For review a bad game day this year I’ve decided to look at a Play Station 2 title.
I know some people view the PS2 as being too new to truly count as a retro console and, considering its’ abilities to deliver fully textured worlds streamed from a DVD, they might have a point. However I think the game I’ll be discussing demonstrates just how much of a retro console the PS2 really is.
My choice then is none over than defunct Team Soho’s epic GTA-em-up, The Getaway. Originally released back at the end of 2002, it was a game released back when the PS2 had really hit its prime.
Based entirely around a surprisingly realistic map of central London, the plot of the game sees the player drive and shoot their way to the bottom of a classic Cock-er-ny crime caper that was clearly inspired by contemporary films Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch.
Where (the recently released) GTA: Vice City had set itself out as an outrageous parody – complete with motor bike stunts, ridiculous side missions and hijack able attack helicopters – The Getaway sought to handle itself with grit, seriousness and a relentlessly immovable straightness. This was to be less of a video game and more an interactive movie – It’s clear Team Soho wanted this game to be perceived with the gravitas inevitably reserved for cinematic greats.
This quest for a cinematic experience permeated all the way through to the game’s interface. If The Getaway has one defining characteristic today, it’s the ambitious attempt by Team Soho to remove all of the obtrusive video game furniture from the screen. Health bar? Ammo counter? Map or other superimposed hint of where you have to go? No sorry, there’s none of that here.
Instead, you’re left looking for subtle cues in the game world: Blood stains on the player’s clothing warn of damage, blinking car indicators tell you which way you need to go, a sudden absence of the ability to shoot warns you its time to reload. Blimey.
How well do these cues work? Actually surprisingly well. The lack of an ammo counter makes you much more mindful when entering a fire fight and the blood stains are actually a pretty intuitive way of realising that your character has taken damage.
In fact, at an execution level, the indicator-based navigation was the only real misstep here. If you’re completely unfamiliar with London, you’ll be left with no clear idea of where you’re going, which means the indicator blinking can lead you down blind alleys and into oncoming traffic.
Meanwhile, if Transport for London’s real-world incompetence has left you in a position of knowing every conceivable route between South West and North East London, Sony Liverpool’s subtle removal of a couple of key junctions and cut throughs from the city map leaves you equally in the dark.
It’s a shame, as some sort of navigation aid (even if it was only accessible from the pause menu) would have aded so much to the game. Particularly once the player had unlocked the free roaming mode.
Now, with that gripe out of the way, why are we looking at this on Review a Bad Game Day? It’s true that a slightly flawed system of navigation isn’t quite enough to damn and entire game, and it’s also true that, from the interesting 3rd person aiming mechanics through to the satisfying ways car windows break, there’s a lot to like about The Getaway.
Unfortunately, what fundamentally lets The Getaway down is the fact that its a game before its time.
You see, though there’s a lot to like, there’s lots of of execution errors that really let things down. The shooting mechanics, in particular are a big problem. Though Sony Liverpool took an interesting approach – as you hold the aim button the camera zooms over your character’s shoulder, forcing you to use the sight on the actual in game gun to aim – any respect is immediately lost the second you realise that the even the most gentle and delicate movement of the control sticks inevitably translates to some sort of jerky hyperactive horror show on screen.
Driving is marred by a similar issue. Though the solid physics are (on paper at least) preferable to the flip-friendly world of Vice City, they’re let down by a vague imprecise floatiness. The AI really doesn’t help matters either, flipping randomly between being unstoppably relentless in pursuit of the player and hopelessly blind to everything around it.
Then, of course, there are the inevitable bugs. The Getaway has some pretty tough firefights, so to survive one only to meet a sticky end by falling inexplicably through the game world is a tad disappointing to say the least.
That’s not to say there also weren’t a couple of questionable design choices in there as well, mind you. Alongside the navigation, the Halo-inspired health regeneration mechanic seems a bit of a misstep that detracts from the natural rhythm of the gunplay (apparently deep breaths can heal gunshot wounds.) As with many a GTA clone, the free roaming mode also demonstrates that a detailed game world is nothing if there aren’t interesting things to do in it.
The Getaway was an ambitious game let down by a number of execution errors then, but is it a retro game? That’s a good question.
Looking at The Getaway in 2016, it’s clear that time has moved on in a number of crucial ways.
The most obvious place to start, is perhaps the city. Granted, constant change is one of the most exciting things about living in a big city, however the extent of just how much things have been altered in the interim between 2002 and the present is pretty amazing.
From the in-game presence of long-defunct retail chains The Link and C&A, the lack of blue cycle ‘super highways’ (cringe,) the ability to drive (the now all-but retired) Route Master buses, vehicle number plates…pretty much everything the player sees in the Getaway is a reminder that its’ vision of London is now every bit an antiquated period piece as Driver’s version of San Francisco.
In fact, thinking about it, even the concept itself has distinctly retro feeling to it. Though The kind of Guy Ritchie Cockerney-crime-caper vibe Team Soho were going for might have been edgy and contemporary in the early noughties, but it all feels very dated today.
Indeed, this datedness carries over to the gameplay. Though remarkably forward-looking in design in many respects, the Getaway really exemplifies just how far gaming as come over the last decade or so.
After all, Considering that the Getaway was originally known for its large production values, one thing that really stands out is just how terrible the voice acting is. True, We’re probably a bit spoilt for choice these days (now every celebrity and their mum wants to star in a video game) but that this doesn’t change the fact that, for a title that had such a large budget and which was so focused on cinematic delivery (to the point of including criminally unstoppable cutscenes,) the vocal talent just doesn’t appear to have been available.
Likewise, it’s easy to forget just how limited game physics could be on the PS2. As jerky and imprecise as the shooting and running controls can be, it’s easy to forget how relatively standard this state of affairs was on the PS2 – and just how spoilt we’ve been by the realistic physics and well-honed shooting controls offered by the 360 and PS3.
The Getaway then, is a really interesting title to look back on. If we can forgive the mockney exterior, the Getaway is essentially a modern game trapped on hardware that was a generation away from realising it’s ambition. In that sense, it really exemplifies just where the PS2 was as a console.
While one half of the PS2’s library seems to be a clear and obvious evolution of the sort of things developers had started on the PS1, the other is a clear sign posting of what was to come with the next two generations of console gaming. As the gaming experiences offered by each successive generation become closer and closer, I have a feeling the PS2 will become a clearer and clearer watershed between the worlds of classic and modern gaming.
The Getaway, then, is essentially an honourable bad game. Though flawed, It’s not a half-hearted, ill conceived joke, but a game you should definitely consider trying if you haven’t already. Just be prepared for the swearing. A lot of (now very cliche) swearing.