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The Getaway: Black Monday

1 rating: -3.0
Action video game by Sony for the PlayStation 2

The Getaway: Black Monday fuses gaming and cinematic storytelling for a unique interactive entertainment experience. Explore more than 25 square miles of London, including portions of the Underground subway. Interact with London gangs and crime scenes … see full wiki

Release Date: November, 2004
1 review about The Getaway: Black Monday

I Want to Get Away...

  • Feb 8, 2010
Rating:
-3
Pros: Incredible cutscenes offer movie feel

Cons: Restricted camera, poor design, lousy characters, well, lots of things really

The Bottom Line: A shameless ripoff of Grand Theft Auto. My original Netjak rating was actually higher than it should have been.

Note: This is another in my series of old Netjak reviews. I'm trying to preserve my old reviews from Netjak in case the site gets erased again.

Most gamers probably don’t know it, but there are a number of general features in action games that we take for granted. Those features include: healing kits, a camera with 360 degrees of control, lighting, and artificial intelligence. Playing The Getaway: Black Monday is akin to going through one of those really awful, life-altering experiences in that once it’s over, you’re relieved that it’s over, you’re proud of yourself for sticking it out, and appreciative of all the little things you never had while enduring said experience. Black Monday lacks a lot of those little things. So, while we may take them for granted and even whine about their flaws in other games, in our hearts we’re glad someone at least had the courtesy to put them there.

The Getaway: Black Monday, of course, was set up to be sort of a British response to the Rockstar cash cow known as Grand Theft Auto. And in certain aspects, this David one-ups the gaming Goliath it set out to conquer in the visual, story, and city reproduction accuracy departments. For my European readers, I’ll set the record straight. Black Monday takes place in the very real city of London, or more accurately 25 square miles of it that, according to Eurogamer, are re-created with stunning accuracy. (I wouldn’t know because I’ve never been there.) Even the weather in Black Monday is a reproduction of London’s notorious cloudiness. By contrast, there’s no such state in the United States known as San Andreas. San Andreas is an inaccurate stand-in for the state of California. In Black Monday, the unique flow of the story is something out of the ordinary. Instead of playing as a single character throughout the game, you take on the guises of three separate characters whose stories intertwine. Then you get to choose your own destiny. I personally thought this kind of story flow was a cool idea that added a dash of much-needed spice to an otherwise banal element of the game. Black Monday also has immeasurably better graphics than its American-based counterpart.

Now I hope you guys (by that I’m addressing the Euros again) aren’t busy letting your heads swell up with European continentalism over what I said in the last paragraph. Please don’t read me wrong; I don’t think there’s anything bad about having pride in your country (or continent, since I’m addressing Europeans as a whole). I’m guilty of it myself. However, I’m not just some stubborn Yank who likes to Euro-bash for the sake of Euro-bashing. So please don’t think of me in that manner after what I’m about to do to this rail-running, European-flavored knock-off of Grand Theft Auto.

While I do very willingly admit the graphical superiority of Black Monday to San Andreas, that admittance is meant be taken with a grain of salt. I suspect that part of the reason for San Andreas’ lack of quality visuals has to do with the sheer scope of the game. The number of missions in San Andreas rolls in at around 100, which the story takes you to via the massive cities of Los Santos (a fictional stand-in for Los Angeles, which is in California,) San Fierro (standing in for San Francisco, also in California,) and Las Venturas (standing in for Las Vegas, which is actually in neighboring state Nevada.) While London may be real and accurately represented, Black Monday coughs up just over 20 total missions. There are fewer missions in the entirety of Black Monday than there are in the city of Los Santos alone in San Andreas! Thanks to the game’s design flaws, many of the missions are also easier than they’re intended - that is, once you figure out which flaws work for you and which ones work against you.


There are so many design flaws in The Getaway: Black Monday, I can’t even figure out where to start. I guess a logical starting point would be the vaunted non- or semi-linearity of the game. When you think of a structure lacking linearity, you tend to think you’ll be tackling missions whenever you please, saving whenever you please, and running around town as you please. So to those who speak of Black Monday’s supposed lack of linearity, I say: Oh please! Black Monday couldn’t be more linear if it took place on a train. Whenever a mission ends, a cutscene jumps you from one part of the story to the next, and so by default you’re always running a mission - and thus, always following turning signals, or chasing, or being chased. It’s true that some missions allow you to roam free around the streets of London, but I doubt many people will take the opportunity to explore with the game using every cue it can to direct you to your next objective. There is one good thing about the pseudo-linearity, but even that’s ironic: The miles of London that are boxed off for the game contain none of the unique little nooks or crannies which make non-linear, living cities worth exploring. So while the good aspect is that you can always get back on track easily, that good aspect is cancelled out by the fact there’s nothing to see or do.

I find it incredibly odd that a city so detailed and vibrant would be so limited in its interactivity. What the developers failed to understand is that part of the reason Liberty City, Vice City, and San Andreas are so fun is because of the abundance of goodies. Grand Theft Auto contained multiple layers of cities that allowed you to fly cars off buildings, shoot people from above, search for hidden extras, and play mini-games almost at will. When you were finished all of that, it was always fun to just start up a scuffle and shoot it out with the fuzz when they got angry at you. But in Getaway London, however, you can’t have this kind of fun. In fact, save running over unsuspecting pedestrians and into other vehicles, London is stoical to a fault. I’ve already noted the beauty and detail of the city; it seems the designers were hell-bent on keeping it that way. Other than people or cars, collisions do nothing! Run into a street light or a divider at high speed and you car will get smashed. But the fixture? It’ll just keep right on smiling.

In another irony, the best segments of Black Monday are the challenging chase sequences. Unfortunately, the challenge is a result of the game’s flaws. The most obvious crime in the driving sequences is the vehicles’ handling. As would be expected, each vehicle handles in its own way. However, the one common handling element of all the vehicles is the horrendous aquaplaning. One slight tap of the controller is enough to send the vehicle veering off its course and into the nearest tree. Regaining control of the vehicle requires an endless series of back-and-forth button taps - all while avoiding the significantly backed-up traffic in the very narrow streets. The aquaplaning teams up with a ridiculously slow acceleration time and rubber-band enemy drivers to create the rest of the challenge in the driving sequences. As you hightail it out of a tight spot, the enemy cars will always find ways to catch you, swarm you, and shoot at you as you slam into every known object in the streets, back up, and slowly zoom away from their blazing guns - only to have them catch right back up to you, no matter how fast you were going. Consider it a blessing that the vehicles you’ll be manning can take an almost unlimited amount of punishment.

I’ll now resign myself from remarks about the driving mechanics, since the majority of the game takes place on foot anyhow. This is not a good thing; the lack of both variety and challenge in foot missions makes them a fine cure for insomnia. I can’t say a whole lot about the flow of the action because there’s not a whole lot to say. The foot levels are laid out terribly; the action you see comes in stop-start fashion. So instead of a steady stream of enemies coming from all sides, you walk into an area, clear it out, and on to the next area while your teammates perform mop-up duty. Area-clearing is a simple, painless job in Black Monday thanks to an overly generous targeting mode: The R1 button and the square button are all you’ll ever need. Walk into a room, press R1, press square until enemy is a bullet-riddled cadaver. The targeting lock is even more useful than it sounds, because it will go through the trouble of finding enemies you’re not supposed to see and allow you to take them out. The enemies themselves are not averse to lending you a helping hand either. While a few of them manage to find cover behind foreground scenery, most of them just rush straight at you, practically lining up just so you can gun them down. If you’re up to it, you have the option of just walking up to a bad guy and slapping him with the cuffs. Even if you try this, the enemy won’t try to escape, and his friends are all nice enough to stop shooting at you long enough for you to make the arrest.

Of course, if you do decide to rush in to make the arrest, it’s naturally conceivable that you’ll absorb a few enemy bullets in the process. Yet, health kits are few and far between. To remedy the overzealous pacifist cop, the designers cooked up one of the most ridiculously illogical health recovery systems ever seen: Here you are, all shot up, and about to go into another heavy fire area. So to cure what ails you, you can LEAN AGAINST A WALL. Yes, that’s right - walk up to any old wall, and your character will lean on it to slowly recover some health. Whatever merit this system may warrant is forgotten because of the stop-start action. So if you take one too many clearing out one area, it’s no problem; take a quick breather and wander right back into the thick of battle.

The camera in Black Monday is far from the first one I’ve ever complained about. But it’s definitely the one with the least amount of effort put into it. Instead of allowing you the full 360 degrees of freedom, Black Monday ties you to a chair, which is a real pain for those times when you want to really look around. You’re only given a few degrees of camera freedom to the left and right; if you want to quickly glance at an area, you have to actually step into it yourself. Granted there’s a wall-hugging stealth move which allows you to peer around corners, but you still have to expose yourself for a few seconds to get the full benefit of it. Also, the designers seemed to have a big problem with light. There are a number of dark areas in which you can’t really see anything. The first character, Ben "Mitch" Mitchell, has a flashlight with a very limited scope. Since you can’t see anything outside the beam, you’ll often find yourself lost and confused in the middle of a room. The second character, Eddie, is even more annoying because he doesn’t even have a flashlight. Therefore, it’s up to you to stumble through the game’s dark areas with Eddie, without the ability to see where you are. Making matters even worse is the mission summary: The cutscenes, while truly excellent, are incredibly vague in providing you with detailed information on your objective. The mission briefing in the options menu is no help either; you get a one-line summary of what you’re supposed to do, but not even the most obscure hint as to how it’s supposed to get done.

Any more whining at this point is merely repetition, but the last flaw worth pointing out is the characters. For all the well-written and acted cutscenes in Black Monday, the characters do nothing to help you like them. You are placed into the different worlds of three different characters: Cop Ben "Mitch" Mitchell, Eddie, and Sam. Mitch is your typical stoical police officer. He’s on his first day back from a two-year suspension which was the result of his accidentally shooting an innocent teenager in a raid, and he makes it clear that he’s still not over it. Eddie is a boxer-turned-bank robber, and Sam is one of his accomplices on a robbery. Again, the characters get lost in the thick of the game character lot. Eddie seems to have no real personality, and Sam is just your run-of-the-mill tough-as-nails chick. Their stories are told in brilliantly written cinematic cutscenes - which can’t be skipped over.

The graphics, as I’ve already stated, are outstanding. The scenery, even the bad weather of London, is colorfully rendered and very realistic. The character sprites are also very real-looking and they don’t contain any jaggies or other graphical limitations that are so painful to look at in Grand Theft Auto. The cutscenes are exceptional - they look and act like real movies, with the highest-quality computer animation I’ve yet seen. The sound is also outstanding. The voice acting is some of the best currently out there. The sounds are crystal-clear and lifelike. Unfortunately, you don’t get to choose your radio stations in the cars. Instead, you really just get to listen to the uninteresting sounds of London, along with the speech of whoever’s in the car with you. The music is barely there.

The Getaway: Black Monday may present itself as a contender for the nameless crown currently worn by Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. But between the silly design flaws, lack of challenge, and short length, Black Monday would be better off being called an expansion pack for a Grand Theft Auto game - and even that would be over-praising the game. While the story flow is incredibly clever, the lousy characters are a deterrent to it. If you can’t contain your curiosity, then just rent Black Monday and use a free afternoon to beat it and see what I mean. (And also see that I didn’t even cover every flaw in the game.) There’s no reason in the world to play The Getaway: Black Monday when the far-superior Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is a valid option.

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