Eidos Interactive is the latest publisher to dive in on the recent flurry of mission-based driving games with its movie-based title The Italian Job. Like games such as Midtown Madness 3 and Midnight Club II, The Italian Job tries to wrap some form of meaning around large, easy-to-grasp open-city racing. Unlike the entries from Microsoft and Rockstar, though, The Italian Job is almost completely devoid of both flavor and interesting gameplay, and the whole thing feels like it was slapped together in a supreme hurry to cash in on the release of the film.
The game has a story mode, but the story is totally irrelevant. Sure, if you pay attention during the between-mission scenes, you'll get to hear bland voice-over that describes how you have to drive your car to a location to pick up an item, car, or other plot-advancing device, but all of those things boil down to looking at your onscreen radar, looking at a red dot on that radar, and navigating the streets of Los Angeles until you can connect your car with that red dot, which is represented on the road as a Crazy Taxi-like box for you to stop in. Occasionally the missions throw a race or police cars into the mix. You'll even get to tail a car at one point. But the action largely consists of dopey races against the clock set in sterile, boring environments.
Beyond the simplistic story mode, you can also race in a series of circuit races, freely roam the city, or take on a series of stunt courses. The "stunts" in the courses consist of keeping your car from falling off of narrow platforms and navigating tight turns. The game's penchant for allowing your car to simply get stuck here is astounding, and it's entirely possible to drive right up to the end of a course, only to take one turn a little too fast and roll over on your side, forcing you to either manually restart or wait for time to expire. The circuit race mode can be played by two players.
If the mission design in The Italian Job had been more interesting, it could have been a decent game. The car handling is sound, falling squarely on the arcade side of things, complete with easy powerslides and fast-moving vehicles. The city design isn't as compelling as in other recent entries in the genre, but the renderings of Los Angeles and Hollywood feel large, even though the first few missions in story mode have you driving around the same general area over and over again.
The game's car models and buildings don't look bad, but they also have a sort of pristinely bright look to them that makes the whole game look really fake. The streets and sidewalks are devoid of pedestrians, and otherwise, the game has a sort of Crazy Taxi-like look to it, right down to lining some of your paths with car carriers that act as makeshift ramps. The game is available on all three platforms and looks roughly the same across the board, with the Xbox version looking a bit cleaner than the other two editions.
Sound in your average racing game is usually an all-or-nothing affair. There's a fine line between providing an authentic racing sound and delivering something that sounds more like a buzzing lawnmower. The Italian Job gives off the lawnmower vibe when you're racing, and the game's bland music doesn't cover that up. The game also has a collection of really drab voice work that plays between missions in story mode. The actor playing the part that Mark Wahlberg plays in the movie sleepwalks through his lines and just sounds bored.
The Italian Job won't please anyone. Fans of the film looking to experience some Mini Cooper-themed racing fun of their own will be severely disappointed by the game's short and pointless story mode. Fans of open-city racers will quickly discover that this game doesn't even come close to recent releases like Midtown Madness 3 and Midnight Club II. But even on its own merits, The Italian Job simply doesn't have enough going on to make for an interesting ride.