London is known for several popular things: Fish and Chips, Big Ben, the river Thames, but one thing it will probably never be credited for is being the centerpiece of an engaging, fun videogame–at least if one only looks as far as The Getaway. It’s a guarantee that nothing will confuse and frustrate players quicker than a game that can’t make up its mind what it is. Is it a movie? Is it a game? Well, whatever it is, it should choose a path early and then stick with it.
The plot…behind The Getaway revolves around three main characters: Mark Hammond, an ex-criminal on the run for the alleged murder of his wife, Frank Carter, a vigilante cop suspended from the police force for unorthodox methods, and Charlie Jolson, a larger than life crime boss who pulls the strings of these two men to get what he wants out of the London crime scene.
Set in modern day London with realistic vehicles and locations, The Getaway boasts over 40 square Kilometers, ( that’s 25 square miles to us Yanks), of authentic London city painstakingly recreated for the game. Got your Fodor’s guide ready? Good. Then it’s time to hit the The Getaway.
Immediately upon booting the game up, players are treated to a cinematic opening much like those seen in popular films these days. Once the cut scene rolls, we are treated to some characters displaying the face mapping technique that is much hyped for this game. Indeed, the faces do look unique yet the remaining parts of the characters–i.e. body, hands, and clothes–appear to have been given the short end of the texture stick. Apparently, most of the focus visually in the game was devoted to making realistic faces, cars, and buildings.
Speaking of buildings, it is widely promoted that the game designers are proud of the fact that they faithfully recreated a large portion of their hometown London for the game. It’s also some of the blandest, most repetitious textures players will witness in a title for quite awhile. If this is what London truly looks like, then cancel your plane ticket–just take in the mundane city sights here in the warmth of your own home with the PS2. Indeed, the game is designed around the task of having you drive around London taking in the weird driving habits, claustrophobic building structures, and narrow streets of one of the oldest cities on Earth.
The many cars that you will have at your disposal are something of a graphical highlight to The Getaway in the fact that they are faithfully recreated from their real life counterparts. Unfortunately, you will not get a chance to check out the leather seats or the CD deck though–the camera is fully locked to a third-person viewpoint during all driving sequences- presumably to allow players to see more of merry London.
Graphical errors abound in the game with clipping, dropped textures, spotty A.I., and faulty object detection all running the gamut of the title here. One would think that with all the time and money invested in a venture like this, that errors of this nature would have been corrected before launch. Yet sadly, this is not the case.
Music in The Getaway is a nice collection of bass, techno, and jazz. It ranges from thumping bass during some action scenes to mellow synthesizers and chimes during the more stealthy aspects of the game. The music really does do a great job at setting the atmosphere and giving The Getaway its trendy edge, and becomes one of the nicer features of the game.
Voice acting is another story however. In an effort to get the game as ‘realistic’ as possible, SCEE employed some top talent from the U.K. and gave them a script which calls for a heavily punctuated cockney accent. Subtitles are provided–thank God–so that players who speak normal English can understand just what transpired during the slang and profanity laced conversations. All sound effects, music, and speech are in normal stereo, so no need for the HT setup here.
Now we get to the meat of the title–the thing by which all games are heavily judged. The Getaway–or rather, its designers–drop the ball when it comes to this very crucial element. A game is no good if the gameplay is weak, choppy, or just left out, and the problem here with The Getaway is that it tries to be more of a “movie” than “game”.
It’s an ambitious endeavor to make a game so engrossing that it’s almost like a film, and one only need look to the recent Metal Gear Solid series of games to see how engrossing and “film”-like a title can be. But what those other games hold that The Getaway does not is a very tangible mix of action and adventure that springs from the gate and holds throughout the game. Rather, The Getaway putters aimlessly along never really finding a groove or tempo for a player to get into.
This is the main doing of a much maligned control, inventory, and driving system set up within the game. While you are playing as the either one of the main characters–Frank or Mark, as the plot has you playing as both and intersecting with one another at times in the game–there are no onscreen displays of health, armor, or maps. The only way you know where you need to go to while driving is by a clunky method of using turn signals on your car. The signal illuminates when you need to turn and the hazards flash when you reach your destination.
This effect has you going around and around in circles instead of getting directly where you need to go–a frustrating task to say the least. Control over the vehicles leaves much to be desired as steering and pickup on many of them is downright sloppy. Add in the fact that the cars can not take very much damage before bursting into flames, and the frustration level goes up another notch.
I wish I could say that maneuvering the characters themselves was better, but unfortunately this is not the case either. Both Mark and Frank run and climb stairs as if carrying a load in their pants and the wall stealth and crouch features are buggy. Targeting is extremely poor and sometimes an enemy can be standing right next to you–out of camera range–and you won’t even know he’s there.
There are plenty of weapons lying around from dropped enemies, but no ammo pickups to be had. There are also no health kits lying around in the game, but rather to recover health one has to lean the character against a wall for over a minute while it regenerates. Once again, a shoddy feature in the game serves to undo what good action and gameplay may be happening at that point in the title–having to stop every few feet and lean against something just breaks up the action and instead serves it up in fits and starts.
The Getaway boasts a free roaming feature once the title has been beaten for those wanting to take in more of the quirky driving in the city on the Thames. Above and beyond that though, the game does not offer much more unless one wishes to play through it again. It’s doubtful that many will finish the title, but some people really like this game–not surprisingly, it’s a hit in Europe.
Nonetheless, the crummy gameplay mechanics, shoddy control, and no obvious player status and location displays all serve to be the undoing in The Getaway. Give it a rent if you are interested in driving around in circles on the left hand side of the road, otherwise avoid it.