There are very few people who can’t get caught up in a good crime drama, a story that features the seedier sides of life. Usually packed with former convicts trying to go straight, gang leaders in massive turf wars, and fistfuls of bullets, these stories provide a grittier adrenaline boost than your usual action movie. Most games haven’t dared to stray into this “taboo” category, because most of the subject matter has been considered way too mature for any audience, and the few that have ventured into this gray area have often failed due to bad plots, bad controls, or weak graphics that couldn’t support the graphic nature of the title. Enter The Getaway, Team Soho and Sony’s urban crime thriller that takes the challenge of mature subject matter, violence, and law breaking to one of the most realistic renditions ever seen in a game.
Much in the style of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch… er …I mean, The Getaway is an involved tale of murder, blackmail and revenge. Mark Hammond is a “retired” gangster, petty thief and bank robber who is making a sincere attempt to go straight. With a wife, son and a job managing a club, Hammond seems to be succeeding at his efforts to become a productive member of society. That is, until Charlie Jolson decides to wreck his life. An infamous crime boss (and rival of Mark’s old gang), Jolson decides to use Hammond as a tool to settle old scores and accomplish “petty” tasks by kidnapping his family. Unfortunately, during the botched abduction, Mark’s wife is shot and killed. Framed for her murder, Hammond tries to track down his son, but winds up becoming a reluctant errand boy for Jolson to ensure his child’s survival.
Holding to the movie-like presentation of the cutscenes, The Getaway features a noticeable lack of discernable meters, onscreen arrows, or other gaming conventions that commonly inform players as to their status. This radically opens up the screen to an uncluttered view of the in-game action. The player’s first taste of this view is in the driving sequence that starts the game, placing Hammond behind the wheel as he tears through the streets of London after the car holding Alex, his son. Covering 40 square kilometers of London’s actual streets, The Getaway is one of the most ambitious recreations of a city to date. Instead of directional arrows or area maps, navigation through the streets is guided by the increased hectic flashing of turn signals. As you race through the narrow alleys and traffic choked roads, you’ll inevitably incur damage to your car, which will realistically deform and decrease in performance. For example, tires will blow, handling will become sluggish, and engines will begin to smoke threateningly. Further hits can slow a car to a crawl, or even make cars burst into flames, often sending Hammond out on a search to carjack a fellow motorist for new wheels.
Once Mark arrives at a destination, usually one specified by Jolson as a target for some assassination or theft, the game switches over to the other action mode, that of active gun fighting. Hammond doesn’t have a bulletproof vest, he doesn’t really have tons of skill with firearms and he doesn’t have extra lives in reserve. To protect himself, Mark can roll out of the path of bullets before training his gun on enemies. If need be, he’ll take a hostage and use them as a human shield, firing over their shoulder before “disposing” of his screen. His most effective protection, however, are walls and other high objects, which Mark can use as cover, peeking around and over to get a bead on enemy locations. When the coast seems clear to take a shot, Hammond can jump out and squeeze off a few rounds before retreating to safety, or blindly fire around corners to take out approaching gunmen.
Graphically, The Getaway is a mixed bag of excellent details and large graphical flaws. The 40 square kilometer stretch of London looks phenomenal, with many landmarks from the city represented faithfully. So expect to race by the Thames or through Covenant Green with reckless abandon knowing that you’re driving on real roads. It’s so meticulous that you can even discern sales in store windows as you zip around. Much of this detail has also been extended to indoor areas, which project a feeling of a realistic place with living, breathing people instead of inanimate figures. Along with the streets, numerous cars from auto manufacturers such as Lexus and Range Rover have been accurately depicted, along with a nice damage modeling system. Characters look very nice as well, with a lot of attention paid to magnetic capturing, a graphical process that provides richer elements than just movement. Near-flawless lip-synching, facial animation and environmental interaction are all included to provide deeper characters, and this work pays off, especially in cutscenes, which can be rather captivating. However, there are some major problems with The Getaway, primarily with clipping and collision details. There are numerous occasions that occur where people, cars, or objects will intangibly merge with solid objects, breaking the realism that the designers where so fiercely fighting for. Much of this can be attributed to the horrendous camera that you’re saddled with, which can’t be manipulated at all. Often limiting your view to arbitrary angles, many gunfights will provide you with a large disadvantage against your enemies, who’ll be able to target and shoot you from off screen.
Sound is nicely done, with a musical score provided by the London Philharmonic Symphony. With full orchestration ranging from jazzy, snare drum-driven beats to pulsing club rhythms, there’s a smooth musical undercurrent to The Getaway. Effects are nicely handled as well, with plenty of attention paid to the unique roar of each car’s engine. The vocal work from the game’s actors is top notch, however, and is really enthralling when combined with the cutscenes. It’s good to know that they managed to find actors who could actually act. The superior quality of the sound bytes also extends to the lowliest citizens uninvolved with the story. The first time that I heard a victim of one of my poorly timed turns yelp, “Hey! Stop! I need ya details,” I fell out of my chair laughing. Definitely not for little kids, there is an abundance of profanity, primarily of the F-word. Yet its use is not gimmicky, as if simply thrown in for cursing’s sake, but comes across rather naturally as the expression of frustration or anger. The largest sound flaws come from poorly timed or mistimed sound cues, with some statements from characters coming multiple seconds later than onscreen action. For example, if I blow away a specific gunman, I shouldn’t hear his voice five or ten seconds later asking me what I’m doing there or threatening me.
The largest flaws, however, come from gameplay, which is where you wonder if the designers bit off more than they could chew when trying to decide if they should do a driving game or an action game. (And no, I’m not even talking about the inclusion of the other main character, Frank Carter. Although he’s a rogue cop instead of a criminal, gameplay suffer from the same flaws that I’ve mentioned.) While the concept of not having onscreen indicators to draw gamers into the action is a worthy concept, it’s implemented in a way that actually hinders play. Often, turn signals will flash frenetically to make you take a specific right or left, only to quickly stop directing you towards your goal, inevitably a few miles away at best. What’s worse, most turns will inevitably turn you down one-way streets that are packed with traffic, forcing numerous accidents and restarts due to lost time (if your mission is timed), or destroyed cars. Smashing your car is disappointingly easy to do, thanks to incredibly poor physics that are way to loose for each car. Cars, trucks and vans all display the same proclivity towards uncontrollable hydroplaning, something that should require much worse conditions that simply turning the wheel.
The AI provided within the game often makes nonsensical decisions, performing actions that people wouldn’t do. For example, while police officers would be actively looking for criminal fugitives, they wouldn’t automatically know where the felon was or what they’re driving. I can’t count the number of times I’d switched cars, “supposedly lost” any cops looking for me, and started obeying the traffic laws, only to have two or three cop smash into me with reckless abandon. Similarly, I can’t understand why the cops would only target my character instead of the gun toting, recklessly driving Triads or Yardies, especially if I try to keep a low profile.
Then again, I can’t understand for the life of me why I should believe that leaning up against a wall is going to provide a way to regenerate health. I understand the need or desire to do away with common conventions of gaming, but (to take a page from The Getaway’s script) what the F***?!?! All of a sudden there’s a magically dry cleaned outfit that takes away all damage and pain? Seems to me that having a health power up wouldn’t have shattered the realism of the game, even if it was as simple as using a handkerchief to staunch bleeding from a gunshot. While trying to recover your health in a “safe” place is actually recommended, it rarely happens because enemies are constantly re-spawned nearby, forcing you to constantly keep your eyes out for any surprise attacks. Not that you’ll necessarily be able to specifically target the most direct hazard in your midst, that of the charging gunman who’s 3 feet away. In most cases, you’ll wind up training your weapon on a distant enemy, literally watching as your character is cut down in a hail of gunfire. This non-recognition of immediate threats extends to civilians, who won’t necessarily run out of the way of firefights or cars, getting run over or shot in the process.
Don’t get me wrong; the story behind The Getaway is a great, mature crime drama that would probably be a blockbuster if it was turned into a movie. In fact, from most of the work that was put into the game, The Getaway was approached as if it was a film that simply was turned into a game. However, during that transition from one medium to another, a clunky targeting system, unbelievable AI and pathetic camera were attached to this edgy property, significantly dulling it. If you’re looking for a good story, you’ll find it scattered through the quality cutscenes in this title. Just be prepared to suffer through a lot of annoying gameplay to find it.