Life seems to get more unreal by the day, doesn’t it?
Out on my daily perambulations, it’s gradually dawned on me why this is the case: It’s not real. With its peculiar appearance, eerie atmosphere and arcane rules, I have come to the conclusion that London is in fact a video game.
Join me for a walk-through of a couple of levels.
The session begins at my last save point, on Brixton Hill.
These save points proliferate throughout the game, and can be found every 300 yards or so: A discarded sofa, a chair, perhaps a nice mattress.
A wonderful sight and a reminder that, as the saying goes, when the winds of change blow, some people build walls and some build windmills. I wonder if there might be a third category: People who don’t build anything and just put their feet up with a good book. Must be.
With my power fully restored, I set off northwards to a land called Vauxhall, where, according to the miller, fearsome creatures guard the bridge over the water.
My luck is in as I chance upon a rare Tree of Veils. I am able to harvest almost a dozen of this tree’s bizarre fruit, which I exchange for hashish at the little market. An excellent start.
Fans of Nintendo’s Mario games will instantly recognise this lofty pipe as a gateway to a parallel underground section of the game, in this case a particularly noxious one. I decide against it today as I have my good shoes on.
At the edge of Brixton I encounter this classic three door conundrum. I try to recall fundamental game theory regarding multiversal behavioral relations and, in particular, von Neumann’s theory of expected utility… But in the end I just try all the doors.
The left door leads to the icy vortex of the River Effra, the middle door leads to 14th Century France and the right door leads to Stockwell. Bingo!
In Stockwell, by donning my invisible suit I am able to slip unnoticed into the vaulted Lair of the Red Dragons. Although terrifying in size – and they can kill you if you confront one head on – these beasts are actually part of Game of London’s travel mechanism. A clever touch by the designers.
Usually, I might stop at one of these inns to restore my health and pick up some tips from grizzled locals, but for now, a pestilence envelopes the land – not unlike Ganon’s influence on Hyrule in Zelda: Breath of the Wild – and all hostelries are inaccessible.
Legend tells of the malign influence of a shambolic, blond-haired ghoul called ‘Pfeffel’, the Final Boss, who must be toppled before the pandemic can be stopped and normal life resumed.
So, unable to pause here, I press on until my eye is caught by a handwritten sign pinned to a tree.
Tempted by riches, I spend far too long on this sidequest. The diamond proves impossible to find and the only thing I succeed in doing is depleting my stamina reserves. Furthermore, I am now lost.
I am just beginning to give up hope of ever reaching the Hall of Vaux when I spy an ancient mural painted on the side of a building that foretells of the rise of the shit flats that now characterise the area. Perhaps I am on the right track, after all.
Suddenly, a shaft of light illuminates the way, the towers looming in the distance.
Still, I fear I won’t have the strength to reach them, but what’s this?
A street peach! I take a leaf out of Yoshi’s book and consume it on the spot.
Immediately, I fall into a deep sleep and when I awake, I am in the palm of a large hand in Bonnington Square. Mad! That’s one way to reach Vauxhall, I suppose.
Here I encounter the first of the area’s indigenous beasts. Tip: You only need battle the Vauxhall Cow if you are required to milk it as part of the Neal’s Yard sidequest, otherwise save your power and use your stealth boots to sneak behind it.
Likewise, the Spooky Goats, who are in the employ of British Intelligence, can be distracted by food: Some hay, perhaps, or the corpse of an EU informer.
The Alpaca Triplets, though, must be defeated in order to complete Vauxhall and open the gateway to the North. This involves a fun spitting game, with extra points for headshots. Mind out for the Farm Boss, though, a large, angry man who will confront you and yell things like ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ and ‘In a pandemic?’
Exhausted, I rest on the village green and restore my health with the aid of a fine ale. Whence did this exotic elixir appear? I wonder to myself. Then I remember, I brought it from home and it’s been in my bag all along. The key to success is preparation, quickly followed by intoxication.
Talk about a 1-UP.
I feel my journey is done for the day. The North can wait. As dusk falls, I spot another save point and treat myself to little sit down before the long walk home.
Do not be tempted, as I was, to open the trunk before saving your progress. Inside are swarms of tiny Metropolitan Police officers who inform you that walking is not considered exercise and take you to Tyburn to be hanged. You will have to start Stockwell all over again from the beginning.
As wide-ranging as Minecraft, as complex as Grand Theft Auto, Game of London is an open world ‘sandbox’ RPG, in which you are free to explore the wonderfully detailed city of London in a non-linear format, at your own pace and using your own creative solutions. And beer. It’s 5 stars from me.
Finally at home, I uncork a Rioja, roll a fat one and reflect on my day.