"The gameplay sucks." That's probably the most common complaint heard around the electronic entertainment industry. Videogames are unique in that it's the only form of expression where critics, audiences, press, and artists almost universally agree that if you don't got gameplay, you got nuthin'. Eye-candy visuals and rockin' tunes aren't enough. Gameplay is king, but exactly what is it? The term gameplay is loosely defined by how a game controls and feels in relationship to its overall design and structure. It also refers to the physical actions that are afforded to the player in overcoming challenges and accomplishing the ultimate goals presented.
Given the interactive nature of videogames, it makes sense that gameplay is traditionally valued above all else, but something strange occurs if the same singular priority is applied to other arts. Does the complex language of Dostoyevsky's literary classic Crime And Punishment nullify its examination of the human condition? Is Stanley Kubrick's film 2001: A Space Odyssey any less visionary because of its painfully slow pace? Should Robert Mapplethorpe's photographs of children juxtaposed with adult genitals be considered bad art because it conflicts and challenges the popular morals of our society?
Before I go any further with this review, I should mention that I am not suggesting the modern day gangster title The Getaway for the PlayStation 2 belongs in the same echelon of the aforementioned works. The Getaway is a big budgeted and highly ambitious release from Sony. However, it is also a severely flawed experience—or, to put it more bluntly, the gameplay sucks.
The Getaway revolves around the exploits of Mark Hammond, an ex-bank robber who was recently released from prison. After his son is kidnapped and his wife is murdered at the scene of the crime, Mark is blackmailed into working for the kidnapper, who is revealed to be one of London's most notorious mob bosses. Players assume the role of Mark through his dark journey through the criminal underbelly of London and guide him through the game's two types of linear mission-driven gameplay: driving and shooting.
The driving and shooting are seamlessly interwoven during the game, but the driving portion of The Getaway is easily the stronger of the two. The streets of London have been painstakingly recreated in 3D polygons street for street, intersection for intersection, and the results are nothing short of an astonishing achievement of digital craftsmanship. Navigating through the city at breakneck speeds while being pursed by the police and gang-rivals makes for a wonderfully lively experience behind the wheel. The physics and handling of the real-world licensed cars feel appropriate and accessible yet challenging at the same time.
When a player exits a vehicle and travels on foot, the 'shooting' portion of the game takes place and it's also where the game shows it's most glaring weaknesses. While the character models have believably realistic features and the colors are done in more down-to-earth, washed-out tones, the animation stumbles and ruins the virtual illusion. The Getaway has been in production longer than Sony would like to admit and the parts of technology the developers committed to haven't aged like wine. Also problematic with the shooting sequences was a faulty auto-targeting method that wouldn't always focus on the nearest enemy; a sub-par camera system that would choke during tight environments; and a degree of difficulty that repeatedly frustrated this dedicated gamer and is sure to baffle most casual ones. The gameplay has a kind of chaos theory-like randomness that gives each stage a unique challenge no matter how times a mission is replayed. This concept sounds good on paper, but the effect annoyingly backfires when inconsistency seems to plague only the player and not the eagle eyes and quick trigger fingers of the computer adversaries. It's a shame that these issues mar what otherwise would have been engaging action gameplay that puts some fresh moves and a decent amount of surprises on display.
If the gameplay in The Getaway blows and everyone agrees that gameplay is the truth, why bring up Crime And Punishment and other revered works? The dilemma for me is that creators of The Getaway had a vision. They dared to call The Getaway an interactive movie and rose up to challenge that comes along with comparing itself with motion pictures. Looking at the final composition, The Getaway is no more interactive than most games and it still utilizes the traditional non-interactive cut-scenes spliced between the gameplay to convey its tale, but it's clear the developers didn't embarrass themselves with the quality of writing and production. In fact, it's hard not to say they succeeded in accomplishing what they set out to do and in doing so they have done what so many before them failed: make a videogame that can be put alongside the likes of contemporary media and not be laughed off the limelight.
Right from the opening minutes of The Getaway's introductory cut-scene, my thoughts were jarred by the many F-words and other explicative uttered by the characters underneath their thick English accents. It's not something a gamer typical hears while holding a control pad. I was further impressed by the level of sophistication in the scripting and characterizations. It was refreshing to play a 'Mature' rated videogame where the content wasn't toned down for the sake of pandering to watchdog groups and seemed substantively on par with the content of an R-Rated film. The Getaway was genuinely made for an adult audience and not for lads trying to act like adults.
The Getaway is ultra violent, but it doesn't glorify or exploit violence for humor or commercial hype. There's a sense of pain to the destruction that's not only conveyed by the victims, but also by Mark himself as he accumulates wounds that physically wear him down. The Getaway thrives on its intuitive gameplay that way. The decision to eliminate any metaphorical and informational videogame conventions like power-ups, energy meters and flashing indicator arrows and disguise its minimal visual cues within the context of the game's reality was courageous and a brilliant cinematic nod. This revolutionary gesture occasionally causes confusion in where the player is suppose to go or do, but nothing that ruins the moment entirely; and I think it's so much more interesting to see a game attempt this, and it adds so much more to the gameplay than takes away. Hopefully, the same developers or someone else will get it right eventually.
While the story and style of The Getaway is exciting foreign territory for videogames in many ways, it still can't be described as highly original. The Getaway unabashedly takes its creative cues from Guy Richie's two UK flavored gangster films: Lock, Stock, And Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, but I give the developers credit for properly 'stealing' from the two films, making the subject very much its own, and appropriately paying homage to Richie's films and other influences on occasion. The plotting of the story and development of the characters through out the game isn't going to have any gamers contemplating life and looking inward, but again, I give it credit for keeping up with contemporaries and properly fusing the story with the gameplay for a more cohesive experience.
As mentioned earlier in my review, The Getaway is not a masterpiece. It has its problems mostly in the gameplay area, but the first step to the maturation of videogame art is broadening our appreciation of what we consider to be 'good' beyond primarily gameplay. Many great works of art could also be considered flawed, but we give respect and recognition nonetheless. The Getaway isn't a shining beacon for all to follow, but its greatest contribution is that it is a ray of light that brings progressive ideas and expressions to the gaming conscious and deserves credit for it. The Getaway reminded me of greatness in a way that few videogames ever do.