October 19, 2011

This originally written for a feature – about weird moments in otherwise normal games – that we put together over at BeefJack recently, but it didn’t quite fit. I’ve let it make its nest here though, where it can be a nasty little square peg and shout about it.

GTA London was Rockstar North’s one and only crack – a vicious, sickening, audible snap – at an openly real-world setting. It was the 60s London of the movies, replete with cabbies, Caine-alikes and a suitably vibrant soundtrack unmatched in its evocation of time and place, at least until the release of Vice City.

Beyond that, it was horrible. Beneath the inviting, nostalgic half-reality surface of its sandpit, Rockstar buried nails and matches. Long before anyone thought to combine hookers with baseball bats, GTA London’s emergent playground could render the meeting of Buckingham Palace and rocket launchers in colourful 2D. It didn’t so much court controversy as jump in its underwear and then hawk its conquest all round town. Worse though, it had doves.

No more than twelve pixels long and completely static, London’s doves bask on the pavements and cluster around benches, puckering in the fumes and the vehicular heat. Until they’re run over, with cruel inevitability, at which point their bloody corpses literally roll across the screen in acts of post-mortem passive aggression.

It is, one can only assume, a guilt-powered defence mechanism for the greater good of the race, a peaceful protest designed to incrementally depress you into playing nice as dead birds begin to litter the streets. After all, as any career criminal will tell you, the hardest kill is that which silently gets stuck under your wheels as you careen about town in a bright red double-decker bus.

If nothing else, their strange sacrifice serves to warn GTA London’s human residents of the coming storm. The tin cans tied to the cars of newlyweds signal their joy to those in their wake. The distant sound of reggaeton, accompanied by the syncopated thud of bloodied doves against the bumper of a black cab, spells direst foreboding to the pedestrians of Hyde Park.

As I wipe bits of bird from my windscreen, I sigh and wonder what Charlie Croker would have done in my loafers. “Another feather in my bonnet,” he’d say, cool as a Cooper. But then he never had to put up with this…


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