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The Getaway Review

By Jeff Buckland, 2/3/2003

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It seems that the race is on to get a truly successful Grand Theft Auto clone out on the market; many companies are staunchly denying that their games have anything to do with the GTA series, but I am seeing quite a few parallels in some of these games. Plus, I think it would be stupid to not try and cash in on the success of the GTA games. The Getaway will appeal to many GTA players, no doubt.

Despite this, The Getaway has more in common with the recent PC hit Mafia than with Grand Theft Auto. It's more mission oriented, and is much more structured than what one might expect. On top of that, more care has been put into making the on-foot gunplay a little more engaging than the other games. Add all this, a little of the style from classic British action movies (as well as Snatch and Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels) and you have The Getaway. That includes the profanity; this game is chock full of four-letter words. Consider also the violence as well as some racism from the bad guys, and it becomes obvious why this game is rated M.

In The Getaway, you play Mark Hammond, an ex-gangster who is trying to clean his act up after spending some time in prison. His old gang decides they have better things to do with him, though, and a botched kidnapping winds up with Hammond's wife dead and his son the hostage. Now, Hammond is being blackmailed for his son's life; he is forced to commit all sorts of crimes all around a mostly photorealistic Lon

To put it simply, this game could use some better controls. A few of the GTA conventions are here, especially when one is driving around, but the controls are quite a bit different when on foot. There are a few new and unique actions available to you, like backing up against a wall to pop out from doorways, ducking behind a box for cover (which is much more useful than ducking in GTA: Vice City), or holding someone hostage as a human shield.

The targeting system is a bit wacky here, as the game will regularly target innocent bystanders or far-away enemies in favor of the closer guys who are already shooting you. Add to that the fact that Hammond sometimes refuses to go exactly where you want him to - it seems that this guy simply can't stop and turn around in place. Instead, he has to jog in a small circle, which can be very frustrating during the game's ill-conceived stealth missions.

Once you hop in a car, you will notice a pretty distinct difference in handling from almost any other game. The cars are pretty sensitive, and are pretty tough to drive if you lose a tire. On top of that, the narrow London streets are full of traffic, which makes navigation even tougher in many circumstances. Still, the car handling is good enough to where you will curse the traffic more than the controls.

The Getaway does look pretty damn good, as the developers really make great use of the visuals they created. It takes place in a realistically-mapped out London, completely with many accurate real-world locations and tons of area to cover. The cars are real licensed stuff, and show some pretty realistic damage when they collide with one another.

The character models are extremely well-made, with high quality textures and lots of cool animations during the cutscenes (all of which are done inside the game engine). I'm a little disappointed by the frame rate during the driving sequences, though; many times, the game will slow down immensely when a lot of traffic is out there. I guess that reducing the amount of traffic would have affected the gameplay negatively, as avoiding traffic while escaping the cops is pretty fun and sometimes is one of the major challenges. Because of that, I'm glad there is so much traffic; I just wish the frame rate didn't drop so easily.

At first, The Getaway does seem a bit like the Grand Theft Auto games, but it is much more restrictive in what you can do and where you can go. Sure, you have plenty of opportunities to just drive around and kill a few random people, but there are no side missions, mini-games, or anything of the sort. In this respect, it's very much like Digital Illusions' PC title Mafia - just with a more modern feel, of course.

One of the most noticeable things about The Getaway is that there is absolutely no in-game interface or HUD at all. Everything is communicated in some other way, which can get downright annoying and generally doesn't seem to be worth the effort. For example, blood will seep through your character's clothing if he's hurt - that is your cue to find cover and lean against a wall.

That's right; your character heals himself by leaning against a wall as the blood slowly fades away. Some may scoff at this idea, but at a high enough level, it's not much different than Halo's system of retreating to allow your shields to automatically recharge. Despite being able to heal anywhere and on demand, there is still the challenge of finding a safe spot and not getting hit while healing up. On top of that, Hammond can't really take a huge amount of damage at once anyway, so the game is still tough even with this system.

When you get in a car, the game supplies no map of any sort. Instead, it will direct you by way of the car's turn signals. This system is just plain weird, and many times it wound up directing me to the wrong side of a city block. Pretty soon, I learned how to anticipate these bugs and correct them before they happened. Any bug that is this common really needed to be fixed before the game was released.

The other problem with this system is that the game includes a ton of skinny little one-way streets; I have never been to London, but I hear it is an accurate portrayal of the real city. The problem is that the game will very commonly send you the wrong way down a one way street, and pedestrians will even yell at you for driving down the wrong way. To me, this is just hilarious; the developers made an annoying gameplay decision and then accentuated it by having other characters scream it at you.

It's the complete lack of a true visual interface that simply makes certain parts of The Getaway quite a chore; I never had much of a problem with the HUD interfaces of other, similar games, so it is a little confusing as to why they stuck with this decision. It just doesn't seem to be worth all the trouble.

As you traverse each mission, you will undoubtedly do something to get the cops' attention, be it reckless driving, running over someone, or colliding with other cars. The cops here are fairly competent, and even though they can set up roadblocks and spike strips, that is about the extent of their power - there is no FBI or Army here.

The game does attempt to throw in a few twists, requiring you to use stealth to beat a few of the missions. The camera and controls make this more difficult than it has to be though, and in all the wrong (and frustrating) ways. Perhaps they should have stuck with just the action stuff.

The Getaway is a challenging game, and while each mission does have a few checkpoints that will allow you to continue part of the way through, there is no way to skip some of the cutscenes. Some can be skipped with a press of the R3 button, while others will require you to watch them every time you go back to retry a mission. No, the cutscenes aren't bad or anything, but dying and then being forced to wait a minute or two for a repeat of a cutscene just adds insult to injury.

Once you beat the twelve missions with Mark Hammond, you can then take control of a cop named Frank Carter for another twelve levels. His missions take place roughly at the same time Hammond's do, which is an interesting way to structure the game. As Carter, the player will be going after Hammond and observing his wonderful handiwork. A few little things in the game will change as Carter, which reflect the fact that he's supposed to be upholding the law rather than breaking it, but it's mostly the same.

After all those missions are done, a Free Roam mode is opened up, allowing one to explore London completely at his or her leisure. Why this wasn't included from the beginning, I have no clue. It seems to me that the actual city of London itself is the game's most unique feature (and likely to be its biggest draw), so I doubt that The Getaway will be as popular in the US as it has become in Europe.

Lasting appeal in this game is decent at best; in the Grand Theft Auto games, there were all boats, planes, and an army of cars to use, plenty of secrets to find, and an absolute ton of optional missions. The Getaway doesn't have much in the way of extra features like this at all, which is disappointing. The fact that one can take true-to-life cars through a decent approximation of the real London is fun for a while, but that won't last too long.

In The Getaway, you won't get the switchable radio stations like the GTA games had. Instead, there is a decent range of music from a few genres that is almost completely forgettable. For me, it was hard to even notice the music most of the time, much less enjoy it. The sound effects are definitely better, though; the ambience of a city environment really comes through, and the cars sound wonderful. Gunshots are pretty decent sounding, and the characters have a decent number of voice clips during the in-game action.

Speaking of that, The Getaway's voice acting is superb; the actual script isn't all that great in some areas, but the actors do a great job with what they have. There are several great characters here, and the overall plot really lets them run wild. Here's one game where the story and acting may be the main thing keeping the player going; you just have to find out what happens next.

The Getaway is a pretty decent game with a few bad design decisions but some cool driving and action. GTA fans may be disappointed by its lack of freedom in picking what the character does next, but the story almost makes up for it. Still, this one may be better off rented than bought; the replay value is pretty low once the story is over.

Overall: 81%



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