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The Getaway
Review By:  J. Michael Neal
Developer:  Team SOHO
Publisher:  Sony
# of Players:  1
Genre:  Action
ESRB:  Mature
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  2-18-03

There are rules to making games. Itís true. You may not realize it, but when creating a game there are certain guidelines that always should be followed. Chief among them is the concept that fun should never be sacrificed for realism. Even in the most "realistic" game, concessions are made to ere in favor of playability. Someone, however, forgot to tell Sonyís Team SOHO this while they were making The Getaway. They decided to keep things "realistic" even at the cost of the gameís playability. The result is a game that is fun to watch, but not nearly as fun to play. You will still enjoy most of The Getaway despite this fact, though, you just wonít enjoy it as much as you could have if some key issues were addressed.

The story revolves around a series of events seen from two very different perspectives. The first is from the eyes of one Mark Hammond as he goes on a series of suicide missions at the behest of a lunatic mob boss who uses Hammondís kidnapped son as a bargaining chip. After you complete the game with Hammond you get to play as a renegade police officer by the name of Frank Carter who must clean up after Mark, Londonís newest most wanted criminal, while trying to nick the crime lord barking orders at good old "Marky-boy".

If you enjoy anything in The Getaway, youíll enjoy this story. This is one of the first action games I have ever seen that is carried more by the story and overall experience than the gameplay. It is almost like a Final Fantasy game in this respect. Itís got the style of a BMW film, the dialogue of a Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (although I promise to keep my Guy Ritchie references down to a bare minimum), and the kind of acting quality only real professionals can bring to the table. Cooler still is how the two stories compliment each other and intersect at points. You will be able to see the correlation between events in Carterís game and the events in Hammondís game and vice versa. For example, one of Markís earlier missions requires you to break a man by the name of Jake Jolson out of prison. After you complete the game and start over as Frank your very first mission will be the one that landed Jolson in prison in the first place. Its little touches like this that keep you smiling, and keep you playing, from start to finish. The story is just so well thought out and well written that you donít care how linear it makes the gameplay. Kudos to Team SOHO for enlisting the help of professionals while inking the script and recording the cut scenes, hereís hoping more developers follow suit.

Some will find the game offensive, though, and not just because of the violent content and foul language, but for the racism. Iím sure there is nothing personal intended by the slew of ethnic slurs and derogatory names given to just about even nationality in the game, but some may not like hearing the term "jungle-bunny" or "gook" said during every other dialogue exchange. You have to consider, though, that low-life criminal scum arenít the most racially tolerant of people, and that in real life theyíd probably say that and a whole lot more. Just be warned, though, that it is in the game and it may rub you the wrong way.

Great attention to detail was place on keeping the gameplay as realistic as possible, in both look and feel, so that players can loose themselves in the neo-noir of it all, not just during the cut scenes and snippets of dialogue, but during the gameplay itself. This, however, is where the game begins to stumble. Team SOHO was pretty successful in "keeping it real", but not always with positive results. For example, to keep everything with a "cinematic" look, Team SOHO decided to remove all indicators from the screen. This isnít anything new to gaming, so its not like this should be a big deal. So thereís no health bar, so what? Well, considering that the majority of the game involves driving to locations youíve yet to visit, and unless you are a Londoner, have no idea how to get to, youíll have to find your way to them without the aid of a map. The game does have a pseudo-navigation system involving blinking taillights, and they will get you to your destinationÖ eventually. Youíll be lead around in circles most of the time and have to take to loooooooooooooooong route to just about everywhere. Some sort of map, ANY sort of map, would have allowed players to decide for themselves which would be the best, fastest, and most direct route to any given location, even if it was just a Silent Hill 2 style paper map you access through the pause screen.

Another instance in which realism over playability wasnít a wise choice was in character movement. Your characters move at normal speed, which in the gaming world is a bit too slow. They jog slowly, they reload slowly, they pick up weapons slow, they duck and roll and hide behind objects slowly, and lets not even talk about how slowly they move once they are severely injured. Sure, real people donít move as fast as Tommy Vercetii, but it would have been nice to at least add a sprint button or something that could give you short bursts of speed every now and then. I doubt anyone would have complained about the characters running "too fast" and how it ruined the believability of the game. And besides, I think it would have been MORE realistic to make them move faster during certain situations. For example, if 15 enraged Jamaican crack heads are shooting at me from every angle, I donít care how out of breath I am, Iím not going to mince around at my normal, everyday, walking speed.

Speed isnít the only hindrance to movement either. The controls in general feel twitchy and under-responsive. Your character never does exactly what you want him to do and you never feel like you are fully in control of his actions. This especially becomes a problem in the more tight spaces. You can press left on the analog stick, and because of where he is or the position of the camera, he will move right, or forward, or backwards, you never know. Then the camera (which canít be controlled or effectively repositioned in any way) will shift and cause him to move in a totally different direction, despite the fact that all you did was pressed left. You will also encounter similar problems while trying to hug walls or walk with hostages. There are also a few other, minor problems that further hurt controls, but not enough to really get into here, just be prepared to spend as much time fighting with these controls as fighting with thugs and police officers. Overall the controls feel sloppy and rushed, like no time at all was put into making them intuitive or functional at all.

As you may already know, gameplay in The Getaway is broken up into two forms: driving and on foot. The driving portion operates much like a Grand Theft Auto game: you can jump in and out of any car at any time. Unlike a GTA, however, the driving physics are very realistic and so is the damage. What does this mean to gameplay? It means that you wonít be hitting barrel rolls or flying around corners at 60 MPH. You also will have to change cars much more frequently than in GTA, or at least become a better driver. For the most part driving feels like Gran Turismo, but with traffic. This isnít necessarily a bad thing, in fact it feels pretty cool after a while because youíll discover it takes some real skill to drive like you're in an action film, it just takes some serious getting us to. Youíll also have to get use to obeying traffic laws again, and particularly British traffic laws. This isnít the lawless Vice City; the moment you drive against traffic or jump a curb in view of "the filth" (better known as "pigs" here in the States) they will have the sirens blaring and a full-scale police chase on.

The on-foot portion of the game is sort of hit and miss. As previously stated, the movement and camera hurts it a lot, but there is also some enjoyment to be had from during a 180 slide stop in the middle of a busy intersection, jumping out of your smoking Skyline, grabbing a passer by, using them as a human shield while you trade a few rounds with perusing police officers or gang members, than jump into a Lexus and driving off. Too bad not all of the on foot action is as fun. The missions that try to rely on stealth, or force you to spend too much time on foot, simply draw attention to the control issues and bad camera. Basically, its only fun to be on foot for a few minutes at a time. Anything after that and its enjoyment wears thin.

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