The Getaway (PlayStation 2) review
"It's crap living in Britain. Truly dire. We have finally gotten rid of the Black Death, but we're still plagued by the mind-numbing scenery, the vomit-inducing food, and the jaw-dropping idiocy of the vast majority of our population. Worst of all though is that unchanging, unescapable chalk-grey sky; I'd go so far as to say it is the sole reason that life in the United Kingdom is so unbearably fucking grim. "
It's crap living in Britain. Truly dire. We have finally gotten rid of the Black Death, but we're still plagued by the mind-numbing scenery, the vomit-inducing food, and the jaw-dropping idiocy of the vast majority of our population. Worst of all though is that unchanging, unescapable chalk-grey sky; I'd go so far as to say it is the sole reason that life in the United Kingdom is so unbearably fucking grim.
It's recreated perfectly in Team Soho's driving/shooting epic The Getaway. Set exclusively in central London, the game depicts the crappiest of crapholes with a brilliant eye for visual dreariness; from the tire-worn tarmac and piss-stained slabs up past the dreary office-block facades to that soul-crushing backdrop of dark clouds always ready to explode into torrential downpour, London in the Getaway looks as arse as it does in life.
''Go to London! I guarantee you'll either be mugged, or not appreciated.''
The game doesn't recreate the more tangible hazards of the city of Alan Partridge's nightmares, but replaces them with some of it's own. Instead of a congestion charge, you have massively unsatisfying vehicle handling. The crowds of shambling fools to shove through are replaced with shoddy and imprecise controls, and there's a wild, uncontrollable camera representing all those homeless men who try to stab you in the mouth with AIDS-loaded syringes. It's very difficult to actually enjoy being in London, and this is recreated finely in the game. This is probably a bad thing.
It's not really trying to be a perfect recreation of real London life though; it's supposed to be like the movies. The game declares it's cinematic intentions from the start with tight scripting and well-presented cutscenes, but this filmic quality is spoiled by the soul-crushingly hackneyed nature of the plotline and it's characters. It's obviously intended in the vein one of these edgy Tarantino-esque gangster capers that everyone's so crazy about, but it's so cliched that even Guy Ritchie would step back and say ''This is nearing parody, lads.'' Even the novelty of wall-to-wall four-letter language is quickly extinguished as you second guess every half-hearted twist.
For the first half of your time in the limey capital you play as Mark 'I was the third Chuckle brother' Hammond, an ex-con wideboy so blindingly infuriating in demeanor that you wish that you could just drive a cast-iron fence post into his Ben Sherman-clad torso every time he opens his stupid cockney mouth. He's that annoying. The inevitable conflict is caused by local gang scoundrel Charlie 'My face, it melts' Jolson; at the beginning of the game, he sends some of his 'boys' to Marco's plush flat to kidnap his wife and son. Being the wacky pratfalling imbeciles that they are, the goons accidentally shoot the wife dead, leading to an unintentionally-hysterical pavement-demise scene. As the gangsters make an exit with the young lad bundled into the back of their Rover 75, Mark leaves his lifeless wife to rot in the street, and gives tire-squealing pursuit.
''I'm sorry it wasn't wide enough for you; a lot of the English cars have steering wheels.''
This is where you take control, bombing after the bastards in the game's heart-pounding opening chase. Team Soho have traded pedestrian numbers for vehicle volume, and the sheer density of traffic is initially quite the shock. Anyone driving in from the sparse highways of GTA, True Crime and their ilk will have trouble. London isn't an easy place to navigate either, as traffic-packed dual-carriageways lead into confounding mazes of narrow one-way streets and busy intersections send traffic curving around in all directions. Stationary lines of cars stretch the length of major roads and scarlet double-decker behemoths shudder about blocking your path and sight. The use of the car's indicators to direct you (as opposed to a radar or map) is an interesting touch, but one that's never as useful as desired. London is bloody hard and bloody frustrating to drive in.
It isn't made any easier by the game's vehicle handling. The weight of the wide range of cars, vans, and buses is communicated well, but the steering feels far too twitchy, especially at high speeds and in reverse (where it just gets farcical). Locking the wheels for a fancy powerslide feels more like an on-off switch than the smooth transition it should be, and all sense of control is immediately lost the moment you start to skid. The game claims a 'movie realism' about this kind of thing, but there's none of the satisfying excess of Driver's driving about this, or even the arcade immediacy of GTA.
Driving is made even less enjoyable by the loathsome car physics, as the 'movie realism' concept is flung through a fragmented windshield to crumple against the unyielding bonnet of a harshly unforgiving damage model. It's just too realistic - push the engine too hard and it'll burst into flames in a resigned rage; puncture the front right and you'll start veering into the paths of buses in the opposite lane. Clip the wing mirror of another car, and you'll often be hurled metres backwards in a grotesque parody of a crash. The slightest contact with any solid object becomes the most frustrating thing in the world.
The final nails in the game's wheeled coffin are the inexcusable lack of any camera controls, and the irritating AI of the enemy police and gang drivers. The massive potential for excitement created from being doggedly pursued by the vengeful Metropolitan goes untapped, simply because you can't actually look back to see if anyone's there. There's really no excuse for that. Chases wouldn't be much fun even if you were aware of them anyway, due to the horrible AI of your pursuers; they strike a hateful balance between being infuriatingly ruthless - every cop just unavoidably swerves in front of your path, 10 times out of 10 - and embarrassingly dim. Cop driving parallel to you, trying to ram you off the road? Drive past any lamppost, wall, or other car, and they'll happily plough right into it. It's just poor, and nowhere near good enough for a decent chase.
Pursuing is marginally better than being pursued (due to the use of set paths for your enemies) and the driving sections are occasionally made vaguely exciting by the use of atmospheric music and plot context; this is exemplified by the game's opening level. Having flown across the Waterloo bridge in vengeful pursuit of the goons, you'll finally arrive at Charlie's depot and spill out of your Alfa Romeo, ready for action.
''Shotguns? What, like guns that fire shot?''
The game always segues smoothly from the car journeys to the on-foot action scenes, and the lack of loading screens in the transition from outdoor to indoors is impressive, but they suffer from the same poor execution as the driving. The weaponry is limited (4 different guns) and the uninspiring sound effects and lacklustre animation mean that the gunfights are never as satisfying as they could be.
The shoddy controls and camera also persist in the on-foot sections. Character movement is infuriatingly sluggish, leading you to use the slightly-faster roll move constantly. The cover system is interesting (X at a wall or desk makes the character lean against or hide behind it), and peeking out to shoot and firing blind is fun, but the near-comatose nature of every movement means it's rarely very intuitive. The camera suffers from the same leaden nature, always trailing back from your character so that the auto-aim becomes your eyes at every dangerous corner. Essentially, most of your time out of wheels is spent waiting for the game to hurry the hell up. These shoddy mechanics mean that the shootouts are never anywhere near exciting, and the tiresome health system (lean against a wall for 5 minutes and your bloke will be right as rain) mean they also lack any kind of decent rhythm or pace.
Having shot your dreary way through Jolson's warehouse, you'll reach his office, at which point Mark is blindsided by a plot device and knocked cold. Following this is a cutscene in which Jolson reveals his plan to blackmail our proletarian anti-hero into causing all sorts of strife for the rival gangs of the city, while the cops blame him for his wife's murder; apparently those henchmen were just trying to kill him for laughs, or as a test, or some bloody thing. This sets up another 11 levels for Hammond, each of which are faintly identical to the first one. Rarely does the game deviate from the drive-then-shoot-or-vice-versa format, and when it does it's usually an obligatory stealth level (which will be nigh-on-impossible to complete due to the camera fiasco), or, as in one instance, an agonising trek through a mansion's laser-beam security systems. Hammond's game proceeds in this predictable style to a whiplash-abrupt and thoroughly underwhelming ending.
Fortunately, finishing Hammond's game unlocks the game's other playable character: no-nonsense detective Frank 'Art Attack' Carter. Olive of jumper and public-schoolboy of accent, Carter is just as cliched and soulless as Mark, but miles more likable nonetheless, perhaps due to the lack of the haggard scowl and cockney drawl. As well as hunting down Jolson and cleaning up after Hammond, our new hero has to contend with his Flying Squad captain Clive '7-year-old chained to the boiler' McCormack, who's bent like a Slinky and in league with Charlie.
The dual-character gimmick could've been the device to save the banal plot, but it's wasted; only a few times do the fugitive and the cop's paths cross, and there's no extra light shed on Hammond's situation when you play as Carter. Both stories feel almost entirely separate; Carter's cop thriller is miles away from Hammond's revenge-driven adventure.
Despite the fact that Carter's story is another rush of undeveloped characters and unconvincing dialogue, his game is marginally more enjoyable than Hammond's; the action stages feel more developed. Aside from his three agonising stealth levels, Frank's game is full of highlights, and also seems to be where the developer's cinematic influences are most apparent - there's a shootout in a Soho street that would make Michael Mann proud, and the hospital escape is pure Hard Boiled. It's almost as if the developers were getting a bit better at making levels by the time they came to make Carter's scenario. Despite the improved level design, General Franco is still hampered by the same crappy controls and camera that dogged Hammond.
Tying up the Getaway's gameplay gamut are bunch of minor irritations and problems, most of which are the usual crap that turn up in PS2 games released before they are !@#$!ed finished. There's a shocking amount of random bugs; in my last day of playing it alone, I've encountered two unexplained deaths while getting out of my car to start the last Hammond mission (before the checkpoint, naturally), my car getting stuck in reverse (had to reset), a level mysteriously devoid of the expected enemies (reset again), and a few explosive barrels hovering in midair for reasons unknown. Absolutely ridiculous. The useless scripting (ingame dialogue often suffers from atmosphere-destroying load delays before it's delivered) and inattention to detail (tiny Asian businesswomen inexplicably driving transit vans, for example) are also infuriating. Appalling presentation runs throughout, basically.
''Catch the train to London, stopping at Rejection, Disappointment, Backstabbing Central and Shattered Dreams Parkway.''
The Getaway is a great London simulation, in that it's frequently agony to play. Obviously that doesn't make it a good game, though. Every aspect of it has been done better, and the plot, being as it is more Mel Brooks than Guy Ritchie, isn't worth bearing the atrocious controls and camera or the plethora of glitches for. The only real draw is the fact that it's set in London; enjoy that if you will, but for most the novelty will wear off quickly under the staggering disappointment.
Community review by autorock (July 29, 2004)
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