A bad case of the Mondays.
If you’ve ever seen Snatch or Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, then you know there’s a huge difference between speaking English and speaking whatever the hell it is they speak over in England. They might come off as quite intelligent thanks to their fancy pants accents and proper grammar, but you know if you ran into the Queen herself on the street, she’d say something insane like “My man in a boat’s all packed up from too much kit kat shuffle!” Maybe.
The latest British export to utterly confound the rest of the English-speaking world is Sony’s The Getaway: Black Monday. Developed by Team Soho for the PS2, this sequel is another futile attempt at capturing the attitude and style of films like Snatch, although to an extent, the developers succeeded – every cut-scene is well directed and stylish and the dialogue is vulgar and opaque. Unfortunately, the rest of this set piece is drearier than the back alleys of London.
Once you develop an ear for the accent, though, you’ll become aware of an interesting plot. Initially, it revolves around Sergeant Mitchell, who is just returning to the force after a two-year suspension for shooting an armed teen in the back. Mitchell is short, looks constipated and is quite awkward around women. When you take control of him, he’s attempting to rescue a sassy journalist from the clutches of a Russian crime syndicate.
Meanwhile, a ragtag group of crooks is planning the heist of their lives. Composed of two aging boxers, a 16-year-old girl, an undertaker and a geek, this motley crew unwittingly breaks into the headquarters of the same Russian crime syndicate and steals one of its most cherished religious icons.
It makes sense on paper, but thanks to the game’s proclivity to use British slang, it’s pretty hard to follow. It can be quite funny, though – the dialogue between some of the characters, especially Sam and Eddie, is almost enough to carry this shambling wreck of a game.
The game’s main Story mode is divided up into action sequences, stealth sequences and driving sequences. In all three cases, the action in Black Monday is difficult to describe without using obscenities, but I’ll try.
As Mitchell or Eddie, you can lock-on to bad guys using R1 or aim manually using R2. Since you have almost no control over the camera, you’ll need to use R1 just to orient yourself. Once you’re facing an enemy, you can either hold R1 and fire away or switch to R2 and aim. You can strafe if you’re holding the R1 button, but not if you’re holding the R2 button.
This entire aiming system is ridiculous. You should be able to auto-aim with the R1 button, manually enhance your aim with the R-stick, fire with R2, and strafe with the L-stick if you want to. Instead of actively dodging behind obstructions and feeling like you’re really in a firefight, you’ll flip through all the nearby enemies using auto-aim, and then finish off the ones in the distance with manual. That is, unless they’re about 100 meters away, because bullets in Black Monday don’t travel that far.
Manual aiming isn’t quite as simple as it sounds either, because instead of a reticule, you have to line up the tip of your gun with your opponent’s body. It seems like the developers were trying to avoid what they felt was an unsightly convention, but if they wanted to do that, then they should have pulled the player into a first-person perspective where they were actually looking down the gun-barrel through the sight. Instead, they replaced one unsightly convention with another.
If this system sounds a little bit stiff, you should see it in action. Actually, you shouldn’t. Suffice to say, your combat maneuverability is nixed by the wonky camera, obtuse targeting system, and generally wooden controls.
Unsurprisingly, the enemies in Black Monday are governed by heinous A.I. The bad guys are planted throughout missions and merely peek out from cover and take shots on a timer, although they’re usually more than half exposed even when they’re trying to hide. No wonder Russia lost the Cold War.
Both Mitchell and Eddie can respectively perform arrests and grappling moves, and Eddie can throw punches when unarmed. However, melee fighting makes all other enemies stop attacking until you finish off the guy you’re beating up. If there are four enemies right in front of you, you can arrest or grapple all of them to death, one after the other, and sustain almost no damage. It’s just like a Bruce Lee movie, but awful.
To make matters worse, you’re nigh invincible. You can take a couple clips before dying; damage is manifested by blood-stains that appear on your clothing. To heal, you simply walk up to a wall and your guy leans against it. After about five seconds, he’ll be fit as a fiddle. He only gets about ten seconds worth of rest per mission, though, so watch out. We know it seems silly to take a breather after getting shot, but it isn’t any worse than picking up health icons or first aid kits. It’s just kinda weird that the developers would identify health packs as unrealistic, and then replace it with something equally unbelievable.
Sam, the thief, is the woeful harbinger of stealth missions. All of her levels basically come down to navigating through a maze of security guards by trial and error, because the enemies never move. They don’t yawn, or stretch, and they certainly don’t look around. “Hm, I go left, and the game sucks. I go right, and the game sucks. Maybe I’ll stop playing.” Bingo!
Mitchell and Eddie’s driving missions are the best the game has to offer, but still suffer from ubiquity and tedium. Mitchell’s can do anything he wants, including run over cops and pedestrians, and never gets heat for it. Eddie, on the other hand, gets chased by the cops if he runs a street light, drives too fast or even swerves a little. The physics engine actually shines during the driving sequences, because ramming other cars is extremely effective. Flying down the freeway at high speeds while a car full of enemies speeds alongside you and then nudging them into oncoming traffic is effective, even if it doesn’t result in an explosion.
Good luck figuring out where to go, though, since Black Monday fails to fix one of the biggest problems with the first game: the stupid blinkers. Rather than use a mini-map to navigate through the city, you’ll either have to follow the totally unreliable blinkers or pause and check the citywide map. Most blinkers are meant to prevent accidents; these only cause them.
Too bad cars aren’t the only thing that crash in Black Monday. The game streams data to avoid loading times, but every once in a while you’ll walk through what’s obviously a loading tunnel, and when you emerge on the other side everything will be broken. No matter what direction you press, your character will move forward and the controller will stop working. While this puts a damper on the gameplay, we have to applaud the game’s artificial intelligence for simply refusing to go on.
The character animations are very stiff and the environmental textures could use’anything, really. They’re flat and drab. The camera is fixed behind you and completely flips out if you become obscured by the environment. Even though the cut-scenes are well directed, the character’s faces lack definition, spoiling any dramatic tension.
That isn’t the case with the voice-acting, however, which is always spot on. Black Monday has some very distinct characters, and this is almost entirely attributed to the excellent voice work. The music loops heavily but is nice and understated. While the sound effects aren’t great, other things will bother you much more.
Black Monday offers play options other than the main Story mode, but these are thin and and hardly worthwhile. In “Race,” you race against CPU drivers, “Black Cab” makes you take people places, “Chase” makes you wreck CPU drivers, and “Free Roaming” lets you get to cruise around Black Monday‘s janky version of London. None of these are any fun and were clearly tossed in as an afterthought.
British culture is certainly responsible for some fine works, like Shakespeare, David Bowie and Elizabeth Hurley. But as The Getaway: Black Monday proves, it’s also capable of some very bad ones, like the Spice Girls, blood sausage, Prince Harry’s Nazi costume, and now Black Monday. Despite the name, we’re pretty sure this game sucks every day of the week.