When a game as long awaited as The Getaway finally makes it out of development hell, it’s often impossible to believe. There it is on the shelf. You can buy it. So that’s what the box art looks like. Finally, The Getaway was released on the 11th of December 2002. It was meant for the PS1, then it was meant as a PS2 launch title, and now, two ice ages later, we have it.
Close to five MILLION pounds was thrown at Team Soho and The Getaway, with the intention of turning it into a proper killer revolutionary title, the last word in ‘cool’ on the PS2. Given it was in development for four years, it’s hard to comprehend what they did with their time and money, given the game is hopelessly shallow and unsatisfying.
You play as Mark Hammond, an irritating former East End gangster in an ill fitting suit. Evil Kray-alike mobster Charlie Jolson has murdered your shrill, unpleasant wife and is now holding your impossibly obnoxious son hostage, unless you perform crimes for him. That is more or less the extent of your involvement in the plot. Along the way you pick up the help of a slapper cum assassin in the form of Essex tart Yasmin, but the game is otherwise a series of disconnected events where Mark drives somewhere, shoots loads of people, and steals/blows up something. Luckily, when you finish the game, you unlock the quickly slapped-together ‘alternate’ plotline starring DC Frank Carter, so you can watch events from the other side of the law. In an ironic twist, these missions are far more entertaining and enjoyable than any of Mark’s missions. Mark is a more sympathetic character, and you really begin to empathize with his situation and share his rage against his bloated, corrupt boss.
Given the marvelous subject matter and involving setting, it’s almost impossible to comprehend what’s gone wrong with this game. For a starter, the designers decided to display a spectacular incompetence and have absolutely no on-screen icons. This, of course, is to make it more like a film, because that’s why you play games after all (see also Metal Gear Solid 2). So, you have no life bar, no ammo bar, and – get ready – no map. This is pure idiocy. Learning ‘The Knowledge’ to be a London cabbie is meant to be The Hardest Thing To Do, EverTM, but gamers should naturally be capable of negotiating one of the worst designed city centres in the universe on their own. In heavy traffic. At 90 miles per hour. With just confusing flashing turn signals for company. But of course. Granted it does look just like London, so you may well be able to have a general idea of where you are.
Once you’ve reached your destination, probably with two flat tires and three jam sandwiches on your tail, you have to somehow locate the entrance to the building you’re meant to kill the occupants of. Again, this isn’t indicated. Once inside, the ropy foot controls truly take effect. Mark and Frank are easily the most out-of-shape men who ever lived, given they can run for about four feet before becoming hopelessly out of breath and slowing to little more than a forward wobble. Even the strain of walking slowly sees them gasping. Gasping is a key ‘feature’ of the Getaway since, in the absence of healthpacks (which are unrealistic, someone at Team Soho decided while throwing another £1000 on the fireplace and not working on the game), you heal your wounds by leaning on a wall and panting like a chain smoker having their first fag of the day. Magically, bullets lodged in your pancreas drop out, your suit cleanses itself of blood, and you’re able to resume taking shotgun blasts to the face again.
And take them you shall, for quite often the auto-target button will allow you to skillfully aim your shotgun at someone on the Scottish border while a ruthless baddie calmly fills your head with buckshot. Manual aiming is possible, provided you’re one of the few people gifted enough to be able to aim a weapon from above, behind and to the side of the person actually holding it.
In another deft stroke of genius, the controls have been simplified so X does everything. It does rolls, it allows you to flatten yourself against walls, or crouch behind crates, or even grab someone as a hostage. If Team Soho had been given even more time, I expect they would have found a way to make the X button do literally everything, from movement to firing. Except, of course, when you cunningly sneak up behind a guard only to decide to roll right in front of them, and then bumble around with the dire controls struggling to face the wrong way while they call you a plonker and blast you to shreds with an AK74. Best of all, once you’ve grabbed someone, you HAVE to do something needlessly injurious to them – you can’t, for instance, let them go or anything. Whack!
Given the time that was lavished on the game, it’s appalling at the number of small details that have gone missing or incorrect. Number plates are randomly generated, often between scenes. Get into a Vectra and it will have an impossible D-reg, but a cutscene later and it’ll have a R-reg. Continuity errors crop up as well, as you can escape in a battered police car, but the cutscene that shows you get away has you in a Rover. The buses never stop to pick up passengers, nor can you board them. Changing the camera angle is not possible, nor is it possible to drive from the driver’s view (despite fully modeled interiors). Train bridges abound, but you never see a train whoosh atmospherically overhead. All the locations feel completely lifeless due to the lack of people. Surely hordes of low-detail pedestrians mixed with a few high-detail ones would have added immeasurably to the feeling. Missions are often triggered by certain locations, rather than skill – the Police Van mission especially, as you can’t defeat the van until you’ve driven a certain distance. And the ‘free roam’ mode is a huge missed opportunity, with no taxi, bus, or police missions to while away the rapidly boring driving around the city. What WERE they doing all this time then? Apart from not playing and learning from GTA 3.
On the plus side, the interior locations are marvelously rendered and believable, the sound effects (bar the dire voice acting me old china) are spot-on, and London locations, from the Kings Cross Thameslink station to the big Topshop on Oxford Street are all present and eerily correct. But this doesn’t excuse a game with horribly stiff and unfriendly controls, a tedious plot with unskippable cutscenes, a graphics engine that slows down with alarming regularity and a general lack of the magic that makes a truly excellent game. Don’t despair, though, enough idiots will buy this that Team Soho will put the virtual London they’ve painstakingly rendered to use again, perhaps with a decent game attached. In the meantime, GTA Vice City is far more deserving of your cash – there’s more depth to the stadium minigames than in all of The Getaway.