Grand Theft Auto: London, 1961
Now here's a welcome prospect: a mission pack for Grand Theft Auto that whisks the game away from its contemporary Stateside setting and sends it hurtling backward through the dark purple tunnel of time, leaving it stranded, kicking and screaming in old London town circa 1969.
Unless we're mistaken, stupid or just plain wrong, this is the first time 'Swinging London' in all its absurd Austin Powers glory has been used as the backdrop for a game. If you're a Brit, it's a pleasing make-over. Out go the wailing Starsky And Hutch cop sirens, in come old-school bee-baw numbers; out go Studebakers and Cadillacs, in come Minis and Bentleys (well, they don't use the actual names, but close-as-dammit pseudonyms) and references to Michael Caine; those shadowy Italian-American wiseguys who muttered at you down dark alleys in the original game are replaced by gruff, growling cockneys; while the soundtrack consists largely of Sound Gallery-style cheesy listening workouts.
For some, this is worth the price of entry alone. Of vital importance, of course, is the city itself. Whereas the sprawling metropolises of the original GTA had made-up names and made-up locales, GTA London is set in, well, London, dumbo. Several of the major landmarks are there - Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, Hyde Park - and the streets are cluttered with scarlet double-deckers and black taxicabs. Particularly satisfying for residents is the use of 'proper' district names: if you're in southwest Camden, and you're told to high-tail it to north-east Battersea, you've got a fair idea of which way to head, without having to refer to the map or locator arrow. If you live in, say, Manchester, it means nothing, of course, but for native Londoners it's a hoot. Yes, a hoot.
But. But but but... Despite the changes, despite the new sound effects (passers-by shout "Twat!" and other British pleasantries at you when you try to kill them), despite the use of real place names and landmarks, it doesn't really feel like London. Which is a pretty major flaw when you think about it.
The main problem is that the engine demands compromise. Grand Theft Autds streets are based on the grid system, which, by happy coincidence, is also prevalent in American cities. There's no room for curved roads, or even diagonal ones. Check out the London A To Zand you can see what a hotch-potch mess the city's streets actually are, winding hither and thither like the hairline veins in a drunk's bloodshot eye. By contrast, the streets in GTA London are serene, orderly. Not like the real thing at all. Still, it's a game, not a documentary, so perhaps we're being picky? The main disappointment is that as a mission pack the London makeover doesn't really add anything fundamentally new to the proceedings (apart from driving on the left). The new missions are nicely varied (not to mention funny - especially the one where you kidnap tourists on a sightseeing bus), but they're also very familiar.
If you loved GTA and you've been hankering for more, go ahead. We love the setting, the music, the sense of humour... but we're more interested in getting our hands on GTA II. Which with any luck will be set in London too. Awight, guv'nor. Gor blimey.
Download Grand Theft Auto: London, 1961
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP