First published on 15 Aug 2011. Updated on 19 Sep 2011.
Richard Fox, a skilled programmer and local history buff, looks like he has jumped straight out of Razorhurst, the virtual world he created for his GPS adventure game. Sporting fierce chops and a black train driver's hat, Fox leans suspiciously against the wall of Palmer Street's Village Hotel. This is the starting point for his Razorhurst adventure set in Darlinghurst in the 1920s, where illegal ‘sly-grog' traders reigned supreme and streets were controlled by razor-toting heavies.
Fox's game begins at the Village Hotel (née the Tradesman's Arms), one of Kate Leigh's favoured haunts. Leigh was the brothel-keeping, drug-trading, sly grog-operating queen of the Sydney underworld. In the Razorhurst game, Leigh's sly grog stash is seized and destroyed during a police raid of the Tradesman's Arms and the players must help her replenish stocks.
Each player is given a mobile handset with GPS tracking. As players move through the area, the game updates their position and plays appropriate video re-enactments, animation, ambient sounds and voiceovers. Following a map to the locations of Razorhurst's underworld drinking holes, players retrieve virtual 'bottles' for Leigh's stash. En route, they hear the history of the razor gangs, biographical snippets of key gangland members including standover man Norman Bruhn and arch-madam Tilly Devine, and get the low-down on the local nightspots.
Those not interested in the gaming elements of Razorhurst will be satisfied with Fox's rich historical commentary, but more tech-savvy participants can throw themselves right into the challenge. The game has a one-hour time limit and only a few bottles can be carried at a time, so players must periodically return to the Tradesman's Arms to drop off their bounty. And over the course of the tour, players need to fight or avoid razor-carrying gangsters ready to ransack the supply. Attacks deplete the virtual health of players, but a quick visit to St Vincent's Hospital will put it back in check.
While the game has its faults (the GPS signal was patchy in points and the audio commentary was repeated in a few instances), Fox's Razorhurst is a far cry from the standard to-your-right-and-to-your-left city tours on offer. Rather than parroting history, Fox engages us in the (under)world that he's explaining and includes just enough sex, drugs and shankings to keep participants hooked.
And whether you successfully complete the game or not, one thing's for sure: the hot pursuit of booze is sure to make you crave a cold one. Luckily, the game ends where it begins – a great Darlinghurst drinking spot. We suggest climbing the stairs for a well earned drink at the rooftop bar. Nothing sly about that.
Razorhurst commences at the Village Hotel, 234 Palmer St, Darlinghurst 2010. Games run daily by appointment between 6.30–9.30pm. Free