Over the past few months, I’ve found myself lost in a number of books set in my home-land of the United Kingdom. At first, it was by chance, but then I found myself seeking them out. Then I got some games in a few sales -- Assassins Creed: Syndicate and Vampyr, if you must know -- and realized I’d done it again. This got me thinking: does the video game industry do a good enough job of setting games in a diverse set of locations, and how many games are set in the UK anyway?
When it comes to entertainment media, often we use them to escape the real world and get lost in a fantastic vista of lush worlds, colorful characters, and fantastical creatures. Other times we want to feel a connection to a world, see characters we identify with, or, in this case, a world that feels like one we know.
In this new series of articles, I want to explore this topic. I’ll be looking at video games set in locations around the world, and the first entry in the series will bring us to the UK, from London to Edinburgh, via Grimsby, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Later we’ll explore other countries in the world, including the one I now call home, Sweden.
So, if you have any suggestions of location or games below let us know, though we’ll likely look to avoid The United States and Japan as those are vastly represented in the medium already. If you have more games set in the UK, we’ll likely do a follow up to this.
The games on the list are in no particular order, and the aim is to include games set nearly entirely in the UK, so games like Uncharted or Tomb Raider which feature location on the Isles won’t be included here.
Below are 5 games set in the UK, and 1 bonus option that we’re pretty sure is based there going by the name of it, but it’s certainly not how we remember it.
Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate
This is perhaps one of the best known games set in the UK. Syndicate was the final Assassin’s Creed game that followed the style set out by Altaïr and Ezio. Basically, we are talking about the slightly less open-world RPG titles that we’ve had with Origins and Odyssey -- and presumably Valhalla. The games focused more on a smaller, more linear story, locking section of the map off before certain missions had been completed, GTA style. Syndicate is probably the perfect transition title between old and new, taking elements from past games and laying the foundation for Origins which followed.
Syndicate puts the player in the shoes of assassin twins Evie and Jacob Frye. The pair are summoned to London by Henry Green, who begs to Brotherhood for aid. With the Brotherhood in London in full collapse, Evie and Jacob must work with Henry and their gang, the Rooks, to liberate the city. Along the way, the pair will come across a host of iconic British characters like Charles Dickens, Alexander Graham Bell, and many more. The game’s DLC also features the infamous Jack the Ripper as its central theme.
Widely enjoyed at the time, Syndicate was caught up in the series’ fatigue, with Syndicate being the final game in the yearly released Assassin’s Creed titles, which many fans had become sick of. Articles at the time even cited Ubisoft blaming the game’s poor sales on the backlash from Unity. Unity released the previous year and featured a host of bugs and issues. Look out for that game when we eventually cover France in this series.
Vampyr was, in case the name didn’t give it away, a game about vampires. Set in London in 1918 after the Great War, you play as doctor Jonathan Reid who wakes up in slightly unfortunate circumstances at the outset of the game. Things don’t improve once he’s chowed down on his first human either. Set to the backdrop of an outbreak of the Spanish Flu in London, things quickly get more complicated as you learn what’s truly going on and face the forces at play within the city.
The game fits the ‘cult classic’ description, with cult being the optimal word given the events of the game. Vampyr made great use of its world, focusing on just a few connected locations, the most iconic of which being Whitechapel -- a location you’ll be used to if you play Syndicate and its DLC, or watch any TV series based on Sherlock Holmes.
The game’s core mechanics revolve around curing London’s sick while making sure to keep yourself fed to level up. Each district has a number of inhabitants who you need to look after, both so they don’t die and so that they offer you maximum XP.
One major criticism in reviews at launch was the leveling system, and how it forced a certain playstyle. Later patches added both a harder mode for those looking to really bite into some rough gameplay, and a much easier ‘story mode’ for those not looking to manage the game’s more tricky mechanics and have a more laid back experience.
The Order: 1886
Released back in 2015, The Order: 1886 was supposed to be one of the PS4’s early exclusive juggernauts. Early looks at the game showed some stunning visuals, world design, and the story looked alright, too. As we got closer to the release, the game’s length of roughly 10-11 hours was revealed, and it caused a lot of backlash. At the time, the idea of a $60 game lasting 10 hours was scoffed at. While things have changed, this was not the PR the game needed at the time.
Launching to poor reviews, it managed some success in the UK and Ireland before Sony permanently dropped the price a month later. Looking back, I still remember 1886 fondly. Honestly, it was probably the first game I thought of when writing this list as a game that had a setting that I just loved. The melding of steampunk with a dash of An American Werewolf in London and a little bit of Dracula (or Vampyr) really spoke to me. While the story is short, the game is worth picking up just to experience something unique out of this generation.
With developer Ready at Dawn recently being sold to Facebook Gaming, the likelihood that they work on a sequel is probably over. However, Sony owns the IP, so maybe we’ll get a sequel on PS5 — though I won’t be holding my breath.
Resistance: Fall of Man
Resistance was heralded as the “Halo Killer” before launch. It wasn’t the first, and it wasn’t the last to be given such a title by those around Sony. The console has always lacked an exclusive AAA shooter, and Resistance was tasked with being just that. Ultimately, it would fail to live up to that hype, even through its sequels Resistance 2 & 3.
However, the first of the Resistance games, Fall of Man, was a solid experience and it was set in the UK, so let’s talk about it.
Fall of Man starts out in York, with the meat of the game taking place in Bristol, via Cheshire and Grimsby. Our hero, Sgt. Nathan Hale, is tasked with finding out just what the hell is going on and where these aliens taking over Europe have come from. Hale eventually winds up in London, and things just get a little wacky from that point on.
Resistance: Fall of Man was a game that wore its real-world location on its sleeve. Ironically, this caused them to face the wrath of the Church of England. Not because of the aliens, but because of the virtual representation of a (destroyed) Manchester Cathedral. In the end, everybody involved ended up winning. The game rose up in the UK charts -- long after initial release -- and the Cathedral even saw a huge increase in visitors due to the release of the game. Video games and the Church, what an unlikely pairing.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture
Set in 1984 in the idyllic English Shropshire village of Yaugton -- based on the real town of Yorton in the same county -- Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture tasks players to explore its world and discover how and why everyone in the village disappeared. Guided by mysterious floating orbs of light, players will learn the plot and backstory from human-shaped light, interacting with them will reveal previous events in the village.
The game was released in 2015 on PS4 and 2016 on PC, and featured a stunning musical composition from Jessica Curry. It was a critical success and went on to win a number of awards, especially for its original score. Its visually beautiful world gave players a real look at what a 1980s English village looked like, and probably still looks like today.
The game is one of those truly unique experiences in gaming. Often described with the term “walking simulator”, Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture and other members of the genre offer you the chance to live inside a new world without undue urgency. The peacefulness of the genre is one of its major advantages, though many players still view it in a negative light.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is a game that has always stuck with me, and it’s always a game I recommend to friends and family, gamers and non-gamers alike.