Well, the gameplay still sucks.

2003's The Getaway was an attempt to raise videogames to the level of interactive film. One of the main ways they attempted to do this was by removing all obvious signs of "gameness"—no health bars, no ammo counters, no maps. Players were (in theory), left with a seamless playable movie. While this was an admirable idea, the game was crippled by an amazingly bad control scheme, and a poorly written story, making the would-be interactive film a chore to play and a bore to watch.

So here we are, two years later, and what has Team Soho learned from their mistakes the first time around? Not much, apparently. Really, the story of Black Monday seems to be the story of all the ways the developers tried to fix the problems of the first game, but only ended up creating new problems for themselves.

Like its predecessor, The Getaway: Black Monday, is third-person driver/shooter, a dark crime thriller set in the criminal underbelly of modern-day London. Gameplay is split between driving licensed automobiles around accurately mapped streets and running down narrow hallways gunning down all manner of mobsters. Taking place in the exact same locations, it feels like almost the exact same game as The Getaway, and except for some gameplay tweaks, the only real new inclusions are motorcycles and a few new guns.

Graphically, the game is perfectly up to snuff—it certainly looks better than San Andreas, although since it takes place in a much smaller area, that's to be expected. Oddly, while the external graphics and the cars look better than the last game, the characters seem less detailed. Clothes seem bland and featureless, made up of muted colours, lacking any sense of texture or size. Even more curious is the bizarre modeling on the characters—many of their heads seem disproportionately large. Most of the time it's just a little odd, but one of the playable characters, Mitch, spends the whole game looking like a "Big Head" cheat has been entered.

The driving mechanics have also been revamped a little. I was one of the many who complained that the driving missions were far too challenging in the first game, as any fun that could have been gleaned from driving around London was crushed between the colliding juggernauts of reality and video gameness. The cars in this game have been toughened up quite a bit, and it's now possible to make a trip across the city without leaving three or four flaming husks in my wake. Of course, the biggest change to the driving section game is the inclusion of an in-game map of London. Now, just putting in what all other videogames already contained shouldn't feel like this big of a revelation, but that's just how inept the design of the original Getaway was. Even this map isn't perfect though, as the developers have stuck to their guns about keeping the screen completely dedicated to the action. The map is only available on the pause menu, and while Black Monday's London is apparently geographically accurate, it certainly isn't rendered with enough detail to keep every block from looking the same when bombing along at 80 mph. As a result, I was forced to take one thumb off the dual-stick driving controls and check the map every fifteen seconds to make sure I hadn't missed my turn—and that wasn't even a guarantee, given that most of London's alley and sidestreets are lamentably unmapped.

The on-foot action has been significantly expanded this time around, and now includes three separate playable characters. I think the premise was to have all of the characters have different play styles, but it didn't quite work out that way. Sure, playing as Sam, the agile and defenseless hacker provides a refreshing stealth break from the otherwise unrelenting gunplay, but the only difference between playing as Eddie (the crook) and Mitch (the cop) is that the game's much easier when playing Eddie. Not only can't Mitch fight hand-to-hand the way Eddie can, he can never pick up discarded weapons. Mitch has to rely on enemies dropping ammo to keep murdering, but unfortunately the MP5 isn't the weapon of choice among London's underworld. The only advantage Mitch possesses is the ability to throw gas grenades, but unfortunately they're even harder to aim than the average video game grenade.

Tragically, none of The Getaway's horrible targeting and camera problems were fixed this time either. For all of it's problems, the Getaway series has always been at its best in its gunfights. Like no other part of the game, the lack of onscreen indicators works wonderfully when one character raises a set of pistols and fires off ten rounds into the chest of another. It's in these moments that the game feels truly cinematic, which makes it truly sad that the terrible targeting and camera control makes those moments so few and far between. While it's all very cool to slide up to a corner and peek around the side, it's not a very safe way to find out what's down the next hall, and I can't count the number of times I was killed walking through doorways while waiting for the camera to re-center and show me the contents of the room. Added to this is a targeting system so shaky that when facing more than one opponent (the norm in the game), I could never be certain who I'd end up shooting when I pulled the trigger.

While I can understand not wanting to hand over complete camera control for thematic reasons, would it have killed Team Soho to let me turn while in aiming mode, instead of just strafing? At least until I got a lock on someone?

More disappointing still than the developers' failure to turn in a decent story this time around. The two-sided story is counted among the things making a repeat appearance here, and it's even worse now than it was then. The problem with the first Getaway's story is that the writers used up all of their grade A plot and design material (grade C material, really) on the first "criminal" half of the game, leaving the "copper" with a series of tedious and plotless missions wherein he drove around town shooting hordes of baddies for nearly no reason at all. The two stories were supposed to intersect meaningfully, and expand on one another, but they really didn't, which made the entire second trip through the game feel sort of pointless and tiresome. This time around, they at least get the plotless gunplay out of the way out of the game right up front. Defying all known literary convention, the game establishes Mitch (the copper) as the game's main character with an opening flashback and a scene devoted to establishing him as a Cop on the Edge With Nothing to Lose (or CotEWiNoLo, for short), the game's plot seems to be about his battle with Russian mobsters and his sisyphusian attempts to rescue a reporter who just can't stop being kidnapped.

Then, a few missions into the game, the story becomes about a gang of low-rent thieves headlined by likeable lout Eddie (who might as well be named "Team Soho was unable to secure Jason Statham to play this role"), looking to pull a complicated bank heist. I kept expecting the stories to intertwine somehow, but other than a few brief brushes, they don't at all. Eddie and Mitch are chasing after the Russians for completely different reasons, and for 99-percent of the game they are completely unaware of each other's existence. The majority of the game is played from Eddie's perspective (he's the only one who gets an ending). When Mitch disappears from the game, he stays gone, which leaves his storyline completely unresolved. That's just bad storytelling.

The Getaway: Black Monday is just inexcusably bad. How can a sequel suffer from the exact same problems as the first title? I didn't even mention the awkward attempt they made to fix the ridiculous "lean on wall to regain health" mechanic. After the release of The Getaway I doubt there was a gaming publication on earth that didn't have a laundry list of severe problems with its design. So how did only one of those problems get fixed during the two years it took to make the sequel? I mean, maybe implementing the map wasn't the easiest thing in the world, but what did they spend the other 103 weeks on? Besides standing around in junkyards being narrated by General Zod, I mean.* There's a rating for this game, and it's 3.5 out of 10.

*That last comment will only be funny to people who have watched the disc's "Making of" featurette.

Daniel Weissenberger
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