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Game Daze: 'The Getaway' & 'Skies of Arcadia Legends'

Friday, March 21, 2003

By Cindi Lash, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

'The Getaway'

Too bad this one got away from the drawing board without a little more tweaking. We might have been writing about a truly great game, instead of one that has grand moments but also annoying faults.

"The Getaway" (PlayStation 2; Sony; $49.95; Rated Mature) aims to be a grown-up's driving adventure, mixing the behind-the-wheel craziness of "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City" with an oh-so-serious, mission-driven plot and an artsy, somber look that's more foreign film than video game.

It does a great job at re-creating the twisting streets of London, where reformed criminal Mark Hammond is searching for his kidnapped son and vigilante cop Frank Carter is trying to wipe out crime-syndicate head Charlie Jolson.

Sony bills "The Getaway" as more interactive movie than video game, and to some extent, that's true. The chilling opening, where Hammond sees his wife murdered and his child shoved into a car, are indeed a gripping mini-movie that immediately pulls you into the game. Character animation is terrific, and detailed 3-D settings that create an often-claustrophobic sense of place with no health meters or maps to clutter up the screen.

But all too often, you're subjected to a jittery third-person camera view that is just plain maddening, especially when it ruins a chase or mission that has your adrenaline surging. Either you're waiting for the camera to catch up, or you're trying to focus long enough to get out of the way of oncoming vehicles and take accurate aim at your enemies.

More often than not, you can't see well enough to save yourself from ending up dead or badly wounded. And when you are shot, it's ridiculously easy to recover your health.

First-aid and health packs have been eliminated in the name of realism, so the wounded Hammond or Carter simply lean against a wall and wheeze until blood evaporates from their clothing. Some realism there.

Gameplay was simple enough, and it was fun to be able to commandeer other vehicles from the street after we'd blown an engine or crashed. But vehicles overall didn't seem to have much pep. At first, we thought that was just due to our choices -- after all, a lumbering boat of a taxi and a double-decker bus won't zip along like an MG. But even snazzy cars didn't seem to have much get up and go.

Finally: the Mature rating here is more than warranted. Hookers may not be waiting in cars to restore Hammond's health, a la "Grand Theft Auto," but "The Getaway" spools out in a violent world.

Cops and mobsters shoot it out on the street, pedestrians risk being plowed over by careening cars and, straight out of a Guy Ritchie movie, characters address or insult you in nearly incomprehensible British slang. The word most clearly spoken is the big bad one, but you'll tune in more colorful cussing once your ear adjusts to the accents.

'Skies of Arcadia Legends'

When Sega stopped making its Dreamcast console two years ago, many of the finer titles in its library were lost to all but Dreamcast diehards who balked at moving on to another system.

Now in the business of making games for their former rivals, Sega has released an expanded "director's cut" of its well-regarded "Skies of Arcadia" role-playing game, this time for Nintendo's GameCube. This "Legends" version ($49.95; Rated Teen) looks and plays well, keeping the original game's sky pirates and ships, pastel island-in-the-air settings and complex story but adding new characters, better graphics and a speedier battle engine.

Ah, if only that engine weeded out as well as speeded up those battles. Arguably the greatest flaw of the original game was its over-dependence on turn-based combat. Seemed like every time you were on the verge of discovering something exciting, you had to stop in midstream and fight somebody.

We were hopeful that "Legends" would place more emphasis on adventure and exploration, but no luck. Still, "Legends" is lovely to look at and engaging to play, with a flowing symphonic soundtrack and a horde of unique characters who help or hinder young pirate Vyse on his quest to recover mystical sacred stones and save his people from evil enemies. But the people and places he encounters make it worthwhile to join his journey, particularly if you've never played the original game.

Click here for an archive of previous Interact articles

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