Games time forgot: The Getaway: Black Monday

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I’ll admit it — I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for extremely flawed games. The Getaway: Black Monday could never be mistaken for a great game, but hell if I don’t enjoy it: for in addition to including a heaping helping of London accents and overcast weather (two other things I have soft spots in my heart for), it’s also a realistic, minimalist Grand Theft Auto clone with multiple protagonists, a branching storyline, and a faithful, virtual recreation of the city of London.

This sequel to 2003’s The Getaway isn’t the most accessible or polished game ever made, but if one can look past its faults — and dear lawd, there are a lot of them — there’s actually quite a bit to love.

Story:

Black Monday revolves around three playable characters: Ben Mitchell, a London cop whose reputation was tarnished after he shot a fleeing suspect in the back; Eddie O’Connor, a boxer-cum gangster, and Sam, a pre-teen computer hacker. Sam is a patently useless character and really doesn’t belong in the game from either a narrative or gameplay perspective, but Ben and Eddie are both interesting characters: Ben is something of a villain amongst cops, while Eddie is kind of a saint amongst criminals.

Plot-wise, the game has practically zero connections to the original Getaway. For those who really want to know, however, Black Monday takes place two years after the original Getaway.

The plot unravels like a typical action film: the game opens as Ben Mitchell and the rest of his cop buddies raid an apartment complex, then moves to Eddie who is forced to flee from the mob after they murder his trainer, then to Sam who basically just sneaks around and acts like a ditz. By the end of the game, the three characters’ stories will become inextricably joined as they fight Yardies, Brit thugs, and Russian mobsters. All the staples of your typical crime film are present: the suitcase full of diamonds, the gangster turning on his own kind, the kidnapping, and the climactic shootout. If nothing else, The Getaway accurately recreates the feel of watching a film, in every aspect of its presentation. But what do I mean by that?

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Gameplay:

The entire point of The Getaway series is to essentially make the player forget he’s playing a game. Every design choice is made to keep the player immersed in the world and the story. When driving to a mission location, for instance, there is no minimap to speak of and no large, Crazy Taxi-esque pointer atop the screen that tells the player where to go. Instead, the player simply has to follow the turn signals of his car: if the player needs to turn right to get closer to his objective, his right turn signal will blink. If the player needs to turn left, the left signal blinks. A little bizarre, to be sure, but damned clever and it works most of the time (and when it doesn’t, there’s always a city map available in the pause menu).

Similarly, the player has no health bar to speak of: damage is measured by the number and size of bloodstains on the player character’s body. If Eddie has a large, red exit wound on his back, he’s been wounded; if his entire back is red and he’s limping, perhaps it’s time to take a rest — which brings me to the next major design choice. In Black Monday, the player doesn’t heal through eating food or using myriad first aid kits (there are a few FAK’s in every level, but not so many that the player can rely on them), but by simply leaning against a wall. After taking a few shots, the player can manuever to any wall in the game and wait next to it, at which point the onscreen character will lean on the wall with his hand and slowly recatch his breath. Blood spots will slowly and gradually fade away, and, eventually, the player will have recouped at least half of the health he lost. This design choice has resulted in a lot of mockery for the Getaway series — I’ve frequently heard the games referred to as “those GTA games where you can lean against a wall to heal yourself — but I personally think it a clever, unobtrusive way of  healing your character.

And besides, it’s not like the player can take two dozen shots to the chest and keep moving: a single well-placed shotgun round or a few pistol shots are usually enough to kill the player, or any enemy found in the game. As a result, the gunfights tend to take on a very cool, very realistic feel: whether you’re using a submachine gun as Ben or dual-wielding pistols as Eddie, it’s remarkably satisfying to kill a half-dozen gangsters with eight or nine carefully-aimed pistol shots — not to mention how badass it feels to walk into a room and see a gangster randomly take an innocent bystander hostage, just before manually aiming with your pistol (there’s no target reticule: the sight of your gun is your only indication of where your bullet will go) and popping a single bullet into his face, sending him ragdolling to the floor.

In terms of transportation, the entire city of London is faithfully recreated and, at any point, the player can drive around and visit London’s more famous landmarks. As someone whose knowledge of the UK doesn’t extend beyond Simon Pegg, Doctor Who, and David Houghton, I only recognized Big Ben. Still, it’s all there — should you have an interest in London but lack the financial means to actually visit it, Black Monday isn’t a bad substitute. 

All that said, however, Black Monday still has some serious faults. When controlling Ben Mitchell, for instance, the player can press the circle button near any bad guy and Ben will immediately arrest him. This wouldn’t be so ludicrous were it not for the fact that (A) the criminal will not resist in any way whatsoever during the arrest and (B) other bad guys in the immediate vicinity will stop shooting at the player once he begins to arrest someone. Eesh.

Even worse, though, are Sam’s sneaking missions. Why decent games will continue to implement broken, unnecessary sneaking missions as a way of padding the play length is beyond me. These missions aren’t necessarily difficult, per se, but they’re totally illogical (Sam can get an inch away from a baddie when his back is turned without alerting him, but if an enemy is facing her while she’s over two football fields away he’ll set off an alarm), they kill the pace, and they’re really not integral to the story or gameplay. 

Beyond this, the camera is horrendous and the shooting controls aren’t the best in the world (manual aim > targeting aim, trust me). It takes a while to overcome the fact that when you walk into a room you’ll have to manually move the camera around to see where the baddies are, but you’ll get there…eventually.

Make no mistake: as an actual game, Black Monday is pretty damn bad. As an interactive, immersive London gangster film, it’s rather enjoyable.

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Why You Probably Haven’t Played It:

Because it got abysmal reviews, that’s why. I can’t in good conscience blame anyone for scoring Black Mondaypoorly: for the majority of gamers, the irritation of the sneaking missions or Mitchell’s magic arrest ability could understandably be enough to leave sour tastes in the mouths of less forgiving gamers. 

Add to this, of course, the fact that Black Monday is a sequel to a game that has almost the exact same problems. While Black Monday sped up traffic and increased the amount of damage each car can take, it still remains more or less the same game as The Getaway. From a sales perspective, this problem was twofold: firstly, gamers who played and hated the first one would read reviews chastizing the game’s inability to “improve” on its own mechanics, and secondly, gamers who hadn’t played the first might mistakenly think that the plots were linked somehow when they most assuredly aren’t.

The Getawaygames are not for everyone. Their focus on immersion and storytelling is often compromised by frustrating game mechanics, and, for the majority of gamers, the former will always take a backseat to the latter. The Getaway appeals most to those who have an unnatural obsession with all things London and/or gangster, or for those who just want to experience an interesting, immersive, branching story and are willing to forgive quite a few gameplay cock-ups along the way. 

So, should you bother getting it? Personally, I’d say so. It’s only 100 points on Goozex, and it usually goes for fifteen bucks or less on eBay. If nothing else, the game functions as a virtual London vacation, filtered through the eyes of someone whose only experience with the city was the original Get Carter: the sky is perpetually overcast, everyone curses a lot, and one out of every fifty people have a gun. And — best of all — no Chavs.


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