Clive Owen's Embarrassing Video Game Past

British actor Clive Owen is a badass. A man's man. He's got a deep voice, a heavy face, and is usually in movies where he kills things, or is at least around things being killed.

Did you know, however, that between leaving the UK and making it big in Hollywood he appeared in one of the most disappointing video games of the 1990s?

Well, he did. And that game was Privateer 2.

Privateer is one of the greatest video games of all time. Marrying the space trading/combat mechanics of acclaimed PC game Elite with the trappings of the popular Wing Commander universe, it's one of the high water marks of both developers Origin and the space combat genre in general.

In 1996, a sequel was released. It was called Privateer 2: The Darkening. And it was an abomination.

Set in the distant future, far removed from the other games in the Wing Commander franchise, it took everything people liked about the first game and threw it out the window. Everything. The worst offender, though, were the game's full-motion video cutscenes, whose "cheap British sci-fi" aesthetics had absolutely nothing in common with the visual style laid down in Privateer (and the Wing Commander games before it).

Replacing Origin's trademark "talking heads" with actors seemed like a good idea at the time. Privateer 2 was shot in 1995 at Britain's famous Pinewood Studios, where classics like Superman, Aliens and Batman were filmed, not to mention every James Bond and Harry Potter movie ever made.

Rare (though not unheard of) for a video game, it would also boast a respectable cast, including Christopher Walken, John Hurt and Brian Blessed.

Joining that cast would be a young British man by the name of Clive Owen. While a respected actor in the UK, Owen had yet to make his Hollywood debut, making Privateer 2: The Darkening his first truly international gig.

He played Lev Arris, the "star" of the show, and proceeded to spend the entire game baking under extreme lighting, wandering around sparse sets and trying not to look as confused saying his ridiculous lines as he obviously felt.

Granted, Owen's poor performance isn't entirely his fault. He could only work with what he was given, and the game's editing (and obsession with close-ups) didn't help. But still. This is a far cry from the strong, moody work we've come to expect from a man who's made films like Children of Men his own.

Despite some initial positive reviews, Privateer 2 has a lot in common with the second Deus Ex game, in that most people entirely disagreed and consigned the game to the dustbin of history. Which probably suits Owen just fine; unlike Christopher Walken, who filled a career slump by revelling in his hammy video game roles, Owen never returned to gaming, instead focusing on Hollywood.

I guess after starring in King Arthur, Children of Men, Sin City and Elizabeth, emerging as something of a lady's man, he made the right choice.

Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.
(Top photo by Matt Carr | Getty)