Bioware’s latest magnum opus (Mass Effect 3) was undeniably superb, yet it left me hankering for another playthrough of RARE’s derisive N64 cult classic: Conker’s Bad Fur Day. You see, Bad Fur Day – a game effervescing with British humour and perfectly pitched pop-culture references – is simply the ideal remedy to the paucity of humour in Commander Shepard’s troubled journey; there isn’t a better accompaniment to Shepard’s moral introspection than Conker’s deliciously lewd and sardonic quips.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day was a one-of-a-kind; a platformer laced through with an unashamedly puerile sense of humour and a slew of British sensibilities. The game commences with Conker – a perpetually drunk and irascible squirrel – trying to reunite himself with his girlfriend Berri, after a long night on the binge. His journey is thwarted by a villainous threat in the form of Panther King (the ruler of Conker’s homeworld) who decides that his three-legged throne side-table can be fixed by using a red squirrel as a fourth leg – it’s absolutely absurd and refreshingly devoid of any pretence.
The title is rife with these allusions to British culture and regional stereotypes; at one point early on Conker comes across a group of mouthy liverpudlian beetles (geddit?!) and a family of east-end wasps, who proceed to lambast our protagonist in heinously bad scouse and cockney accents. It’s completely unexpected, yet genuinely hilarious, and epitomises the idiosyncratic charm that defines the title.
The Fable franchise is another game series that prides itself on a rich sense of time and place. This must be attributed, in part, to the simply stellar voice-acting from the ridiculously talented cast (John Cleese, Stephen Fry, Ben Kingsley, Bernard Hill, Nicholas Hoult, Michael Fassbender, Zoe Wannamaker, Jonathon Ross). Stephen Fry was predictably brilliant as the callous despot, Reaver – bringing his own brand of mordant wit and a disconcertingly reassuring tone to the role – whilst Zoe Wannamaker lent her textured, motherly timbre to the game’s overseer and chief narrator: Theresa.
Having such a rich cast of instantly recognisable tones gave a depth of characterisation to these characters without drowning the gamer in superfluous exposition. It also bolstered the already potent mixture of Medieval and Tudor influences throughout Albion’s architecture – from the black and white, wooden facades of the capital’s houses; to the choking smog and provincial values of Old Town.
Lionhead Studios created a game that was undoubtedly flawed (what on earth was that ending all about?!), but that ultimately excelled in delivering a universe that was well realised and decidedly fantastical, with real British stylistic overtones.
Inevitably, pandering to a narrow audience will detract other prospective buyers (I’m not sure Conker’s Bad Fur Day had much appeal in the Japanese market) but that’s beside the point. In an industry saturated with open-world playgrounds modelled on various American cities, there’s always room for a dodgy cockney accent, or a few gratuitous sprinklings of Python-esque humour.