The career of London Studio over the years, has experienced a succession of many low and very few highs. Yet, although his name does not possess a very strong echo among Sony's henchmen, the team has accompanied the growth of all PlayStation brand platforms in 26 years of activity from the first console to PSVR. Unfortunately his works have mostly gone under the bridge, and rarely managed to escape from the niche: in any case, it cannot be denied that the British group possesses a marked versatility, which allowed it to range from sports genres ( This is Football ) up to the party games ( Singstar Dance ), passing through experiments in augmented reality ( Wonderbook ) and for the epopee open world underworld background.
It was the latter to give the studio the opportunity to leave a mark on the industry: the Getaway series in fact, even without having received unanimous acclaim, he knew anyway stand out in the team's curriculum as does a ray of sunshine in the gloomy London afternoons. And it is precisely by exploiting the charm of the capital that the developers were able to create their own criminal epic, the same that seems ready to emerge even in Blood & Truth, the new project exclusively for PSVR expected for May 29, date on which we will return to put the English metropolis to fire.
The city of crime
What opened up before the eyes of gamers in 2002 was a digitized London of rare beauty: the technical achievements reached by The Getaway verged on excellence and guaranteed a high impact visual realism. The technical realization was coupled with a faithful and flashy reconstruction, in search of a marked verisimilitude that would allow the game to distance itself from its direct competitor, the Grand Theft Auto of Rockstar Games that – in the field of open world – did not know any rival.
But the gameplay philosophy of The Getaway was very different from that of the US company, as well as the type of crime that the team staged. Although united by the same free roaming superstructure, the two products were diametrically opposed: and in this sense, the work of London Studio had the courage to follow its own path, without chasing after the GTA's scacciapensieri formula. In essence, it began to outline the traits of a whole new kind of poetry, which in the field of videogames has never had any other counterparts.
This is because a city like London, the true protagonist of the adventure, was not a setting so exploited within the sector. The team's typically "European" vision has meant that a product such as The Getaway, with its strengths and weaknesses, remains an isolated case in the interactive entertainment landscape, a "white fly" with its own personality in the middle to a handful of clones.
The vicissitudes of the outlaw Mark Hammond and the sbirro Frank Carter were intertwined, in that year, with the unforgettable adventures of Tommy Vercetti : there was at the time a battle between videogame gangs moved by two radically different ways of understanding the concept of open world. On one side was the sunny Miami of Vice City, a melting pot of idiosyncrasies of the 1980s, an amusement park full of smile and unbridled quoting; and on the other side the gray sky of London peeked out, the seriousness of the plot, the cinematic touch of an auteur gangster movie.
The Getaway did not in any way seek to entertain the player in the strict sense of the term, but rather to involve them on the visual and emotional front: the disappearance of the HUD superimposed, moreover, is the perfect example of a realism that does not intends to compromise. The health of the protagonist could be kept under control by the blood stains that soaked his jacket, and in case of excessive damage Mark even ended up leaning against the walls in an attempt to regain his strength.
When traveling on the London streets, strictly with right-hand drive, the cars that passed – unlike the GTA vehicles – had an official license, and had been rebuilt with considerable attention to detail. It is precisely in the attention to detail that London Studio had an extra gear, thus recreating the charm of an elegant and austere city, thanks both to the maniacal reconstruction of the interiors and exteriors, and to a dramaturgy that sought its most important cinema source of inspiration.
The Getaway was characterized in short by a unique style, by virtue of its playful setting, where the authorial attitude of the director and the gameplay was clearly visible, the same that at times could be seen – even with other qualitative levels – in the the first Mafia, also released in 2002. Although it does not skimp on violence, both verbal and physical, and spectacularly without brakes, the work of London Studio featured an elegance that is hard to find in other similar products, extrapolated with both hands from the cinema of gender.
This playful and visual class unfortunately began to fail with its official sequel, The Getaway Black Monday also made by the English team, in which the multiplication of the playable protagonists moved hand in hand with the plurality of narrative registers (and available endings). Even if the substance remained almost the same, the progress was more brisk and prone to spectacle.
As has been pointed out at the time of its release, while the first The Getaway approached above all the aesthetics of films like Carter with an always fascinating Michael Caine, Black Monday borrowed a little more "pepper" from Guy Ritchie of Snatch Lo Strappo . Despite the stylistic differences, it was once again London, however, with its labyrinths of streets, its narrow alleys and its sky in perennial darkness.
Strengthened by its renewed graphics, the city looked as beautiful as ever, a majestic stage in which to play this unfortunate criminal piece. Both on a television screen and on the small display of a portable console, the capital remained a frame of enormous fascination: Gangs of London although not bearing the title of the saga The Getaway, it represented a sort of spiritual sequel, since it was set in the same narrative universe and above all in the same setting.
Nevertheless, much of the stylistic legacy of his predecessors was left behind, opting for a "comic" narrative (similar to that of Max Payne) and a more "pop" approach, openly depicted by the use of HUD, with an indicator of residual health, probably inserted also to make the action on the PSP panel more readable.
Gangs of London has lowered the curtain on the infamous adventures of the English studio, which has abandoned bullets and gangster movies for ten years and has dedicated itself mainly to the Singstar series. At least until in 2016 the advent of PlayStation VR, with the new promises of technology, did not induce the team to get their hands dirty again, and to return to the streets of London from a completely new perspective.
London in virtual reality
Blood & Truth embodies the new attempt by London Studio to return to the spotlight after many years of absence. The seeds for the creation of the work had already been planted in London Heist, the mini-interactive experience – lasting about half an hour – contained in the PSVR Worlds collection.
In that very successful "short game" it was possible to openly note the desire of London Studio to recover the lesson of the past and modernize it with the help of virtual reality: and here is the atmosphere, the violence and the adrenaline of the shootings they were imbued with that unattainable English charm elsewhere, where verbal vulgarity and visual brutality clashed pleasantly with the elegance of photography and the director's layout.
London Heist was mostly set in inland locations, while a quick glimpse of London could only be admired in an action sequence aboard a racing car. A tasty taste, in short, of what awaits us in Blood & Truth, a product that – although it is totally different from The Getaway – has some points of contact with the most important work of London Studio: first of all, to link the two titles there is the setting, an inevitable London that, according to the developers' words, will play a very important role; secondly, we find the presence of two anti-heroes whose actions start with the kidnapping of a family member.
While Mark Hammond acts under blackmail, after his son was taken hostage by a mala boss, the protagonist of Blood & Truth, Ryan Marks, attempts to demolish the London criminal gangs that hold his family prisoner. From what we could see, however, the stylistic-narrative similarities end here. The shooter in VR seems intent on recovering a more dynamic and lively approach, which moves away from gangster movies to get closer to more traditional action movies.
In short, it seems to complete the transition to a more hard boiled imprint already experimented with the later chapters of The Getaway, and here conveyed by the wonders of virtual reality. From Guy Ritchie we then move on to John Woo and more generally to the caciarone films of the Hollywood of our times, but always with a single, great and inevitable constant: whatever the story to tell, the important is that to frame us there is London, a city that, next May 29th, we look forward to visiting with the PlayStation VR.