Few games have divided opinion more than The Getaway. In fact several members of EG have had full blown handbags-at-ten-paces rows with various close mates attempting to defend what some people deem an indefensible game. We've all made up since, of course [lies! -Tom] [damned lies! -Rob], but whenever Team Soho's gangland London crime opus is mentioned, there's that knowing look. Now we get a chance to fall out all over again as the first information on the full-blown sequel begins to disseminate, courtesy of the UK Official PlayStation 2 magazine and its World Exclusive four-page feature.
In contrast to the ridiculously ambitious claims made about the original to Edge magazine four years ago, Sony is being far more measured this time around, and is playing its cards close to its chest by comparison, revealing little in the way of new features, characters or storyline. Always useful in a four page cover feature, chaps.
It's literally The Getaway, like, 2
But what we did manage to glean is that the game is definitely not the mission pack originally mooted, and will be a full-fledged standalone sequel set two years after the original, and embellished with an all new cast and new gangs. The original lead characters have been axed, for starters. Out goes Mockney geezer Mark 'unlucky' Hammond and morally dubious cop DC Carter, and in comes thug-for-hire Eddie 'O Connor, a crop-haired East ender with a taste for too-tight V-neck jumpers. It said 'hand wash only', Eddie.
Apparently he's a successful local boxer on the amateur scene, as well as part time bouncer and general hired muscle for the local mob. Well 'ard, and apparently sucked into the seedy criminal underworld on account of blackmail, or so the theory goes, as Sony's simply not letting on. As for the new gangs, Sony's not letting on, but rumours abound that Eastern European mobs are muscling in for a piece of the action, no doubt raising a few AKs among the Triad and Yardie stalwarts.
One of the excellent innovations of the original was to play the same timeline from two contrasting perspectives, making it feel like two games in one. But, interestingly, it would seem that Sony isn't content just to rehash the idea for the sequel, and is going even further with its use of narrative structure, with the game playable from multiple perspectives - maybe interspersed at different points in the game and on Tarantino-style timelines, Here's hoping.
Twisting my lemon man
The game's director Naresh Hirani shed some further light on the matter in the latest issue of Official PlayStation Magazine: "The star is gangland London. The new Getaway picks up two years later and tells a new story. London has moved on, some of the gangs are still there, but new ones are muscling in on their turf. The idea of the first game was to show two sides of the same story, concurrent episodes in a gangster flick. There are not two strands... there are more... and a twist". Ooooh, we like twists. Unless someone tells us about it beforehand, Sixth Sense-style.
Team Soho is once again setting the game within the same 'Zone 1' area of London that proved such an irresistible backdrop for the original, resisting the temptation (and technical/logistical nightmare) of expanding the play area to include other parts of the sprawling Metropolis [including my old house in "Special Fares Apply -Tom]. Speaking in OPSM2 UK, Hirani explained the decision: "The Getaway's focus has always been central London, that's the interesting part. The story takes you through a new set of locations and we've added much more depth to the city.
"The focus this time has been to add more detail. There really was no point in expanding the city outwards to the suburbs. For one thing, it's not much fun driving around Wembley." I second that, after a particularly nightmarish trawl around Ikea yesterday. I really did lose the will to live. You're lucky I'm even here to tell the tale. You never know, Sony might relent and set an entire mission in the Wembley Ikea that tasks O' Connor with massacring the trolley wielding throng, taking time to make sure that those that clog up the aisles get the head shots.
Enough of my mass murder fantasies. Team Soho is also looking to improve on the authenticity of the city, having installed a fully (dis)functional Underground system, as well as upping the detail level. Hirani says: "There has been a massive overhaul in the graphics engine, enabling us to create much more atmospheric and more densely populated scenes." Let's hope they also open up some of the areas that were cordoned off, as most of the 28 square miles recreated was limited to main roads, with only the Soho hub getting the degree of accuracy and detail originally promised. One area we're looking forward to is the promised rooftop chase mission, which Mafia and GTA have previously dealt with brilliantly. Fancy a chase across the Houses of Parliament?
Combat is another area getting a much-needed overhaul, which suffered from often infuriating limitations and a general unresponsiveness in the original: "There are some great additions to the character combat move set," he says, without actually telling us anything at all. "Some are now unique to specific characters and locations." Come on, you can do better than that. The stealth element has also been enhanced a notch too, with plenty of lurking in the shadows Sam Fisher-style expected.
"Overall, the ambition is to add depth across the whole experience. From the actors' performances to the police AI and the sheer size and scale of the [interior] locations," Hirani enthuses. We agree the acting wasn't always first class, despite Sony's (at the time) rather smug proclamations that it was movie standard. We've also got to applaud any improvements to the AI, which was pretty demented throughout, with Police cars behaving like suicide bombers if you so much as jumped a red light, and a general scarcity of pedestrians making London feel like the early part of 28 Days Later. Let's hope the PS2 can cope, as The Getaway didn't exactly boast the nippiest frame rate for all its visual splendour.
And what of vehicles? "I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised at the range of vehicles we've got for the game," Hirani promises. "We've been working really hard on the dynamics and making huge improvements to the exterior gameplay overall. This time around we have much more variety in both the structure of the missions and the types you get to play." And the wardrobe, apparently, with "several big name clothing designers hired" for the project, if that matters to you.
All round, it sounds as if Sony has listened to the feedback generated by the original and is looking to deliver a game closer to the vision intended. It's fair to say that although we loved The Getaway for its atmosphere and the occasional show-stopping mission (the Police Station and Yardie drug den, for example were standout moments in gaming history in this writer's humble opinion), we'd be the first to acknowledge that there was plenty of room for improvement.
The truth will out
How much influence Naresh Hirani will have over the project compared to the original writer/director Brendan McNamara remains to be seen, but it's a game that is certain to generate huge interest when it makes its expected debut at E3 in May. At that point we might have a better idea of how these claims stand up, and a little more regarding the storyline. But until then, check out the first batch of screenshots that Sony released late last week, and we'll bring you the latest news as we get it for this key late 2004 release.
For the full feature, check out the latest issue of Official PlayStation 2 Magazine UK, on sale now.