Title: The Getaway
Developer: Team Soho
Release Date: 11th December 2002 (UK)
Platform: Playstation 2
More than three years in the making, The Getaway was released on Wednesday 11th December amid a wave of anticipation. Much had been hyped, but little had been seen. Gamers were eager to see how well the 40 square kilometres of London had been mapped out, while the moral quarter waited to see how far over the line the language, violence and sex stepped.
The Getaway is an attempt to make a game similar in style to Grand Theft Auto III but transplanted into a real-life city, in this case London. A central area of the city, 40 km2 (incorrectly converted to 25 miles2 on many a website) in size, has been painstakingly recreated, complete with shops in the correct places, traffic systems working as expected and even mundane things like phone boxes right where you'd expect them.
The interface is surprisingly intuitive. The screen is completely uncluttered, there are absolutely no icons, no health bar, no ammo indicator, no map, no nothing. The controls are also a complete breeze to pickup, especially as they are very very similar to those of GTA III. There are some interesting moves in the game, such as being able to (Metal Gear Solid 2 style) flatten yourself against a wall and edge along it, peer around corners and also shoot round a corner without looking (fun, but essentially useless).
The Getaway is heavily reliant on it's strong storyline. The first 12 missions are played as Mark Hammond, an ex-gangster who is pulled back into a life of crime by big time crook Charlie Jolson after his wife is murdered and child kidnapped, while the next 12 are played as Frank Carter, a corrupt policeman who will stop at nothing to put Charlie away. Each mission may have up to four or five parts (sub-missions, if you will).
Basically, there are two types of sub-mission - driving around London to get somewhere specific and stealth shooting thingies in interior locations. The driving missions are generally pretty simple, involving driving from A to B - something you would assume would be pretty tough given the lack of a map. To make it a little easier for non-London residents (and those without an encyclopedic knowledge of the city), the cars back lights indicate which general direction you should be going in and both flash when you have reached your destination. The shooting levels generally involve being heavily outnumbered and having to employ stealth tactics to take out a single enemy at a time until a certain room is reached or a certain enemy taken out.
There is a free roam mode, in which you can drive around London to your heart's content, but this is only unlocked on completion of the mission based main game.
Shooting at people could not be simpler. You hold down R1 to target an enemy and press square to shoot. Tapping R1 will then move the target to the next enemy, whether they be in front or behind you. If the enemy is close enough to you, you will pistol whip them instead of shooting. You can also, if close enough, grab hold of an enemy and essentially take them hostage. You can then shoot them, break their neck (if Mark Hammond) or arrest them (if Frank Carter).
There are basically only four weapons in the game. You start off with a pistol, and it is possible to pick up another from dead enemies and hold one in each hand. The next weapon you'll find is a shotgun, which takes quite a long time to reload but packs a big punch. Lastly, there are two types of automatic - they are essentially identical, but the first is two-handed while the second can be dualled, much like the pistol.
Much has been made of the cut-scenes in The Getaway, with a total of more than an hour included in the game. A clip of a couple of minutes precedes each mission and sets the scene for your objectives. As far as I know, no famous actors (a la Ray Liotta in Vice City) have been used.
The Getaway is rightly rated an 18 and the fact that such a massive company as Sony has released a game so obviously aimed at adults is seen by many as a big step forward. Obviously, there are those who do not see it this way, and there has been a massive outcry from some areas about the overt nature of the violence and language in the game. Everything in the game is comparable with what you would find in a film rated 18, but I think the problem many people have is the idea that computer game ratings are much less likely to be upheld than those of movies.
If South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut currently holds the record for the most uses of the word fuck in a motion picture, then The Getaway must surely hold the associated computer game record. The cutscenes contain an almost ridiculous amount of swearing, and there is even some in-game as people shout out 'fuck' as you narrowly miss running them over. At times, the barrage of profanity can be jarring, but overall it's just quite amusing. You won't find the dreaded c word - presumably no-one at Sony had the balls to go that far just yet.
The violence in The Getaway isn't any worse than you'll find in a handful of other games, it is certainly no worse than that found in GTA III for example. The context is somewhat different though, you are positively encouraged at some points to mow down the police - one level in particular involves fighting your way out of a police station, and it is impossible unless you kill everyone on sight.
This is just plain bizarre, and I think the first time I've seen nudity in a computer game (no, I haven't played BMX XXX). There is a cutscene near the beginning of the game set in a strip club with a topless lady gyrating in the background and a later level takes place in another strip club and involves happily shooting lap dancers (in the breasts if you like). There is no full frontal nudity, but the whole thing seems mightily bizarre to me.
A story appeared in late december 2002 regarding the usage of a BT van in one mission in the game. The van is stolen and the BT engineer's uniform used as a disguise to infiltrate a police station. It appears BT were not asked for permission, and did not like the idea of violence associated with them. Future copies of the game will not include this mission.
Thanks to SEoD for the heads-up.
Now, where to start? Suffice it to say that, while The Getaway is an extremely enjoyable game, it is not the next step in gaming that many have proclaimed. The sensation of bombing down Oxford Street in a stolen Lexus and knowing instinctively to turn left into Regent Street is not something gamers will have experienced before and is certainly a major achievement, but this is only really an issue for the relatively small set of people who reside in London.
Just to say it again - the mapping out of London is an astonishing technical feat, and probably enough of a reason to buy the game on it's own. Unforunately, there are some (minor) problems. Firstly, it's not the whole of London. I live in Archway, and the disappointment when I reached King's Cross and realized that I was at the edge of the playable area and wasn't going to be able to park outside my house, was tangible. Secondly, the London we have is almost a utopian vision of London. The traffic is permanently light (a compromise to make the game more playable, I'm sure), Oxford Street isn't packed full of shoppers and, as my mum so rightly said over my shoulder, 'that's not London, there's no litter'. The only other minor point of disappointment is the layout of the shops - it can be a bit of a distraction to be driving down a road and suddenly think to yourself 'that's not right, there shouldn't be a Burger King there'. It is a bit unreasonable to expect the developers to map out every shop correctly, but after the massive hype, expectations were high, and so this is a disappointment.
The graphics are very good, but don't really seem to be pushing the PS2 to its limits. The car models are nowhere near the detail level of Gran Turismo 3 (but what is?) and the textures can seem very repetitive at times (but maybe this is more of an insight into London than anything else).
The human models are all very well done, with realistic walking, crouching, shooting and dieing. The cut scenes (all seemingly done in-engine) are also very good, with lip-sync being only a minor problem. The only problem is that the cut scenes cannot be skipped.
After Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and its absolutely incredible in game music (who expected ever to hear Billie Jean in a computer game?!), this feels like a real let-down. There is no in-game music, except for a faint dance-y tune as your time-limit runs out on some of the driving missions. One can only assume that the budget ran out and this was the bit that got hit. The sound effects are all very pleasant and well done, but music is a big miss.
The Getaway is a strong contender for game of the year, if only because of the achievements that Team Soho have made in bringing something that has not even been attempted before so successfuly into a game. While I'm not sure it's quite that good, it's certainly a step in the right direction for photo-realistic gaming. The mission-based gameplay is incredibly fun, if a little too short (the 24 missions are unlikely to take you more than a couple of weeks to complete) and despite a few niggling flaws (healing back up to full health simply by leaning against a wall for a bit is incredibly dumb), it's a game that most people will want to play through till the end - something you can't say about many games these days.
It was reported today in the Metro newspaper that a member of the Metropolitan Police's special operations branch is thought to have been given Playstation 2s in return for details of police firearms tactics, used in the making of the Getaway.
(r) RalphyK says re The Getaway: There is occasional use of the c-word, both spoken, and in one of Mr Wu's subtitles - I was quite shocked, but pleased.