When in Rome, wear a seat belt.
As yet another movie-licensed game storms the consoles, you have to wonder why developers keep doing this. It works out so rarely that it just doesn't seem to be worth the effort.
But in the case of The Italian Job, it's actually not as bad as you'd think. The game has good modes, solid mechanics and decent looks. For a game based on a film it's a little thin on plot and over far too quickly, but just like the movie, it makes for a good rental.
The Italian Job is split into Story Mode, Circuit Races, Stunt Tracks and Time Trials. The last one is fairly useless, since the Story Mode largely consists of time trials itself and is much more interesting. Following the plot of the film, you essentially undertake fairly short missions after watching dull cut-scenes accompanied by decent voice-overs to explain your objectives.
Oddly, there are never any people in the cut-scenes, a very strange kind of lameness indeed. It's especially weird since Marky Mark has starred in a video game once already. He must be shy without his Funky Bunch.
The races themselves are pretty standard, such as beating this or that person to the finish or not wrecking a car full of explosives. You also frequently have to deal with cops and henchmen. In the PSX The Italian Job game from Rockstar, you couldn't complete a level with the cops on your tail, but you had some time to lose 'em. In this version of The Italian Job, Eidos has made it so that as long as you drive into the shiny, red rectangle in the correct amount of time, you win. To balance out the fact that you never have to lose the cops, the developers have made it extremely easy for the cops to catch you. If you stop and a cop car is touching your car, it's lights out.
This is a bad approach to car chases. As a result of the small timer and the ease with which cops nab you, some of the levels can be ridiculously easy to lose. Admittedly, parts of the game can make you nuts. For example, several levels consist of getting your car from point A to point B in a very small amount of time. The problem is that point B can be tough to find and you have no time to figure out where you're going as there is no arrow indicator or anything. So you wind up playing the same level over and over trying to figure out how to get to this or that garage in under thirty seconds.
Further, the missions in Story Mode are divided up into three parts - fail any one of them and you have to do 'em all over again. I suppose you can make the argument that as a result you'll wind up playing the game more slowly and more thoroughly, therefore getting more play for your money, but for most gamers, it's just another frustrating design decision, forcing you to repeat previously completed mission objectives for no good reason.
However, a lot of missions in the Story mode are a blast, require lots of skill and are absolutely worth your time.
But thankfully, the short Story Mode isn't the only one here. Circuit Mode lets you race against other cars through checkpoints in what amounts to several large laps in a city setting, very similar to Midtown Madness 3. Traffic definitely complicates things, and the huge number of viable detours and shortcuts helps make it intense and rewarding.
Stunt Mode, though, is pure anal-retention and requires the most technical expertise. It's also extremely unforgiving and really frustrating. Trial and error in a racing game just isn't very fun, no matter how you slice it.
The control in The Italian Job is pretty straightforward. You've got a gas pedal, a break, a hand-break and you can even go up on two wheels. This gives you "Stunt points" for as long as you're on 'em, as does executing a particularly impressive power-slide or jump. At the end of Stunt and Story Mode levels, points are tallied and if you get an 'A' grade you unlock something like a new car or paint job.
While the simplicity of the controls makes the game easy to pick up, you can actually pull off some pretty complicated maneuvers. For example, if you accelerate, turn and break and then hand-break you can whip your car a perfect 90 degrees in very little space; a useful skill in some of The Italian Job's tighter spots. Also, executing a two-wheel turn and then hand-breaking can yield impressive results, especially into on-coming traffic.
The Italian Job looks good but won't blow any minds, especially on the PS2. The game definitely looks a little clearer on the Xbox, though the framerate is still there for the PS2. Otherwise, the cars look fine and the cities look good. However, the lack of pedestrians and damage modeling sucks. I mean, you get to drive a mini-cooper but you don't get to totally destroy it? Come on! And I'm always disappointed when I can't run people over.
The sound is fine; cars whir along, crashes sound good and there's some decent music, but the game would be better if there were more ambient noises coming from people on the sidewalk and drivers in their cars. I suppose there's no reason to have ambient noise if the game has very little visual ambience either, but The Italian Job would be much improved if it had both.
Despite being cursed as a game based on a movie, The Italian Job is a surprisingly decent driving game. It has modes for every mood and no glaring flaws, although its short length and numerous frustrating bits will surely turn people away. But the game is also very demanding, making it worth a look if you have a free weekend.