The One That Got Away
Mark Hammond had turned away from his former life of crime. But the underworld hasn't forgotten him, and now Hammond is up against the wall with nowhere to turn. They've killed his wife. They've got his boy. And now, he's their dog.
The mysterious "they" is the notorious Bethnal Green Mob, headed by Charlie Jolson. By holding Hammond's son captive, Jolson forces Hammond into a whirlwind crime spree that will bring the city to its knees.
The Getaway is a foray into a European criminal world that will immediately be compared to the recent Grand Theft Auto games. However, instead of the open-ended gameplay of GTA, The Getaway aims for a more cinematic, linear narrative, split between driving and gunning sequences. This rhythm is repeated again and again through 24 missions, split between Mark Hammond's story and the story of Frank Carter, a cop out to end Jolson's reign of terror over London.
Now, I haven't been to London myself, but the look and feel of a real city is here. Supposedly, the developers went to great lengths to map out 40 square kilometers of central London and recreate it as best they could. And it shows because The Getaway has all the landmarks I remember from The Great Muppet Caper. Everything from Admiralty Arch and Big Ben to the singularly named Monument can be found here.
And in this seemingly realistic city, there are scores of real cars, from the Lexus SC to those double decker tour buses. The Hong Kong triad's cars even have little racing type R stickers on the bumper (because you know with that sticker, your car is automatically 10% faster).
The driving sequences send your character off on Point A to B missions through London. If you treat your car too roughly, it will start smoking and slowing down, forcing you to jack another car. Instead of using the oh-so-familiar giant arrows to point out the route, your car's turn signals simply blink to indicate the right direction. Please remember to drive on the left.
At times, these directions can be somewhat ambiguous. You might be really close to your intended location, but the game keeps you going in circles around the block because of a nondescript entryway or the fact that you are in the parking lot when you are supposed to be at the front door. And why would a gangster make turn signals if he's on a breakneck race, dodging cops and ramming cars? After all, hardened criminals don't use turn signals, wear seat belts, or remember to call Nanna. The answer is that the developers were trying to make it look more like a movie and less like a game. But it doesn't work out quite as well as they hoped.
More navigational problems abound as there is no way to change the view, no rear-view mirror and absolutely no maps. Pausing out to a location screen would have offered the perfect chance to really get to know the city. One easily implemented idea would be to simply include a large paper tourist map of London with the game. Hey, it's not too late to add that "upgrade."
Switching gears into the gunning sequences, The Getaway continues to remove familiar gameplay icons, like health and ammo bars, in favor of looking more cinematic. There aren't any meters in this game. Instead, you can tell your health by the amount of blood on your character and how fast he can walk (or limp).
Crosshairs are also gone. Shooting involves tapping the auto-aim button, emptying a round, then tapping aim again. There is no indication as to how much ammo you have left, which I think actually adds to the game since you have to keep count like you would in real life. Even though you can manually aim, it tends to be difficult and slow. Ideally, I would have liked the ability to auto-aim, but manually fine tune for a head shot.
Instead of magic health packs, you simply lean against a wall to rejuvenate yourself, and your clothes even magically dry clean themselves of blood stains. Wow, what a medical breakthrough! Now if only that would work for cancer. In the attempt to make the game realistic, it unrealistically has you looking for breaks in the action to lean against walls.
The result is a staccato sequence of quick gunfire and leaning breaks. Plus, the enemy AI is not quite clever enough to deliver the feeling of being in a real shoot-out. At times, the thugged-out gangsters will politely wait for you while you are "recharging" yourself.
Movement controls when you're on foot don't offer the tight, responsive feel you really need. One sequence has you avoiding a maze of laser sensors, but it's nearly impossible because of the clumsy oaf you're controlling. With the simplistic shooting and the complete lack of camera control, the gunning gameplay comes out too stilted, lacking the smooth precision that would make it fully enjoyable.
Removing well known video game icons, from giant arrows and crosshairs to meters and ammo indicators, may superficially make a game look more like a movie, but in this case, it makes the game less of a game. Taking cues from the movies and implementing them into games can work; it worked for Max Payne. But you have to be careful not to lose your gaming fundamentals.
What The Getaway loses in gameplay it tries valiantly to make up for with its ambitious movie sequences. Real actors carefully selected voice all the characters. The actors are simply excellent in their roles, from the almost incomprehensible Cockney accents to a multicultural mix of voices for the other London gangs. The script stays pretty interesting and if you're a concerned parent, there's swearing and slang aplenty.
As I was escaping from a group of Triad thugs, I heard the shouts of "Fai-di, fai di!" in the distance. "Hurry up!" the gangsters were yelling as they readied their men to go after me. They said some more angry Cantonese phrases that I didn't understand because "fai-di" is the only Cantonese I know, but still, I thought it was an excellent detail.
But all the great details that come through in the voices don't quite make it in the visuals, which are all rendered in the game engine. Sure, they are really well done, probably as good as anyone can do on a Playstation 2, but there are nuances of acting that haven't been successfully brought into computer animation, as least not when you are dealing with realistic looking characters.
There are some great moments, like when through billowing clouds of cigar smoke, Jolson gives you your death sentence, and under heavily lidded eyes, Hammond's utter frustration comes through. But when these characters start waving their arms about or making subtle gestures, it just doesn't come off as well. The photo-realistic textures convey that gritty sense of atmosphere but then there are the mistakes, from hands that punch through walls to occasionally choppy animation that are all the more noticeable because the game tries so hard to look real. They actually had real actors working on this game, being filmed for their game likenesses and as reference material, and they should have used the filmed footage for the game's movie sequences. Film to game transitions can work very well, like in the The Two Towers game.
The Getaway simply aimed too high, and fell short. The basics of the game, like control and fun, should have been figured out before anyone tried to make it into a movie. Still, The Getaway can be fun despite its flaws: weaving and darting through oncoming traffic, or finally, after trial and error, emerging alive from a tense firefight. Just driving around London is great because you get a real sense of the city. I am hoping there will be a sequel because you can see where the over-ambitious developers were trying to go, and I'd really like them to actually get there.