tomb Raider, you can catch a brief five minute glimpse of London via Lara’s flat. Before you wonder how Lara affords such a luxury at the tender age of 21, please know that she is also the owner of three manors.
Resistance: Fall of Man (2006)
Plenty of games set in Britain refrain from leaving the capital. Resistance: Fall of Man dared to buck the curve by setting much of its action packed gameplay outside of the M25.
Set in an alternate history where an alien force invades continental Europe in the 1950s, Resistance puts you in the boots of Ranger Sgt Nathan Hale as he is sent to save the day in places as diverse as York, Grimsby, Manchester, Bristol and, erm, London.
However, Insomniac Games’ representation of some leading locations outside of London accidentally drew the ire of one of the most English institutions of all: the Church of England.
Its recreation of Manchester Cathedral - and the decision to allow players to shoot aliens inside it - led to a controversy big enough for the then Prime Minister Tony Blair to address it in the House of Commons.
But while this may have led to some short term negative PR, Insomniac’s game remains one of the few that has attempted to represent leading cities outside of London - landing it long term respect for representing the range of cities spread across this green and pleasant land.
Forza Horizon 4 (2018)
The UK has a rich history in developing car racing games, yet it’s surprising that it was only until this year that a racing game was entirely set in the UK.
Instead of driving in exotic locales and passing azure seas in the south of France, or racing under a hot Italian sun, Forza Horizon 4 pushes together real world British locations like Cheston windmill in Warwickshire, Snowshill Cottage in the Cotswolds and even Edinburgh’s royal mile to create a unique world map to explore.
The result is something quintessentially British. Whether you’re blaring past cottages, whipping up sand in front of a row of pristinely painted beach huts or racing three wheeled Robin Reliants, Forza Horizon 4 never feels anything less than brilliantly British.
In the build up to its release CCO of Playground Games Ralph Fulton said “I hope when people see the variety of Britain, the beauty of Britain, which definitely comes through in this game, maybe it puts it on the video games map.”
And with Forza Horizon 4 sweeping its way to the best Xbox game crown at this year’s Golden Joysticks, it looks very much like it has done just that.
Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars (1996)
The final game on our list is Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars for the simple fact that it allowed players to sample the delights of wonderful Scotland.
The game - which follows American lawyer George Stobbart and French journalist Nicole Collard as they uncover the shadowy existence of the Knights Templar - took players to France, Ireland and Syria.
But the game reaches its compelling conclusion on British shores, with the final showdown taking place in Bannockburn in Scotland - the scene of a famous battle between the Scots and the English in June 1314.
And though the game itself concludes with a rather compelling scrap of its own, the reason we are drawn to it is the evocative hand drawn representation of the Scottish countryside that still stands up to scrutiny decades after it was released.