It is somewhat of a pity that Team Soho’s long awaited gangster game, The Getaway, will be forever compared with that other title launched at the end of last year, GTA: Vice City.
A tragedy not because it doesn’t live up to the standard set by Vice City, but because there is very little similarity between the games once you scrape away the layer of superficiality.
The Getaway takes its cues from the notorious London underworld, playing itself out as an interactive movie, rather than a free form romp. It is a strongly story driven, unforgiving and at times brutal game, loaded with guns, violence and liberal use of the more colourful words in the English language.
Over the arc of the game you play two intertwined characters; a retired gangster named Mark Hammond, who becomes sucked back into the seedy underworld when crime lord Charlie Jolson kills his wife and kidnaps his son. Mark then ends up doing increasingly more insane jobs for Charlie as he desperately tries to save his kid. The other part of the story is played out as Frank Carter, a disgraced flying squad copper of the old school who is also entangled in the mess.
It is in the story that the game really shines, with everything held together with some quite stunning cutscenes, and missions that are constantly throwing up new surprises and challenges. The sheer number of twists and turns means you never quite know what to expect yet, despite the games strong linearity.
Gameplay is basically split between two major modes, driving the streets of London and gun-fighting your way through various real world locations on foot. Both modes are initially brutal and unforgiving as you realise that you aren’t in Vice City anymore. Drive a car at maximum revs for a prolonged period and you can expect steam to appear and speed to disappear. Run out into a pack of Yardies with your handguns blazing and expect to live for a time measured in nanoseconds.
That’s one of the things that you have to accept when you pick up this game -- you will die, and die, and die. The more you try and play this game like other third-person action titles, the shorter you will survive. To avoid this pain you need to take things slow, making good use of cover or grabbing bad guys to use as human shields. In keeping with the interactive movie philosophy there is no onscreen information like health or ammunition, instead feedback is provided through your character. Catch one or two bullets and you will begin to slow up and limp, get hit by more and you will clutch your side and drag yourself forward, anymore hits and you will be restarting the level.
When in one of the numerous real-world cars that can be found around London this lack of onscreen display is compensated for in an unusual way. Forced into a third-person view of the vehicle, navigation through the city is done by following the directions indicated by the cars blinkers (Although someone familiar with London would probably be able to find easier shortcuts).
One of the major achievements in The Getaway is the fact that 40 square miles of London have been faithfully recreated for the game. It is an amazing feat, but only really translates into an enhancement of the gaming experience if you are already familiar with London.
For those who aren’t then the experience can become frustrating, as there is no map in the game and you end up driving in circles wondering which little alleyway your blinkers are pointing you to.
In the end this game has the potential to strongly polarise opinion, more so than most games in the market today. Those hungry for the fast and frenetic pace of the Grand Theft Auto games will most likely end up with a Dual Shock2-shaped hole in their television screens after dying quickly and repeatedly 15 seconds into the first mission. But those after a unique, compelling and challenging gameplay experience are the target of The Getaway, and Team Soho has done a great job of satisfying this oft-neglected area of gaming.