I've got to admire Sony: First they take over the world with the Playstation2, and then they make a video game that tries to take over the world of movies. And even though The Getaway isn't perfect by either film or game standards, it is unique enough to succeed on standards of its own.
Many film critics bemoan that movies have become nothing more than passive video games. Well, The Getaway tries to be an interactive movie.
At the game's opening, London crime boss Charlie Jolson kidnaps the son of thief Mark Hammond (the player), and uses the child to get Mark to take on a series of practically suicidal missions. The Getaway is more detailed than any other video game made so far at presenting "movie reality," with a huge portion of London modeled down to the streets and buildings. But the story doesn't offer players much freedom, as they're required to progress directly from one elaborately presented sequence to another, which range from driving to sneaking and shooting.
Sony has gone to great pains to help players suspend their disbelief, however. When driving, there's no meter indicating how much longer the vehicle will hold together. Players need to watch the steaming hood and sense how well the controls are working to know when to steal another set of wheels. Likewise, Mark Hammond staggers and breathes heavily when he's wounded, and heals only when he rests. And there is no "training mission." The game starts, and players either read the manual or figure out how to accomplish things on their own.
These seem like good ideas, and when they work -- which is often -- they make the game engaging in a way that other titles rarely achieve. Occasionally, however, they become frustrating. This is a game, after all, not a movie or real life. You want to be able to do some things differently than you would if you were actually doing them.
But that's looking at The Getaway the wrong way. This is a marvelous game with complicated and contextualized action. It may feel like a 25-hour movie, but if more games reached this level of sophistication, the film industry would really have something to fear.
Publication date: 02/27/03