Robin Hood is the quintessential English folk rebel. He’s also a total chameleon. The man (if he was a man) has undergone endless reincarnations, merry and not-so-merry, stretching back over 600 years of fact and fiction. Go on, pick your poison – no-nonsense Yorkshire highwayman or pantomime aristo? Crusading commoner or blueblood cheated of his birthright? Proto-socialist agitator or just a nickname given to any bandit of a certain repute? Errol Flynn or Russell Crowe?
The character has found a new lease of life overseas: I grew up not far from Robin’s old stomping grounds in South Yorkshire, but the version of his story I fell in love with as a child was Disney’s 1973 adaptation – Sherwood Forest by way of Kansas and the Jungle Book. Over time, sadly, this once-celebrated rogue has become something of an establishment figure. Robin’s reinvention during the 19th century as the secret heir to a noble estate has less to do with historical evidence and more reconciling him with England’s rotten class system – a rebel no longer, but simply the “better” kind of toff trying to muscle his way back in.
What idea of Robin Hood is appropriate to the England of today, with its draconian anti-protest laws, plateauing wealth inequality and murderously incompetent ruling elite? A thoroughly grim one, of course, and on that count, Hood: Outlaws & Legends amply delivers. A lean multiplayer heist game from the team behind Eve: Valkyrie, it blends the murkier Robin myths with a very contemporary dread of a status quo that seems final and inescapable. The game isn’t strictly set in England but a silent, shadowy composite of sunken villages, coastal forts and churchyards populated only by soldiers and gibbets. It feels more like Chernobyl than Sherwood, and like Chernobyl, it is a place out of time, ruled by a nameless, ahistorical State that is both crushingly tangible and strangely without form. Its castles are caught between periods – broadly medieval in design but with a hint of latter-day fascist architecture, made up of vast, square monoliths that seem beyond the era’s technology.
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