Grand Theft Auto: London 1969 (PS1) Review

The announcement of the “definitive edition” of the PS2 GTA trilogy made me look forward to plugging back through those games and eventually reviewing them for this site, so since I reviewed the original GTA back in 2016 (right at the start of my blog!) I thought I’d cap off the PS1 era of GTA before getting stuck into the remastered PS2 games. Before we get to GTA2 however we have the side-step (or “Expansion Pack”) from the original game: GTA London 1969, the only GTA game set outside of the states. Full of a humour, crime and a groovy 60s soundtrack I always enjoy my time with this game… for a while. Let’s take a look!

Background:

That car has a Union Jack motif, we must be in London!

Grand Theft Auto: London 1969 was released for PC and PS1 in April 1999, a little under two years after the original game. Officially billed as an “Expansion pack” rather than a full stand-alone game (you even needed the original game to play it!) it was a bit cheaper to buy… or at least that was the idea, anyway…

For the record there was a PC exclusive prequel aptly named “Grand Theft Auto: London 1961” that was literally just some new missions on the same maps with the same characters, but to be fair to it, it was free!

Gameplay:

Bloody corpse? Check. Machine gunning a random car? Check. About to make a break for it by stealing a fresh car? Double check! Grrrrrrand Theft Auto!

As the advertised tagline of “Expansion Pack” will tell you, this game plays exactly like the original GTA. You pick your criminal, get plonked down on a section of London and then you have to reach a certain score before you run out of lives. The actual gameplay is top down and graphics are pixelated, allowing the “camera” to zoom down and away from the player depending on if they’re walking on street level or driving really fast down the roads. You can shoot (often awkwardly), punch and drive cars and motorbikes, use explosives including chaining some explosions of vehicles, and get in police chases as your “Wanted Level” rises. You can lower your wanted level by picking up Bribes or using the classic “Pay ‘n’ Spray” shops to recolour your car.

Shooting or running over random pedestrians will grant you money, police even more so, but it’s the missions that will net you the most cash. The missions are activated by answering phones ringing in phonebooths or on your new-fangled pager and are often “kill certain person”, “the X gang is active in this area, wipe them out!”, that sort of thing, though it escalates from football hooligans right up to James Bond style spies and international terrorists. Once you have enough points you unlock the next area, which instead of three different cities based on different cities of America it’s just three different chunks of London, though at least the landmarks are spread about the areas so it is fun to get the next one even if it doesn’t feel as big of a change as the original GTA. You can also do side missions like finding specific cars and bringing them to special “Import/Export” buildings or going on “Kill Frenzies”.

So it’s a fun set up, and all the usual tag lines like “You’re Busted!” and “You’re Dead!” have been changed to London slang like “You’re Nicked!” and “You’re Brown Bread!”. Sadly though, it has to be said that the gameplay isn’t great. It was good at the time because these sorts of free roaming sandbox games weren’t readily available so it was just the control scheme you used to have fun, now in 2021 it’s really fiddly, especially trying to hold a direction and pressing the fire button then actually getting the bullets or rocket to go where you want them to. Driving is also an issue as you start motoring down the screen and the camera pulls away but you end up near the edge of the screen and are therefore unable to see what’s coming up until it’s too late. It’s definitely a game that’s aged poorly…

Graphics and Sound:

Making a getaway on London Bridge (Honestly, I know it’s hard to tell, but this is London Bridge)

The graphics have their charm, but they’re not very attractive when being unbiased. The pixelated look works for getting lots of people and cars on screen at the same time but once it zooms in and things start to look all blocky and… bad, then it’s not so great. Explosion effects are a good laugh but… well, not good.

Sound on the other hand is fantastic. From the super-catchy title theme to the radio stations blaring out some extremely 60s tunes it really sets the scene and is genuinely fun to listen to. The sound effects are fun too, comical instead of realistic, but then so is the game…

Story:

Never before has the word “Crisp” been so menacing. Apart from maybe when hedgehog flavoured crisps were around…

You can once again pick from several characters to start with, specifically Maurice Caine (On-the-nose Michael Caine look-a-like), Mick Casey (generic thug), Johnny Hawtorn (looks like a bit like Johnny Cash, for some reason…), Winston Henry (beatnik), Charles Jones (Hippie with Charles Manson vibes, disturbingly) Rodney Morash (Mod), Sid Vacant (Sid Vicious lookalike) and Wolfie Vilans (kind of looks like Boycie from Only Fools…?).

Once you press start you soon begin working for a man named Harold Cartwright, then eventually make your way up the criminal ladder, taking out Cartwright, “the middleman” Jack Parkinson and the Crisp Twins, Archie and Albert (based off the Kray Twins, which is once again disturbing, though not as bad as making a Charles Manson looking character a playable protagonist!) before you end the game as the new kingpin of the London underworld.

Thoughts Then:

Glorifying a random killing spree, that’s the GTA most remember…. or at least the ones who were against it, anyway…

At the time I was so happy to see a new GTA game, let alone one set in my own country. Me and my friends played it for weeks, laughing at all the cockney rhyming slang and generally having fun in a new sandbox. That being said it didn’t last any where near as long as the original did, I guess that comes from not being a brand new one-of-a-kind game like the previous one so the bloom was off the rose so to speak. Still, it was good fun for a good while!

Thoughts Now:

Just another day in swingin’ 60s London, baby!

Much like the original GTA it has some nostalgic fun for an hour or two, but it’s outdated control scheme and poor camera soon take the wind out of your sails. I know it’ll never happen but I’d love the next 3D game to be set in a similar place and even time period, but oh well. Still has a great soundtrack though!

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