Digital London: The Capital In Video Games, Part 1

A look at some of the video games from the past ten years featuring our beloved city, usually being blown up or invaded.

Nothing beats going to see a film that takes place in the heart of London, standing proud and shouting, “I’ve been there!”, all to the annoyance of your fellow cinephiles. Seeing somewhere you live perfectly captured on the big screen is always a thrill, and with modern technology steadily improving, it’s only a matter of time until games can pull off the same trick away from the silver screen. Here are some of our favourite gaming depictions of our beloved capital so far.

The Getaway (2002)

It might not have been the first, but The Getaway on PlayStation 2 was certainly the most ambitious for its time, recreating most of Zone 1 down to unprecedented detail. The game’s ambition was only held back by the limits of Sony’s console. It’s just a shame the gameplay itself involved tired East End gangster fare that felt like just another Lock, Stock rip-off.

Uncharted 3: Among Thieves (2011)

The sequel to one of our most beloved games, Uncharted 3 is a globe-trotting adventure that starts small, opening in a traditional London pub quickly torn apart by a nice old-fashioned bar brawl. Much like The Getaway, there are enough stereotypical geezers planted about to make the average Londoner cringe, but each bar, back street and night sky vista is so packed with thought and detail it’s hard to care.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (2011)

With Paris, Moscow and New York already cropping up in Activision’s long-running military shooter series, it was only a matter of time until London made its first appearance. Most of the city’s iconic landmarks are brushed aside in favour of the Canary Wharf skyline, which looms in the distance as terrorists and special ops fight through the Docklands. The Jubilee Line makes an appearance too, but thankfully without the usual queues for the escalators.

Mass Effect 3 (2012)

Even games like Mass Effect 3, a science fiction epic set in the distant future, manage to squeeze in their own take on London. Although only a brief glimpse, BioWare’s title does a surprisingly good job of keeping the capital recognisable without skimping on the slick modern design the series is known for. Fear not, there are still plenty of red phone boxes scattered about hundreds of years from now.

ZombiU (2012)

The latest game to tackle London is Ubisoft’s ZombiU, a survival horror title that takes players on a sightseeing tour, where they can hack down the undead with a mouldy cricket bat. Tower Bridge and Buckingham Palace have both been successfully recreated, but the game’s decision to start the bulk of the action from Shadwell Station is something of a surprise. There’s some creative license here and there, but it’s hard not to picture the undead during our morning commute nowadays.

Games are now capable of recreating huge parts of London down to the smallest detail, but there’s a reason titles such as Grand Theft Auto focus on their own imaginary cities above the real thing. Try as they might, games have never been able to recreate the atmosphere of real-life cities in quite the same way as the custom-made fantasy lands they tend to focus on. We may have to wait a little longer for a game that captures the feel of our capital as well as its look. But as the industry grows, it’s only a matter of time before we can shout, “I’ve been there!” from the sofa as well as the cinema.

By Jack Gosling

This is by no means an exhaustive list of London-set games. Feel free to highlight others in the comments below. Part 2 looks at earlier games from the 90s and before.

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  • Tomas

    Great article! The Getaway is awesome!

  • SA

    Gran Turismo 5 has a rather detailed London track around the West End.

  • michael

    God the Getaway was awful. The recreation of London was by far and away it’s highest point – I remember having to sit through that teethgrindingly-bad cut scene again and again… “She is defihnaitely not afraaaid of a bit orf claaret”…
    (See the First Commandment: http://www.edge-online.com/features/edge-archives-ten-commandments-game-design/)

  • Chris

    Errr What about Hellgate: London!?!

  • Michael

    I remember The Getaway but as SA mentioned, Gran Turismo 5 had a great track which included Trafalgar Sq, Shartsbury Ave etc.