The Italian Job is a mission-based driving game that emphasizes speed and humor over meticulous driving ability. It is most comparable to Infogrames' Driver, but the open-ended courses and city locations give it an atmosphere similar to Sega's Crazy Taxi. The setting is London, 1969. Charlie Croker has just completed a three-year stretch, courtesy of Her Majesty's Prison. "Hang on a minute--I've got a great idea," says Charlie, who immediately concocts a scheme to steal 4 million dollars' worth of gold from the Italian mafia.
If the underlying plot sounds like a wacky idea from a motion picture, that's because it is. The game is patterned and named after The Italian Job, a 1960s heist film from Great Britain. The video game roughly follows the plot of the motion picture--you recruit and train for the caper in London, execute the heist in Turin, and make your escape through the Swiss Alps. In contrast with the majority of movie-to-game conversions, The Italian Job manages to maintain the original comedy of the script while simultaneously fleshing out the onscreen action with a number of fun missions. In all, there are 16 different capers to complete (they're all rather short), one of which has you racing through downtown London in a bus full of explosives.
Unlike most mission-based driving games, The Italian Job doesn't have an extensive pregame driving test or complicated control mechanics. Just jump right in and accelerate--the first few missions will bring you up to speed on the basics. The eight different vehicles you'll drive in the single-player mode vary widely in terms of weight and toughness, which means that some stages require more precision than others do. Missions aren't terribly lengthy--they average about five minutes--but some are impossible without intimate knowledge of the city. For example, you're going to need at least four or five attempts to uncover all the traffic cameras in downtown Turin. The three-minute getaway that occurs after the heist is no cakewalk either, as it takes you through traffic jams, to rooftops, and through a river in a car that soaks up damage like a sponge. The police are also a factor, because they will give chase if they spot your car. You need to ditch them before they have a chance to jot down your license number.
Interwoven throughout the missions, you'll find assorted cutscenes and cockney dialogue, all of which are funnier than they are violent. In one sequence, you're picking up Charlie's girlfriend after an afternoon of shopping, only to be accosted by the mafia while depositing her at the airport. Hilarity ensues in a madcap chase across the Italian highway system. Usually, attempts at subtle comedy in video games fall flat, but The Italian Job draws its dialogue from a film that originally starred Michael Caine, Noel Coward, and Benny Hill--Benny Hill! Even though the game features none of these actors, their original performances clearly inspired its humor--which is slight and farcical in that particular way that only British comedy can be.
Inasmuch as PSOne games are considered ugly nowadays, The Italian Job makes good use of the system's graphical capabilities. Each of the three cities is fully detailed, complete with car traffic, pedestrians, storefronts, and waterways. Mission objectives force you to explore every nook and cranny of the city, including malls, rooftops, and construction ramps, which give the game a very lifelike feel. Smaller details, like the shards of glass that erupt during crashes, also add a touch of excitement. The backgrounds are heavily pixilated, and the frame rate does stutter at times, but considering how much appears onscreen at any given moment, The Italian Job is visually impressive.
The biggest complaint to be lodged against The Italian Job is that it is fleeting. On normal difficulty, it won't take an average player more than a day to complete the entire single-player storyline. To offset this, the game includes 60 additional challenge trials, checkpoint trials, and obstacle course trials, as well as a competitive party-game mode for up to seven participants. These additions don't really increase the replay value significantly, but the game is enjoyable while it lasts.
Although The Italian Job doesn't possess nearly the longevity of games like Driver or Grand Theft Auto III, its madcap subject matter, good presentation, and friendly control scheme will appeal to many people.