What makes a good period drama?
Is it the settings and costumes depicting a bygone age? Could it be the slow and steady plot bubbling away over several episodes, teasing you towards the climatic ending? Perhaps it is the dialogue, the manners and the mannerisms of yesterday caught forever for your viewing pleasure.
Whatever it is, you are unlikely to go there for high-octane action, pumping music and bright, colourful backdrops. That’s perhaps why fans of period dramas are hard pushed to find video games to accompany their passion. The two are not obvious bedmates, but more than 120 million tuned into Downton Abbey worldwide. With Give Me Sport reporting that more than three billion people play video games worldwide, there has to be some crossover.
Sadly, direct interpretations of period dramas are not widespread. Some popular shows have spawned games of sorts. Sherlock Holmes is a good example; it was on television sets from 1984 to 1994, and the character has starred in games such as The Mystery of the Mummy on home computers. There has been a Downton Abbey game too; Ladbrokes feature on online game titled Downton Abbey, but you won’t find yourself navigating the corridors of the Crawley family home in their game. Instead, the imagery has been repurposed for a different popular game genre. That is more or less it for period drama fans unless you’re happy to pick up a board game, where both Poldark and the Darling Buds of May have featured. That’s tough on period drama fans, but all is not lost.
There are some games you can play that mix period drama and video games; they’re just not tied into official licenses. Perhaps developers feel to license a game with such a niche viewership wouldn’t be cost-effective. Still, some have recognised the two genres do have a crossover, which has led to these great period drama video game titles.
Herald: An Interactive Period Drama
Released in 2017, Herald is perhaps one of the best known period drama games; so much so it had to include the genre in the title, just so you were sure. It is set in an alternative 19th century, where a single colonial superpower, the British Protectorate, controls the whole of the west. The story centres on the character of Devan Rensburg, a man of mixed heritage who became a steward on board the HLV Herald. The themes revolve around racial tension and colonial unrest, very much core plotlines in television period dramas. The game was widely praised and has become the benchmark by which others within the genre are measured.
The Play’s the Thing
Released relatively recently for iOS, Android and PC, The Play’s the Thing focuses on a young playwright in a fictional period city of Medaras, seeking to change the course of its history. It is an RPG, text-based adventure, much like the video games of old, so there’s an element of period simply in style. The game uses the plays of Shakespeare as a basis for the plot, but as a budding playwright, you can alter them, bending opinion within the Medaras. Will you do enough to change the course of history with your pen, as many great playwrights have done before you?
Assassin’s Creed Unity
The Assassin’s Creed series is the period drama of the video game world, and whilst Unity didn’t get great reviews when it was released in 2014, it has become very popular. It is as close to a typical period drama as any in the series; dark and gritty, it is set on the streets of France during the revolution and tells the story of Arno Dorian and Elise De LaSerre. The story is perhaps the most charming of any AC game, with a deep-seated love angle as well as themes of revenge and redemption. If you have a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, this is perhaps the closest you’ll get to a true period drama representation on a video game.