reviews\ Jan 28, 2003 at 7:00 pm

The Getaway - PS2 - Review

You may not know it now, but The Getaway will go down as one of the video game industry’s most ambitious games.  Whether it gets noticed for its gratuitous profanity and bloody violence, photorealistic recreation of a real city, or deep fusion of film and video game, The Getaway made its mark as one of the most elaborate video game productions to date.  However, raising the bar that high often makes it hard to get over it, and The Getaway, although entertaining, falls victim to its own high standards. 


The Getaway is the story of blackmail, kidnapping, and double-crossing amongst various criminal organizations in the picturesque city of London.  Gamers will be able to play two characters in the game, both with the same goal: take down the wrinkly, scarred crime kingpin Charlie Jolson.  The game starts with Mark Hammond, an ex-gangster turned straight man following a five-year stint in the pen.  After a kidnapping goes awry, Hammond’s wife is murdered and his son, Alex, is snatched away by some of Jolson’s cronies.  With Alex in Charlie’s hands and the police accusing Hammond of murdering his wife, Hammond is forced to become Charlie’s errand boy, and by errands I mean arson, theft, and murder.  After completing the campaigns with Hammond, the perspective switches over to renegade cop Frank Carter, a member of England’s Flying Squad serving a suspension, who runs through twelve more missions which intersect with Hammond’s storyline. 


Although the cinematic story is supposedly one of the most compelling elements of The Getaway, it is merely decent by film standards and only fair by video game standards. While the slang and cockney accent will leave most people in stitches, the actual script is a bit basic.  Most of the script writing of the first half of the game involves Hammond saying something to the point of “Give me my son back!” to which Charlie Jolson replies, “You’ve got one more thing to do for me.”  This continues for several missions, leaving the gamer to beat himself over the head with his controller while Hammond repeatedly gets the short end of the stick.  The script is also overflowing with profanity.  There hasn’t been this much cursing in London since Andrew Dice Clay performed there.


The Getaway is a free-roaming mission-based vehicular action game.  Each of the 24 missions usually follows the formula of drive to where you need to shoot people up, shoot them up, and return somewhere else in the city.  It doesn’t make for much variety in the game, but thankfully the missions and environments are enjoyable enough to keep interest through the game. 


The driving portion of the game is the most enjoyable aspect of The Getaway.  Fans of Stuntman, Driver, and the Need for Speed series will love whipping through congested traffic and dodging the bobbies through the recreated streets of London.  The Getaway features licensed cars, and just about every vehicle is yours to take through force.  Hijack a Honda, lift a Lexus, or steal a Saab.  Each vehicle handles differently and has fairly sophisticated damage models.  If you run your front left end into another car, your car will start pulling to the left as though your tire were damaged.  Run your car over the cop’s spike strips, and your tires will blow causing all sorts of problems.  Unlike GTA3, there are very few jumps or tricks to pull off in a car.  The Getaway is for speed freaks rather than Evil Knievels.  These factors make driving in The Getaway either more fun or more annoying (depending on your perspective) than GTA3.  Arcade fans with fewer skills behind the wheel will probably prefer Grand Theft Auto 3’s driving to The Getaway, whereas fans of sim racers who love squeezing between two double-decker buses while doing 75 will lean slightly towards The Getaway.  As with much of the game, it’s simply a matter of preference. 


Apparently to add a dose of realism, there is no map in the game.  Not only are you supposed to drive on the left side of the road (unless you prefer the sidewalk, like me), you’re also supposed to navigate the city using a fairly weak turn signal system.  If you veer of course from your goal, the turn signals on the car will blink, telling you which direction the next destination is.  This leads to driving around the city like a tourist, with nothing to guide you but a set of blinking lights.  When finally make it to the stop, both blinkers flash, but even then it is difficult to tell just exactly what you’re supposed to do.  The Getaway does not hold gamers hands throughout the game.  If details are missed during cutscenes, you can be in for a long night. 


Once you abandon your car and take to London on your trainers, the game plays more like Dead to Rights or Max Payne than GTA3.  Unfortunately, this is where the game is either loved or hated.  The screen is noticeably absent of life meters, ammunition counts, or anything else standard in a video game.  Hammond and Carter will both show signs of injury and fatigue by limping or breathing heavily, but it’s hard to tell when the next bullet you take will be your last.  There are no medkits to pick up, but simple resting will revive some health lost from bullet wounds.  Boy those Brits are tough.  The Getaway doesn’t feature an impressive arsenal of weapons, but you can double-wield pistols and some fully automatic weapons and do some serious damage. 


While on your feet, the camera is shaky at best.  In corners, where characters spend much of their time ducking for cover or spraying bullets during shootouts, the floating camera behind the character struggles for position and can whip about violently once it finds room to move.  This causes havoc in gameplay and will certainly cause fits amongst most of the gaming population. 


Hammond and Carter have a few nifty moves to help them in the game.  Players can duck behind objects such as cars or boxes, pop out from doorways or shoot blindly from behind them, and take hostages and use them as human shields.  The Getaway utilizes auto-aiming, with the R1 button used to select targets.  This makes the game fairly easy by rapidly pressing the fire button and switching to different targets once they drop.  Without this feature, many of the missions would be very difficult.  Again, it’s a matter of preference. 


Occasionally, The Getaway will offer a mission that is best accomplished by using stealth.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s nothing like Splinter Cell or Metal Gear Solid, but it does switch things up enough to make it interesting.


Although it has some gameplay weaknesses, The Getaway deserves some serious credit for the parts it does accomplish well.  Far and away, my favorite feature of the game is the recreation of 40 square kilometers of London.  Having lived in London for six months a few years back, it’s absolutely mind-blowing how much detail the designers went into to.  Of course the major landmarks are there such as Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, and Big Ben (it’s fun to recreate the scene in European Vacation – “Look kids, Big Ben, Parliament!”), but even some smaller buildings are there, including, to my surprise, a small Japanese noodle house I used to frequent.  Team Soho, the developers of The Getaway, even got permission from major franchises such as McDonald’s, Thomas Cook, and Burger King to breathe real life into the city.  It’s a fabulous job done by the developers that will probably go unappreciated by people who’ve never spent time in the cosmopolitan city of London. 


Graphically, The Getaway is superior but does have its flaws.  When in a car, speeding through London, the game is absolutely beautiful.  The cars, streets, and buildings look fantastic, much better than Grand Theft Auto 3.  On foot, the more complex animations looks fairly good, but the simple animations are a little weak.  For example, when Mark Hammond climbs a flight of stairs, it looks as though he either has a severe case of hemorrhoids or is practicing a ballet routine.  Most of the cutscenes are fairly well done.  Because the producers used real actors with motion capture, most of the acting is excellent.  There are a few graphical glitches in the game as it seems to have been pushed out the door a bit prematurely, but they don’t interfere with gameplay.


The sound of The Getaway is solid except for the awful screeching noise that cars make when the pedal is floored.  The character’s one-liners are entertaining enough and reek of violent anger and language that would make the Osbournes blush.  The groovy soundtrack is mostly electronic-based, focusing on the same style of music used in (surprise, surprise) Guy Ritchie’s popular London-based gangster movies Snatch and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. 


Overall, The Getaway is more landmark than hours of fun.  The length of the game isn’t too long, probably somewhere in the fifteen hours range, and it doesn’t have the replay value or simple mindless fun of GTA3.  What Team Soho has accomplished is fantastic and merely the beginning of things to come, and one suspects that it will only get better. 


The Getaway is rated M for Mature for heaps of violence, drug references, wash-your-mouth-out-with-soap language, and some sexual content.  In other words, it’s not for the kids. 



Gameplay: 7

The Getaway is great at seamlessly combining vehicular action and third-person action, but each component has weaknesses, particularly the shaky third-person action.  


Graphics: 9

The city of London looks bloody brilliant!  Overall, the graphics are much better than GTA3, the game it gets compared to most often.  If the third-person action looked as good as the driving portion, the graphics would easily nab a perfect 10.


Sound: 8

The music sounds great and accurately captures the double-crossing and deceit that abound in the game.  Most of the sound effects are good, but some are sub-par.


Difficulty: Easy/Medium

Most missions can be accomplished after about five attempts, making this game pretty easy to breeze through.  It may take a while to adjust from driving to shooting, but once that’s done; the game should go faster than last night’s curry after binging on Carlsberg.


Concept: 10

This is clearly the strength of The Getaway.  Team Soho did some great things with actors, the city of London, and a movie-like presentation.  However, as any experienced gamer knows, concept doesn’t sell games or make them fun.


Overall: 7.5

It can be called a poor man’s Grand Theft Auto 3 or a poor man’s Max Payne, but you have to give Team Soho credit for what they have accomplished.  They’ve gone to great lengths to make The Getaway as cinematic as possible, but at times it seems as though they forgot it was also a game.   


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