Released in 2003 after a (to put it mildly) protracted development cycle, The Getaway wasn't the first game that attempted to capture the essence of London's violent side, but it had a decent stab (no pun intended) and, to an extent, succeeded. Sadly, the game ultimately ended up in that overcrowded group of titles in the 'nice idea, shame about the execution' file - The Getaway collapsed under the weight of it's own obese ambition, and whilst the 25 square miles of authentic London streets portrayed in the game certainly made for an eye-catching blurb on the back of the box, the distinct lack of any heavy traffic on the roads (PALGN briefly entertained the notion that this was in fact a subtle, satirical nod towards the traffic situation in Ken Livingstone's post-congestion charge London, though concluded it wasn't) made the game feel closer to the Lake District than London.
On top of this, whilst the driving sections were decent and generally well-implemented, the on-foot sections, blighted by a wayward camera and unconventional controls, felt rushed and frustrating to play. Dying in a hail of gunfire whilst you tried to re-configure the camera was commonplace, and certainly triggered the odd murderous urge in PALGN. Prince of Persia it wasn't. One thing that The Getaway did do well however was narrative - whilst obviously indebted greatly to films (show us a 'realistic' videogame that isn't), The Getaway's story was sensitively balanced, well-paced and - as reward for those who made the effort and soldiered on - boasted an excellent climax.
Thus the sequel, The Getaway Black Monday, represents a chance to amend several of the heinous sins committed by it's predecessor, so it comes as a surprise to learn that it's the narrative which is receiving the most energy and attention from developers Team Soho. The game is set two years after the events of the first Getaway. London, as cities are liable to do, has moved on. The first game's hero, the likeable cockney diamond geezer Mark Hammond, has been scrapped, with the story now revolving around three separate characters whose lives will eventually intertwine together by the end of the game. It all sounds like it's trying to be a tad Tarantino-esque, though we'll forgive Team Soho after the first game spawned such an enjoyable yarn.
The first of the three characters in question, Sergeant Ben Mitchell, is enjoying his first day back on the Metropolitan Police firearms squad, and it's going to be one to remember; a dawn raid on a council estate turns nasty. But that, promises the press release, is just the beginning, and the next 48 hours will see him come up against the most powerful man in London. Meanwhile, on the other side of the city, boxer Eddie O'Connor is getting a severe beating; a bank job he was involved with went horribly wrong, and his crew are decimated. Bodies are continuing to drop left, right and centre. His only ally in this whole mess is Sam, the third character and a lightweight thief more comfortable with nabbing laptops than extreme violence. It's certainly got the potential to match up to or even exceed the first game's story, and brings to mind certain classic east end gangster flicks that PALGN has spent many an evening enjoying.
The visuals, all glossily updated from the first game, are something of a curate's egg. The E3 build PALGN saw showed off some exemplary character models, and the cars are a step up from what could be driven in the first title, and are blessed with tweaked, more forgiving damage models (to be honest, the cars in the first game tended to crumple like tissue at the nearest sight of a lamppost - realistic perhaps, but not necessarily satisfying). London itself now boasts dozens of narrow alleys (and for the first time, we should add, motorbikes to drive through them on), so we've got our fingers crossed for some cinematic driving-through-cardboard-boxes action.
The city is actually looking a lot more appealing as well, thanks to far sharper (if no more varied) textures than those in the first game. On the other hand, it's still all so terribly grey, which PALGN guesses is the price of 'realism'. Nevertheless, there's none of the evocative or moody hues and colours that feature heavily in the forthcoming Grand Theft Auto. Make your own judgement in the media section.
All of which begs the question: what are Team Soho doing about that camera? As we mentioned above, The Getaway's camera system was one of the most unruly we've encountered in this generation. When it wasn't hiding behind a wall, it was right behind your head and off to one side a bit, all whilst poor Mark Hammond was filled to the eyeballs with lead. Team Soho have spoken at length in interviews about their intentions to drastically revise the camera, though having seen the E3 build, PALGN can't help but think they're leaving it a little late for such big overhauls - the game is due in PAL territories this November (US audiences have to wait for 2005 - hurrah!) so we'll be pleasantly surprised if the camera really has evolved to an acceptable level by launch.
Ironically, the ineptitude of the in-game camera contrasts markedly with the excellence of the camera-work in the cut-scenes - in the short amount of footage PALGN was privy to, the already impressive cut-scenes of the original have been bettered, with superior animation, lip-synch and the best voice-acting this side of The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay: presentation-wise, Team Soho have hit the nail squarely on the head. On the subject of presentation, ragdoll physics have now been introduced (allowing the sap you're beating to death with a baseball bat the privilege of dying even more convincingly), and the game-world has begun to acquire a new level of interactivity, with lights that can be switched on and bottles that can be shattered. They're nice touches, but they're also something we'd trade in a flash for a useable camera. With any luck, Team Soho will have both.
The developer's cinematic fixation is still very much present however, and we fear it could once again backfire. Thus, there's still no on-screen ammo guage, health meter or, perhaps most criminally, no map. This minimalist approach worked beautifully in the likes of Ico, though not quite so well in a game where navigation is such a vital component. We shall, as they say, see. That's it for now though - come back for PALGN's review in November, or prepare to have your teeth smashed in real nice with a pool cue. Maybe.