The Getaway Review

  • First Released Jan 21, 2003
  • PS2

Though The Getaway's combination of driving and on-foot shooting sequences is occasionally entertaining, and the production values are impressive, usually the game just isn't fun.

They don't get much more "love it or hate it" than The Getaway, a game that's noteworthy for at least a couple of reasons. It's an ambitious project that reportedly cost a fortune to produce and was many years in the making, and it's one of the most earnest attempts to date at being an interactive movie. It also features some of the most ruthless violence and most excessive swearing yet seen in a game, and it takes place in what's at least a visually realistic re-creation of modern-day London, right down to scores of real-world vehicles driving bumper-to-bumper in the city's winding streets. Unfortunately, The Getaway is something of a train wreck, as its ambitious nature opens it up to a lot of much-deserved criticism as a game or as a movie. Though The Getaway's combination of driving and on-foot shooting sequences is occasionally entertaining, and the production values are impressive, usually the game just isn't fun--in place of almost every gaming convention The Getaway boldly tries to defy, it offers a significantly worse alternative. Even further, the game seems rough around the edges, with obvious bugs, graphical issues, and other signs that it was shipped prematurely. This all adds up to an experience that's by all means worth witnessing, since it really is one of a kind, but simply can't be recommended on its strengths as a game.

The Getaway tries harder than most any other game to look like a movie.
The Getaway tries harder than most any other game to look like a movie.

It's only a matter of time before any review or any discussion of The Getaway compares it to Grand Theft Auto III (or the more recent Grand Theft Auto: Vice City). In truth, however, the similarity between these games is almost entirely superficial. Both games involve driving through realistic-looking cities, being able to carjack anyone on the road, high-speed chases with the cops and with rival gangs, and on-foot shooting sequences pitting players against a ridiculous number of opponents. However, The Getaway lacks the open-ended structure of Grand Theft Auto III, instead putting you through a linear series of more than 20 missions, each separated by cinematic cutscenes. The Getaway thus is fundamentally different from Grand Theft Auto III, though it's very similar to (but not nearly as good as) Mafia, last year's PC gaming sleeper, and the first such linear single-player crime-themed driving-and-shooting game.

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The Getaway also lacks Grand Theft Auto III's dark sense of humor, instead presenting a coldly brutal tale of blackmail and revenge, filled with unsympathetic characters and no real sense of development. Featuring a hip electronic soundtrack and dialogue that is heavily laced with profanity and British slang, the game seems styled after Guy Ritchie's modern British crime films like Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, but without those movies' comedic moments. The game begins when a woman is shot in the stomach and her son is kidnapped. She turns out to be the wife of former crook Mark Hammond, who rushes to the scene of the crime, only to have his wife die in his arms, making it look like he was responsible. He speeds off after the true killers but is caught, savagely beaten, and then put to work by the evil crime boss Charlie Jolson, who threatens to kill Hammond's young son if he refuses any of the suicidal missions put before him. Before long, Hammond will be back on his home turf, killing his old friends, starting gang wars with the Chinese Triads and the Jamaican Yardies, shooting up a police station, and more, all in the name of getting his son back. Actually, Hammond's tale is only half the story, as once you've reached the conclusion, you'll then get to replay the game from the perspective of a hotheaded cop named Frank Carter. Carter wants to put an end to Jolson's criminal regime single-handedly, and his story takes place simultaneously with and at times intersects with Hammond's.

This one really earns its M rating. Get ready for lots of violence and tons of swearing.
This one really earns its M rating. Get ready for lots of violence and tons of swearing.

The story is a major portion of The Getaway, and the cinematic cutscenes at the beginning of each mission are lengthy and well produced, though frustratingly unskippable. This means, should you stop playing the game and come back later to the mission you left off at, you'll be forced to sit through the cutscene at the beginning of that mission all over again. It's for you to decide whether this is an oversight or a deliberate restriction to get you to pay more attention to the game's cinematic portions, but The Getaway is filled with many other such puzzling design decisions. Clearly the attempt was to do away with all the supposedly unrealistic conventions of gaming. Or, rather, the developers really wanted The Getaway to look like a movie rather than a video game, and thus eliminated all the "gamey" things you'd expect to see, including your character's life bar, an ammo readout, an onscreen map, and a compass. So, how do you tell when Hammond or Carter is about to die? That's easy enough--you'll see him limping and hear him gasping for air, unable to move at full speed. But the game's attempts to make up for some of its other omissions aren't quite as sensible.

For one thing, throughout the course of the game, the only way to tell which way you're supposed to go when driving toward a mission objective is by following your car's turn signals, which automatically illuminate when you should be headed more to the right or to the left. This seems clever at first, but then you'll realize that these turn signals will often guide you head-on into one-way traffic, even if you're used to driving on the left-hand side of the road. Furthermore, since you'll often be trying to lose the cops or some gangsters while tearing around London, it seems positively ridiculous that you'd be using your turn signals in the middle of an intense car chase. Meanwhile, the car physics in The Getaway are only vaguely realistic, to the degree that most cars can slide around a lot and be heavily damaged without much effort, but not to the degree that you actually feel as if the game provides an accurate sense of what it's like to actually drive all the various vehicles you'll come across. The collisions sometimes look decent, but the cars are locked to the ground and can't flip, and the artificial intelligence for the pedestrians and the traffic is pretty spotty. Many pedestrians seem more than willing to let you run them over, while driving against the flow of traffic rarely causes oncoming cars to act any differently than they otherwise would.

Cars will quickly break down after a couple of head-on collisions, so chase sequences often demand you to "hopscotch" from one car to the next. You can jack vehicles as easily as in Grand Theft Auto III (you do so at gunpoint here, not just by pulling open the door), and you can even steal cop cars out from under the police officers' noses. As with other aspects of The Getaway, at times the cops can act with surprising realism, and will aggressively attempt to ram you off the road. But much more often, they can be easily baited into slamming into traffic or other obstacles. Additionally, while The Getaway's London looks attractive, it's all just a facade, like a plywood-thin movie set. You can't get too close to most of the city's locations, and you're mostly just stuck driving on the roads--though to be fair, the transitions from outdoor to indoor environments are handled seamlessly during missions, occasionally creating the sense that the environments are as big as they look. Still, since there's little of interest in the city, by the time you spend the 15 hours or so required to finish the game and unlock the free roam mode, chances are it won't hold your attention for long.

You'll wish you knew where you were supposed to be going while on the road.
You'll wish you knew where you were supposed to be going while on the road.

Another of the game's seemingly clever but ultimately failed attempts at being unconventional is the way it lets you restore your health during shooting sequences. In most games, you pick up first-aid kits or some other health power-up that lets you continue on against the droves of enemies ahead. But there are no health power-ups in The Getaway, just as there aren't in real life. Still, the designers must have realized at some point that there's no way to make the missions survivable without giving you some way of recovering from your wounds, or interesting without filling them with bad guys. So their solution to the problem that you'll almost certainly get shot multiple times in every mission is that you can stop and rest beside any wall, where you'll see Hammond or Carter breathe heavily for a number of seconds as the blood from their clothing magically disappears. Before long, they're as good as new. Not only is this patently absurd, and certainly no more realistic than using first-aid kits or whatever, but it also frequently interrupts the pacing of the game's shooting sequences. Sometimes there's some tension created by having to rest in a dangerous area, but mostly the resting just breaks up the action, making the shooting scenes less satisfying than they could have been.

The game's occasional stealth sequences are even less enjoyable, as they're essentially just mazes that you'll figure out after much trial and error and without the help of any onscreen feedback. In the first such sequence, Hammond is forced to sneak through a lightly guarded compound without alerting anyone to his presence. An earlier mission has him shooting up a former hangout of his that is filled with friends and innocents, so the fact that he's not allowed to just shoot these people, who are his real enemies, is really disappointing.

A number of technical or mechanical issues also get in the way of The Getaway being much fun. Your view on foot and on the road is locked in a single third-person perspective, but the camera will frequently lag behind you during sharp turns or when rounding corners. An auto-aim feature keeps the shooting sequences from being challenging, and they're not terribly engaging anyway, since the lack of any onscreen targeting reticle (those are unrealistic) means you can't even tell who Hammond or Carter is aiming at. You just keep pressing the targeting button and the fire button until everyone dies, and then you rest. While you can perform a rolling move, take enemies hostage, and flatten your back against walls and glance around corners, these things don't figure heavily into the gameplay and aren't well implemented. Furthermore, the artificial intelligence of the enemy gunmen is severely lacking, as they'll often just stand there and get killed. Innocents, too, will stand idly by and get caught in the line of fire. You'll see (and hear) other weird things like people or cars clipping clear through solid surfaces and sound samples playing when they shouldn't be playing, as well as obvious inconsistencies between gameplay sequences and the noninteractive cutscenes that follow. You'll end a mission in one type of car and see yourself in an entirely different car in the cutscene that's supposed to take place immediately after.

The shooting sequences are awkwardly paced and unchallenging.
The shooting sequences are awkwardly paced and unchallenging.

The Getaway does look really good, and it features a large number of authentic-looking cars from manufacturers such as Lexus, Range Rover, Daihatsu, Saab, and more. The game uses realistic colors and textures and highly articulated, smoothly animated character models to create its cinematic appearance. Above all, then, The Getaway is really interesting to look at, and the developers' attempts at doing away with standard gaming iconography--though a disastrous move in terms of making The Getaway a better game--does help accentuate the game's gritty, movielike appearance. The game mostly sounds good, too. The voice acting is well done, though while the excessive swearing in the script seems mostly appropriate to the setting and story, at times it seems like someone went in and put an extra helping of four-letter words in there, just for kicks. The game's musical score is well suited to the game and effectively underscores the action sequences. In one scene, a thumping hip-hop soundtrack can be heard as Hammond sneaks into a Yardie crack house--and then it cuts off once he stumbles into a room with a DJ spinning records and kills him. Considering the level of graphic violence here, it's somewhat surprising that the death animations are pretty meek, and that the guns all sound underpowered. On the other hand, the use of the squealing tires effect when driving is a bit excessive, making it sound as if you're racing for your life even when you're backed up in traffic. Many missions also feature annoyingly incessant sirens or alarms that drown out all the other audio. This was probably put in for realism's sake, like a lot of other things in The Getaway.

Originally released in Europe late last year, The Getaway has sold very well in that region, and it has understandably garnered a sizeable following among all those who bought this highly anticipated and heavily promoted game. The game's impressive production values, serious subject matter, and real-world setting do make it quite unlike anything else out there, and The Getaway is a resounding testament to the fact that games have undeniably matured over the last few years. Unfortunately, the game itself, the thing you have to actually sit and play before you can watch the unskippable cutscenes, is loaded with problems and just isn't very good. Ironically, the game's efforts to help you suspend your disbelief while playing pretty much all fall flat, having the opposite effect. That's not to say the driving or shooting sequences of The Getaway are devoid of merit, because they're sometimes exciting when everything works right. And the game's distinctive style is so meticulously crafted that some will go out of their way to apologize for The Getaway's shortcomings in light of its ambitious efforts. But in the end, if The Getaway is a train wreck, then you're better off rubbernecking from the side of the road rather than being in it. That is to say, you'd be glad if you saw and played some of the game, but you probably wouldn't be glad if you bought it.

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