Getting Up opens with the most disingenuous disclaimer in the history of legal doublespeak; It claims that while the game presents graffiti in a context where "street artists" are heroic anti-establishment figures, it in no way condones acts of vandalism against public or private property.
This disclaimer is, of course, utter and complete crap. The game is massively, completely, unambiguously pro-graffiti. It features the art of real graffitists, incredibly complimentary text explaining their importance, and some of these graffitists actually make appearances in the game as themselves so they can teach the main character tricks of the trade. If this game has one goal, it's to celebrate, promote, and even encourage real-life graffiti. Even when it doesn't succeed as a game, it always makes the graffiti look good.
Set in a dystopian present, Getting Up is the story of a boy named Trane who lives in a city ruled by the iron fist of a tyrannical regime so incompetent that it feels threatened by graffiti. Seriously, they have a special branch of the police department whose one job is to viciously beat graffitists with cattle prods. It's kind of like if Jet Set Radio took itself extremely seriously. Trane is a would-be graffitist who is out to make a name for himself by writing that same name in colourful characters at the top of very high things. On the way to this goal he finds himself embroiled in a few minor gang conflicts before uncovering a conspiracy that strikes very close to home.
The gameplay through which the player acts as Trane is broken up into three distinct parts: platforming, which is wonderful; painting, which is good, with some minor problems; and fighting, which should have been good, but just isn't.
The platforming plays very much like Ubisoft's Prince of Persia titles in that it manages to combine tight controls with excellent level design and careful camera placement to provide a thrilling jumping and climbing experience. Actually, the level design is by far the best part of the game—the urban environments are used extremely well, and add immeasurably to the game's effect. While scurrying across rocky cliffs and dangling over lava floes are certainly fantastic, there's something so much more grounded and identifiable about hanging over a busy freeway and scaling the side of a bridge. I can't help but be impressed by the way the developers have reconfigured everyday urban architecture into mazelike vertical obstacle courses.
The painting minigame is also entertaining, although it's a little less well-balanced than the platforming. The main problem is that there's entirely too much of it. All the graffiting done in the game is performed with a simple control mechanic. The player is shown a white outline of the finished product, and they have to spray or roll over it to fill in the colour. This is a very simple and quick process—all the player has to do is make sure not to spray too long in one place to avoid creating drips. It's a simple system that's easy to master, but the game runs into problems in that the individual pieces take too long to paint, and there are too many of them. With an average of eight pieces on each level, and each one taking anywhere from 40-90 seconds to paint, it's too simple a mechanic to spend so much time on.
This problem wouldn't be so glaring if The Warriors hadn't already done spray-painting more effectively by understanding that if you're going to ask someone to do the exact same thing a dozen times, each instance has to be either very quick or somehow unique. The fact that (other than plot-related pieces) there are only four pieces of graffiti allowed per level doesn't help either. It probably would have been better for the developers to pre-select every piece of graffiti in the game—at least that would have added the thrill of constant discovery throughout. As it is, the graffiting gets tiresome before the game is over, which isn't a great thing to have happen in a game about graffiti.
The fighting, sadly, is the weakest part of the game. It's sad because The Collective have a great track record with 3D brawling engines. Their first brawling-intensive title, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, had a fantastic fighting engine, marred only by the fact that each individual enemy was too tough to beat. They refined the engine for their next game, Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb, and by decreasing the difficulty level, managed to make the engine quick, accessible, and fun. So it's a little peculiar that they took such a dramatic step backwards with Getting Up. There's a lot of fighting to be done in the game, and all of it is much too difficult.
The engine itself is good but the enemies are too tough and too numerous to be fought effectively. While some of them can be taken out with a single poorly-implemented stealth attack, there's just too much fighting in the game for the engine to be this sloppy. It's almost as if the developers noticed this problem with the difficulty a little too late in the game's cycle, because halfway through the game they give the player a flamethrower with unlimited fuel. Unfortunately, while the flamethrower makes the combat much easier, it also slows it down a whole lot. The worst part is that while there are plenty of opportunities to kill enemies quickly by throwing them over precipices (slow-mo camera angles reward players for the effort), the game doesn't auto-correct the player's aim towards those ledges, and the collision detection is so wonky that even a two-foot ledge can provide an insurmountable obstacle for players looking to defenestrate their foes.
While these minor problems do erode the overall experience, they don't make the game any less worth playing. When Getting Up works, usually when Trane is perched high above the city trying to finish a complicated piece of graffiti before the spotlights find him, it really works. There are some impressive pieces of graffiti to paint and heart-pounding acrobatics to perform with a decent story to tie the whole thing together. Even if the game can't provide a consistent level of excellence, there are enough great parts to recommend the whole package, as hit-and-miss as it may be.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.