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The Getaway: Black Monday once again impresses with its cinematic style, however as a videogame it continues to fail on a number of points...
Originally billed as â??GTA in Londonâ?, Sony Computer Entertainment Europeâ??s The Getaway certainly succeeded in creating a cinematic experience akin to the best Guy Ritchie has to offer, however sadly some glaring flaws hindered its overall quality as a videogame.
Naturally having spent a reported six years creating every back-alley and shop front of inner London for The Getaway, it was inevitable that Team Soho would begin work on a sequel to make use of the location (not to mention the time taken) and hopefully improve upon some of the glaring faults that plagued its predecessor.
Sadly despite making some interesting changes mainly to the style of narration, The Getaway: Black Monday still has issues with fundamental aspects such as control over your character, targeting and a camera system that mars the overall experience; whilst those who didnâ??t appreciate the deliberate removal of all on-screen icons such as a health bar and targeting reticule, will be turned off to learn that the sequel once again employs this strategy in an attempt to create a â??cinematicâ? feel.
Arguably the gameâ??s strongest point is once again the story and how the developers have created it, employing a variety of filming techniques such as boxed screen transitions and flashbacks, itâ??s fair to say that Black Monday once again recreates that gritty feeling of a London gangster flick. Itâ??s also the type of game youâ??d not want your gran or a tabloid editor to catch wind of, with a profanity count that easily reaches into the hundreds and violent content that could disturb many with its realistic depiction.
This time around the Guy Ritchie â??Homage-O-Meterâ? is well and truly maxed out, as the developers have incorporated three different storylines, that whilst not interweaving do overlap and brilliantly fill in details as you progress through the game. Set two years after the dramatic culmination of the first game aboard the Sol Vita, Black Monday revolves around the story of three characters, which on initial inspection appear to be unrelated, but in a Ritchie-esque touch, eventually come back on one another in a tightly woven script.
The first 10 missions of the game revolve around taking control of Sergeant Mitchell on his first day back in the Metâ??s firearm squad, having been accused of shooting a child in the back. A dawn raid on a council flat soon turns nasty, and you find yourself up against a powerful organised Russian crime syndicate that is involved in a major arms deal with the Yardies. What this basically entails is your typical run-and-gun missions, with the odd driving sequence chucked in for a brief bit of respite.
Having progressed through the initial stages from the perspective of the London Metropolitan and discovered the nature of the plot, time switches back and control then switches to Eddie Oâ??Connor and Sam, a famous East-End brawler and a lightweight thief. Eddie and Sam form part of a team that are involved in an elaborate bank heist that goes horribly wrong, whilst a strange artefact seems to bring the plotlines together in a surprising twist. Taking control of Eddie is virtually identical to that of Mitch, although naturally being a bit of a brute Eddie can make use of his fists for some uninspired melee action, whilst Sam provides the stealth facet of the game and has more flexibility when it comes to navigating across the landscape.
This style of progression to the narrative is certainly refreshing for videogames and has been carefully thought about; one particular example has Sergeant Mitch discovering a badly beaten corpse, which you donâ??t think much of until you take control of Mitch and learn that it is one of his friends. Itâ??s stylish, slick and coupled with the excellent cut-scenes and exceptional production values, provides the main impetus for the game â?“ sadly as a videogame it fails on a number of aspects.
Perhaps the main problem that Black Monday suffers from is that fundamental aspects such as controlling your character and camera are poorly implemented, and as a result cause a great deal of frustration. The game uses a similar control set-up to that featured in The Getaway and Ghost Hunter, with players able to choose between auto and manual aiming courtesy of the Right shoulder buttons. The lack of an aiming reticule makes manual aiming all but useless, whilst youâ??re given such a restrictive use of the camera that the end result feels severely rigid, compared to more fluid characters such as CJ from San Andreas and other similar action based titles. The camera also continues to cause further frustration, often creating bizarre angles that make it all but impossible at times to get a clear view of the enemy and even simple activities such as walking out of a door! Switching between targets during auto-targeting also throws up problems; why on earth Team Soho couldnâ??t rely on the tried-and-tested method of having character control mapped to the left thumbstick and a 360 degree camera rotation on the right is beyond us, in a game where action is the emphasis, fast, fluid and responsive controls are a must, sadly Black Monday is about as responsive as an arthritic 80-year-old at times.
Taking control of vehicles also proves problematic. Presumably recognising the criticism of the original, players can now either opt for a drifting style of control with the thumbstick, or tighter but more restrictive control with the D-Pad. We personally donâ??t have a problem with the overcompensated slides of the driving sections; however we do have problems with just how finicky the collision-detection is. Having spent a considerable time with the game, youâ??d expect your skills to improve; but we guarantee youâ??ll still be clipping cars and coming to a grinding halt, even if youâ??ve played the game for years. With such a title youâ??d imagine fast-paced chases and dramatic action, but sadly every type of vehicle chase will have you stopping and starting as you clip the slightest thing such as a wing-mirror â?“ it may be realistic, but it isnâ??t much fun.
The woefully weak braking doesnâ??t help it, with cars slowly coming to a halt despite hammering on the brake button. Part of the problem with the over-sensitive collision detection could have been cured if you were able to hammer on the brake and come to a grinding halt almost instantly, but sadly youâ??ll just find yourself sliding less the gracefully into the traffic if you try to adopt the â??race hard/break hardâ? approach featured in racing games and the GTA series. Another issue that the driving sections throw up is the sheer inadequacy of the AI; during the opening stages when you play as Sergeant Smith and are engaged in a high-speed pursuit with sirens blazing, watch in amazement as the citizens of London do their best job of getting in your way, even fellow police officers will cut in front of you at the last minute, causing an agonising pile-up that seems to take an eternity to get out of and back on your way. Finally, most of the vehicles feel bizarrely light and lack that feeling of weight transfer when youâ??re sliding around a corner; it all adds up to create a driving experience, which whilst not having any fundamental flaws, simply just doesnâ??t feel right.
Our main concern however, much like its predecessor, is that the concept just hasnâ??t been thought out that well. If Team Londonâ??s main objective is to create a thoroughly polished cinematic experience with plenty of scripted events to drive the action, then why bother spending years creating a stunning representation of London, when youâ??re hardly likely to explore much of it during the game. The missions throughout the game often revolve around getting to a location as quickly as possible, however even if you did stray from the path and try to explore what the game world has to offer, then youâ??ll be seriously disappointed, as there is literally nothing to find â?“ GTA: San Andreas this isnâ??t. It just seems that the actual game is a complete antithesis to the world in which itâ??s set.
The general lack of interaction between the player and the environment carries through from the streets of London into the various interior locations youâ??ll come across; Eddieâ??s missions in particular are often staged inside, with multiple rooms all looking the same, but with nothing in there besides the main objective to interest the player the end result is akin to wandering through a maze blindfolded. Sure the team have incorporated a basic attempt at in-game physics to spice things up a little, so occasionally youâ??ll see a cardboard box moving around and barrels explode under heavy fire, however itâ??s just not enough, you really just feel youâ??re in a city that isnâ??t alive, and doesnâ??t really have anything for the player to do beyond taking out some of the most idiotic opponents weâ??ve seen in a videogame in recent times. The end result of the overall game world is one of a movie set, it feels fake and lacks substance; chuck in the admittedly impressive scripted events, and you have an experience that is more akin to a playing a movie and not a game â?“ whether or not this is a good thing depends on the player.
Despite the AI being less then impressive during the vehicle sections, it is in fact during the interior â??run-and-gunâ? sequences that the AI truly excels in mediocrity. Shining examples of the sheer idiocy include walking up to two guards, garrotting one of them and staring in amazement as the other watches on blankly without making a move; weâ??ve lost count of the number of times that the dodgy Ruskies missed from point-blank range with a shotgun and watching Londoners run from the pavement into your car and then bouncing away like a blow-up doll is just comical. The end result is something that feels completely unbelievable, which given the nature of the game and the importance of creating a realistic and gritty experience, is a little detrimental to say the least. We also have an issue with the way in which Russian gangsters seem to populate every street of London and ensure youâ??re never far from the sound of gun-fire; ok it may be a factor in knocking up the difficulty during the driving sequences, but it just works against the whole atmosphere the game builds up through its excellent presentation and direction.
Visuals were always one of the strong points in The Getaway, and its sequel doesnâ??t disappoint. The recreation of London still impresses in both its scale and detail, itâ??s just a shame you never have much opportunity or motivation to explore it. The character models, particularly during the real-time cut-scenes, are brought to life with disturbingly realistic animation; whilst the interior sections often pack a level of detail beyond most PS2 titles. The vehicle models have been painstakingly recreated and look absolutely fantastic; it certainly creates the overall experience by hi-jacking and driving licensed vehicles, whilst a damage model is featured to some degree.
Again a musical score created with the assistance of Ninja Tune enhances the overall presentation; just watch the intro for this game before it starts and wish the rest of the game matched its quality. As weâ??ve said before, the profanity count and variation easily outstrips any videogame or film weâ??ve seen recently â?“ certainly one to keep away from the children and those whoâ??d be shocked to discover why one of the crime lords is named the Dentist!
As we said in our review of The Getaway, if Team Soho creative vision is for a highly cinematic offering packed full of scripted events to dramatise the action, then why not remove the worthless open-ended city design and focus on creating an action-packed experience, with more scripted events and more variation to the gameplay.
It’s hard to recommend The Getaway: Black Monday to anyone other then a fan of the original, there’s just too much wrong with it, and the end result just doesn’t feel satisfying beyond the excellently crafted storyline and script – but then again that’s probably not why you’re buying a videogame.