After sneaking through Jerusalem and leaping across the rooftops of Constantinople by way of Florence and Paris, this week the Assassin's Creed franchise lands in London, with the launch of AC: Syndicate. The game, set at the tail end of the Industrial Revolution, sees you hanging out with the likes of Dickens, Darwin, Nightingale and Marx, but what has really caught our attention is the map. Ubisoft has created a sprawling and busy London to join together many of the capital's famous buildings. And while it's not a 1:1 recreation of the 19th century city map, geography-wise the key landmarks will still be where you might expect them to be.
And this got us thinking: London has been the setting for several games over the years, but which have got the geography right? And which have taken a little more… artistic license?
Grand Theft Auto: London 1969
Off the back of the success of the original Grand Theft Auto, back when the game was a cartoonish, top-down affair, Rockstar (which was based in Scotland) cashed in by releasing an "expansion pack" for the original game set in 1969 London.
The game was essentially a re-skin of the original game, with cars driving on the left instead of the right. So sadly this meant that while the map certainly had British-sounding names on it, it still looked like a North American grid rather than London's winding roads, and certainly didn't reflect reality. What the game did get right though was the dialogue, with gangsters saying stuff like this:
"I've heard you're a bit tasty, no messing around or you'll get a slap. Remember, I'm the monkey and you're the cheese grater."
And we all talk just like that, right?
The Order: 1886
The Order: 1886 - or The Disappointment: 2015 to give the game it's more commonly used title - was widely viewed as a missed opportunity. Sure, it looked gorgeous - to the point where it was impossible to tell by sight what was a cutscene and what was action, but that was also the problem… there simply wasn't much interesting action. And what excitement there was, was rather short lived.
The game could have done more with its location too. Set in a steampunk Victorian London, the Houses of Parliament have inexplicably become the secret headquarters of The Order, and despite references to many London locations, there wasn't much recognisable here. It wasn't just style over substance, but over cartography too.
Wolfenstein: The New Order
The 2014 Wolfenstein reboot is set in an alternative timeline where the Nazis won World War II and now dominate Europe. In one section of the game, you visit a London that appears to have received an upgrade courtesy of Nazi architect Albert Speer, with massive stone buildings dominating the skyline.
In what appears to be a nice nod to real history, one of the buildings in Wolfenstein's London bears more than a little resemblance to Senate House, the monolithic University of London library that's just off of Russell Square. If Hitler had really won the war, the plan was apparently to make this the headquarters of Britain's new administration.
The game that was once touted as what could be the WiiU's killer app told a story set in London - about zombies. The game starts with the player navigating through underground passages and ultimately through a tube station to get above ground, and also features levels set in the Tower of London as entered via the river at the infamous Traitor's Gate.
It's hard to judge exactly how close to reality the game is given that the real world isn't as dark, murky, nor does so much of it take place underground in a post-apocalyptic zombie hellscape.
The opening scenes of our third run-in with Nathan Drake begins in a South London tavern, with a good old-fashioned bar brawl. So much, so vaguely plausible - but minutes later you're climbing on top of a brick building and somehow looking out on a vista of London that would require there to be a mountain summit approximately where the Elephant and Castle shopping centre is in real life. South London is actually rather more flat.
Minutes later and you're underground in a deep network of large, expansive tunnels full of bad guys. This is a particular howling error, as clearly someone forgot to do some research into London's geology. Not only are there not tunnels there, but building them would be nearly impossible. Unlike the London Clay north of the river, in the South the ground is mostly made up of water-bearing sand and gravel. This is why South London has comparatively few Tube lines. C'mon Sony, this is basic stuff.
2007 saw the release of action RPG Hellgate: London, and envisages a London that has been taken over by monsters, and where the only refuge is the complex network of tunnels that run underground. Sadly for fans of accurate maps (me) though, the tunnel network at least has landmarks in vaguely the right places, above ground the street layout is nothing like reality.
In fact, the game uses algorithmic procedural generation to generate new levels rather than rely on level designers, so nothing was kept static. So the London place names and iconography were essentially window dressing.
Project Gotham Racing
PGR3 and its sequel on Xbox 360, at the time, looked stunning, and seeing London recreated as one of the racer's tracks was pretty exciting for anyone who knows the city.
Both games envisaged a Monaco-style street Grand Prix on the roads of Westminster, and masterfully recreated Embankment, Parliament Square, Whitehall, Northumberland Avenue, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Haymarket, The Mall and St James' Park.
Where the game does diverge from reality though is the road joining Haymarket with the Mall. In reality at the Duke of York column there is a large set of steps - but the game wisely replaces this with a smooth road, so that tires aren't burst on the way down.
Tomb Raider 3
Lara Croft's third outing on the PS1 was one of the biggest games of 1998 but looking back on it now, it is astonishing how bad it looks. The game is a mess of clunky shapes and blocks that are supposed to roughly approximate London. One level is set on a Thames Wharf, though it looks closer than something from Tron than the Docklands.
Another is supposedly set in the disused Aldwych tube station, which was closed in 1994. And while this is a slightly better recreation, it is still nothing like the real place, not least because in the game it features a long staircase (or is that supposed to be an escalator) down to the platforms, when the real station had lifts. At risk of sounding like the nerdiest man in the world (but hey, you're the one who has read this far), I'd argue it looks more like St John's Wood station given the brickwork, the next train indicators and the lights on the escalator shaft.
Best for London 'feel': Call of Duty: MW3
Say what you will about the Call of Duty series, but Modern Warfare 3 offers, for our money, one of the best recreations of the feel of London.
The level starts in some warehouses by the docks near Canary Wharf. So far, so plausible, but after a long shoot-out the player is guided on the back of a truck into a tunnel to chase after a Tube train (shamefully referred to by the game as a subway train - it's the Tube, damnit!).
What happens then is bizarre: As you chase the train along (presumably on the Jubilee Line) you end up passing first through Westminster station, before appearing back above ground and then diving underground again, in tube tunnels which are abnormally wide. C'mon guys, it's called the Tube for a reason.
The train then crashes, and you arrive at the next station along which is, umm, also titled Westminster, and you have to shoot your way to the surface. To be fair to the developers, they have done a rather good job of recreating the exposed-concrete feel of the architecture on the 1999 Jubilee Line extension, which linked up Westminster with Stratford, via Canary Wharf. The station you shoot yourself out of is certainly reminiscent of London Bridge's Jubilee platforms.
Climb up the escalator to the surface though and it turns out that no, the signs were right - you are indeed in Westminster, and are standing on the Embankment just down from a brilliantly recreated Palace of Westminster and Portcullis House. Frustratingly, despite the great scenery and having just spent most of the level in an anonymous warehouse, this is where the level draws to a close. The final fire fight sees a lorry flip over following a high-speed chase with police emerge from what in reality is a gated road (which is literally called Derby Gate), which is part of the secure area at Parliament.
The level ends with a cutscene on a street which doesn't exist, which looks out on Big Ben. It certainly looks like London - architecturally, and the developers added a pub and a black cab for good measure.
The other appearance of London in the game is in multiplayer is a fictional tube station called Middleton, which is slightly reminiscent of a District Line station.
So not a bad attempt at recreating the feel, if not the reality of London - just a shame we couldn't spend more time exploring Westminster. Hey Activision,
Best for Accuracy: The Getaway
Way back in 2002, The Getaway was an early attempt at a sandbox-ish gangland game and presumably to set itself thematically apart from the recent Grand Theft Auto 3, the game was on the other side of the Atlantic, in London.
Map-wise the game included an astonishingly faithful recreation of roughly the area encompassed by Zone 1 - bounded by Euston Road, Hyde Park, Lambeth Road and Tower Bridge. The road layout (aside from a handful of changes) is just as it is in real life. Many smaller roads have been missed out - with the West End the most densely packed - but all of the major roads are in there.
Despite the game's ambitions, the restrictions of the PS2's horsepower were evident - with many buildings essentially flat textures on boxes, rather than detailed objects.
If ever there was a game crying out for a 2015 reboot, it is this one. Imagine playing in a recreated 21st century London with the graphics of Grand Theft Auto 5.