Run for your life!
There's a reason why Seven Samurai, Citizen Kane and Casablanca are always found near the top of any decent 'Best Of' list: you just can't argue with brilliant directing, great acting and solid storytelling, even if at times the technology of older films seems primitive.
And though I like The Shawshank Redemption as much as the next TNT addict, there might not be a better escape movie in the annals of film history than The Great Escape. With a cast of unbelievably cool all-stars including Charles Bronson, James Garner, James Coburn and of course the so-cool-he-makes-you-uncool Steve McQueen, this is the ultimate in cool prison flicks.
The film is 40 years old, though, and it seems nothing short of flabbergasting that someone, just now, decided to make it into a game. This instantly raises the Red Flag question: Does the Curse of the Game Based On A Movie have an expiration date?
Apparently not. While The Great Escape is a great movie, it is not a great game. It isn't even a good game. In fact, it's barely a game at all, just a series of item hunts limply tied together with smidgens of plot from the film.
If you haven't seen the movie, do yourself a favor and stop reading this review, turn off your computer, put on some pants, go to your local video store and pick up a copy. Then, if you're so inclined, come on back and find out why the game sucks, though you might just want to forget about the whole thing and pretend it never happened. Lord knows that's what I've been trying to do.
In case you're still here, a recap is in order. A bunch of escape artists are captured in Nazi Germany and are thrown into a breakout-proof camp. Sure enough, they devise an insanely complex plan to break out, involving extreme tunneling, plenty of diversions and more sneaking than a Nike factory.
You play as four different captives – Virgil "The Cooler King" Hilts, Bob "The Scrounger" Hendley, Louis "The Manufacturer" Sedgwick and Andy "No Nickname" MacDonald. You alternate play as each POW from mission to mission, jumping in and out of the plot like a senile grandpa. Each guy has some sort of specialty (lock-picking, pick pocketing, etc.) but it's all useless, because no matter who you are you'll be sneaking, sneaking, and sneaking.
You sneak in and out of camp huts. You sneak in and out of big scary nazi buildings. You sneak through woods, across bases, over hill and dale, all while desperately trying to remember why freedom was so important in the first place.
Like the film, the game is linear. You're given some specific item to retrieve from another inmate, so off you go, sneaking like a cat burglar, only to discover that once you find the item, you have to go sneak somewhere else to find something else. Then you bring it all back to the first guy, after which you use the newly constructed special item to aid you in the final leg of your sneaking. Then you save, then on to more sneaking.
You'd figure all this sneaking would require a brilliant mechanism to help you out. You'd be wrong. You just press the sneak trigger and wander around trying to avoid the guards. You don't get a line of sight indicator like Metal Gear. You don't get a light meter like Splinter Cell. You get nothing aside from a compass pointing you to the next objective, a crappy map and some very mysterious rules that, when broken, tell the guards you're five feet to their left.
If you're spotted, you're pretty much done for. Unfortunately, the AI is as bright as a moonless night. They patrol in very strict patterns, so much of the game comes down to rote memorization. Half of the time, guards will just stare blankly as you sneak right under their noses and often they will get stuck in doorways while chasing you. The other half of the time, guards will suddenly see or hear you even though you're miles away. Getting caught or getting shot lead to the same restart, however; no time in the cooler for you unless it's part of the rigid script…which only happens once during a cut scene.
The Great Escape tries to save itself by tossing in some action elements, but they only wind up illuminating the game's control problems. At certain times you'll wield a machine gun or sniper rifle, but shooting is made difficult thanks to an awkward auto-aim or a sluggish manual aim. Even hand to hand fighting with guards is done poorly since you have only one lame punch that simply stuns them or a strangle move that only works if you sneak up behind them. You'll steal a few vehicles as well, including a tank and a truck, but the action here is equally disappointing thanks to the bad AI and control.
I suppose this works with the theme of the movie – you're a captive, after all, and shouldn't really have access to guns or anything – but the incessant item retrieval and badly constructed action elements lead to weak gameplay.
The graphics are a little brighter. The environments are true to the film, the framerate is solid and the lighting is good. Beyond that, though, things get rough. Character animations are terribly jerky; it actually hurts a little watching your guy run. The faces are reminiscent of the movie, but bland texturing and blank stares make everyone look like a mannequin. Clipping problems are common. The best looking thing in the game is the rag-doll death animation, though even that gets screwy as the camera tends to drive itself into the floorboards while trying to capture the flailing limbs.
The sound is admirable at least, with the lighthearted score from the film tossed in for atmosphere. You can't blame the cheesy German accents on bad voice-acting choices since that's how they do it in the movie. While most of the character voice-acting is new, they took some lines directly from the movie to give the late Steve McQueen a voice. Nice try, but the quality is noticeably different from the rest, sounding like someone played the movie and hit "Record" on a walkman.
And speaking of the beloved McQueen, it's somewhat insulting that marketing pushes his image so hard, only to make you play as the other three guys for most of the game. He's no stronger or more useful than the other guys, despite claims in his game manual 'bio' that he's the toughest guy ever.
Which he was, at least according to his awesome movies. He's the brains of Thomas Crowne, the face of Papillon, the driver of Bullitt. McQueen truly is "The Cooler King" in more ways than one, which only makes his half-assed showing in this half-assed game a full-fledged bummer. Skip this disaster and rent The Towering Inferno instead.