Like most of my reviews, I’m not going to explain the whole game, I assume you already know basically what this game is about. Click on any screenshot to see the full-size version.
You play as Trane, a graffiti artist in New Radius, a fictional city. You climb around tagging stuff and beating up cops (known as CCK) and rival crews.
Ever since I heard about this game, I was interested in it. Something about it really grabbed my attention. It sounded like a semi-realistic experience unlike any other. There are obvious comparisons to Jet Grind Radio that can be made, but it was because of the ways it wasn’t like JGR that drew me to it. I beat JGR on Dreamcast and really liked it, but I wanted something more realistic. Something that really made you feel like you were in a real city doing real things, but things you’d never do, or couldn’t do, in real life. I wanted to climb up buildings and along subway cars.
For the record, I don’t go for name brand stuff. I wear $10 pants from clearance racks. So as far as the Ecko brand goes, I really don’t know or care about it. However, after watching/reading a bunch of interviews with Marc Ecko, he actually seems like a cool guy. He grew up around graffiti, and this game was really a labor of love for him. He also really knows what’s going on with video games, believe it or not. It’s not some lame cash-in, he actually understands the industry. I don’t get what’s with all the haters. If you played it and hated it that’s fine, but a lot of people seem to automatically say it sucks just because it’s made by Ecko. Obviously it’s a money-making venture (what isn’t?), but they really tried to make a good game, and went all out on it.
So, ignoring who it was made by, how is it as a game?
- The presentation is great.
- The menu system is styled after the subway. You start at the turnstiles, and go through when you load your game. Each menu looks like a destination board (whatever they’re called). When you select “missions” the camera zooms down the tunnel to a new menu. The mission-select screen is inside the train, with each “stop” being a submenu that contains 2-5 missions. Select a mission and the train starts moving to your stop (then cuts to loading screen). It’s pretty clever, although you have to hit way too many buttons just to load your game. You can go back and play any mission at any time though, which is awesome.
- The cutscenes are fantastic.
- Not really a surprise when you learn that this was originally going to be some sort of film, possibly animated (and apparently there is talk of making it into a movie still). There are in-game cutscenes and rendered ones — I’m talking about the latter. They’re incredibly cool and well directed. For instance, there’s a part where Trane is walking through a crowd of people, and everyone is blurry and desaturated, but he’s vibrant (see screenshot). There’s another part where they’re talking about the past, and the scene blends into the flashback with the narrator walking through the scene. Hard to describe in text, but they’re great, even if it’s a little too “MTV” some of the time.
- The combat looks cool.
- They made up a “Dunk-fu” style for the game. Trane spins and jumps into people as if he’s playing basketball, sans the ball. It makes a lot of sense for this game, much better than if he’d been doing real karate. Not as cool as the Gunkata in Equilibrium though.
- The control can be nice.
- Trane automatically grabs onto things. Run up to a vertical pipe, he’ll grab and start climbing. Get to the top crossbeam, push left or right and he’ll shimmy that way. Press jump twice and he’ll jump off the wall and automatically catch the ledge or whatever behind him. If you run off a platform, he’ll (usually) drop down, turn, and grab the edge. It’s actually nice not needing to worry about falling off stuff (as long as you don’t actively jump off or something).
- The levels are pretty cool later on.
- They start off small, but eventually you’re climbing up bridges and over freeways in some pretty giant levels. Like I said, this was the main thing I wanted out of the game, and it mostly delivered. I wish it had felt a bit more real though, like if when climbing up a tall bridge, the music dies down, and all you hear is the wind and Trane’s heart beating faster. That could have made the whole thing more intense. The fact that Trane can’t fall actually kills a bit of the excitement, since there’s very little danger while climbing.
- The graffiti is well done.
- You hold a button and move the analog stick around to apply the paint. If you hold too long on one spot, you drip. Shake the analog to shake the can and get more pressure. It’s actually fairly natural. There are multiple mediums to use though, like paint rollers, markers, stencils. Wheat paste makes you apply paste, then hit a different button to apply the paper.
At one point the graffiti mechanic was going to be like a music game. Sort of Gitaroo-Man type button presses on curving lines. I would have liked that of course, but I think the way it ended up ultimately was the better choice. It’s much more like you’re actually painting the walls, and it’s done pretty well.
As for the actual art, it’s great. A lot of it is quite funny, the way you modify existing things. Like there’s a billboard of the mayor giving two thumbs up, so you apply posters of guns in each hand. Or you’ll modify a rival crew’s cartoon so the person is now in diapers. There are a whole bunch of different ones, and it’s one of the strong points.
- The voice acting.
- They got a lot of famous people: Rosario Dawson, Brittany Murphy, Giovanni Ribisi, Charlie Murphy, The RZA, and others. Talib Kweli voices Trane, and does a great job. There are a couple odd choices, like Adam West as the police chief — it just doesn’t fit, partly because he delivers the lines exactly the same he does in Family Guy as the mayor (my favorite FG character)…not scary, just weird. Then there are the Legends (actual graffiti legends) who mostly can’t act at all, but that’s forgivable and it’s cool that they’re there.
- The music.
- There are a whole bunch of licensed songs in the game, which you can listen to from the menu if you’ve unlocked them (or entered the code). The music fits the game well, and some of it is really good. Any game with “Sinnerman” in it is okay by me (you may remember it from the remake of “The Thomas Crown Affair”).
- The Limited Edition set is the best LE ever.
- This has nothing to do with the actual game, but seriously, this thing is incredible. It has the game, a black book, a soundtrack CD, a making-of/documentary DVD, and a silver Sharpie with the Getting Up logo on it, all in a big metal box. The black book has a giant silver TRANE tag written across the cover, and inside is concept art, profiles of the legends, etc. The DVD has a 30-minute documentary on graf culture, with interviews. It also has some making-of stuff, and a whole “how to play” section with tips. Unfortunately there’s no Sinnerman on the soundtrack, but it has a lot of the others, including “Wanted” by Rhymefest.
- The combat gets a little boring.
- It’s cool, but repetitive, and a little unresponsive. You basically just button mash, although there are some combos you can do. The enemies were blocking all my hits (except power moves) until I realized you’re really supposed to dodge a lot (to roll behind them), and then it got a bit better. If you get too many enemies on you they’ll just beat you down each time you try to get up, and it gets annoying really fast. You can throw people off of buildings, so that’s at least a little fun.
- Stealth certainly makes sense in this type of game. You’re sneaking around a city doing illegal things, with lots of cops around. If you get spotted you get flooded with guards, and have to hide until things settle down. If you’re the impatient type, you may get annoyed (although running away wouldn’t be such a chore if you had more control). So, it’s not horrible, it’s not great, and whether you like it or not pretty much just depends on you. I guess looking back there wasn’t that much stealth, but there were times when I wanted to stop playing.
- The shadows can get crazy.
- Most of the time the shadows look normal, but there’s something weird with the engine where shadows will pass through walls, or the shadows will go down walls when someone is above you nowhere near the edge. Seeing something like that really breaks the illusion.
- The control is crap.
- Trane automatically grabs onto stuff, even when you don’t want him to. Sometimes you’re actually fighting against him to regain control. At the same time, the auto-grab doesn’t always work. Sometimes if you’re at slightly the wrong angle it won’t catch, so you’ll be jumping back and forth trying to get him to grab the edge.
They use a lot of the same buttons for different things. The biggest offender is probably “B.” Use it to dodge an enemy. Use it to pick up a weapon or health pack. Use it (with R) to make a flame thrower — as long as you’re not holding a weapon that you just accidentally picked up since it also uses B. Want to save those health packs for later? Be sure not to dodge an enemy near them!
It’s also really slow when you’re walking across pipes, or hanging. Turning around takes a million pushes on the analog stick, and every intersection makes you pause. Granted, doing that in real life wouldn’t be quick, but Trane doesn’t seem to go where you want him to a lot of the time, and there’s no suspense because he can’t fall. The direction you have to move the analog doesn’t seem consistent. Sometimes you have to push relative to the camera, sometimes relative to Trane, it’s never clear.
- The camera is idiotic!
- It’s your typical third person camera, but it doesn’t always allow you to move it around. When you’re climbing up poles, for instance, you can only sort of tilt the camera back and forth, not spin it around. I constantly had sections where I was supposed to jump from pipe to pipe, but I couldn’t see anything! Why are you showing me the ground? I’m trying to jump UP! Sometimes you have to just fall back down, use the first-person view (only lets you use it while standing, sometimes not even then), memorize the area, then go do the jumps blind. Ridiculous.
That’s not even the only problem though! The camera tries to be “smart,” and zoom out/lock on to nearby enemies so you can see them all. Makes sense, right? Well if you’re in a room with multiple enemies, trying to fight one, the camera keeps moving around to show the others! Just let me see the enemy I’m fighting! Or you’ll be hiding behind something during a stealth section, and the camera will keep changing angles to lock on an enemy, so you can no longer see the other enemies or what you’re trying to do. Then there’s running. You’ll try to run away, but with every enemy you pass the camera will jerk over and zoom out. There are times when you’re rounding a corner and disappear because the camera is lagged so far behind! Worse still, if you’re trying to line up a jump with enemies around, the camera will move, you’ll miss, and possibly fall to your death.
So not only are you fighting enemies throughout the game, you actually have to fight the camera! I would have much preferred a dumb camera.
Other reviews have mentioned glitches, like beating a boss but the game not realizing it (so you’re stuck), or the whole game freezing. I didn’t experience a single glitch, however (unless you consider the entire camera system a glitch…).
Graffiti has always intrigued me, but it wasn’t an interest of mine. So that hasn’t affected my view of this game. People who are already really interested in it (or do it) may like this game more. After beating the game, I’m now more interested in learning about it, and have read a bit more about it. For instance, did you know one of the most common types of graffiti, bathroom graffiti, is called “Latrinalia”? On the message boards many other people have posted that they are now interested in graffiti. So, they have at least achieved that goal.
If you judge a game based on how many times you almost throw your controller at your TV…well this might not be a very good game. But if you can get around the camera issues there is a pretty good story and a different experience to be had. On the plus side there is a level select code, as well as infinite health, so if you get fed up just use those and check out the rest of the game, it’s at least worth that. I’ll definitely see the Getting Up movie if it gets made.