Developer: The Collective
Release Date: February 14, 2006
Marc Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure is a game that obliterates itself at every turn. It's not just that it's a bad game – it's not an unmitigated disaster, as there are a lot of good ideas and new concepts here. It's just that for every interesting thing it tries, it is defeated by some technical issue or halfway-conceived artistic development.
We can use any aspect of the title as an example of this, and it's all equally relevant. Getting Up has a fairly innovative take on gameplay mechanics, attempting to mix street-style brawling with elaborate jumping and climbing puzzles and a new take on player-involved graffiti tagging. It's one part generic action game, one part Prince of Persia, and one part Jet Set Radio – which is fine in theory, but the mixing sure didn't seem to go well. The combat is fairly representative of desperate bare-knuckle urban combat, but there's almost no depth to it, and it grows exceptionally frustrating as levels wear on. The graffiti is brightly colored, but the simple "hold the button to spray, but too long in one place makes it drip" mechanics of tagging is actually pretty boring (don't even get me started on wheat paste tags – you'll want to stop using those pretty much immediately).
However, the most depressing thing is the Prince of Persia-like climbing element. In theory, it should be the best part of the title – who wouldn't want to go climbing all over a dense urban sprawl; the very idea of it is so viscerally appealing – but in actuality, it's the worst part because the controls simply don't work. See, the sidling system doesn't map the controller direction based on camera angle, so you'll never really know for sure what direction on the analog stick will put your character, Trane, where you want him to go. The balance beam controls make it highly unlikely that you'll be able to just step onto a perpendicular beam without walking right past it five or six times first. And then there are times where it's simply not clear what texture you can climb and what ledges you can hang off of. It makes the whole thing a deeply frustrating chore.
If that's not enough, the game has to go ahead and use these completely broken controls in a myriad of challenges – and honestly, the combination is enough to break even a strong man. Try the levels where you have to tag trains while they're running (hint: to go up the train, try down-right on the analog stick. I know the train is going up. I'm saving you some aggravation here). Or the parts where you have to perform enormous tags on the sides of buildings while being chased by a machine-gun-toting spotlight (hint: let a friend play these for you). These levels leave a terrible impression upon the player, who just has to grit his teeth and wait to get lucky enough to move past them.
But there's nothing really to look forward to past that, because the game is a technical nightmare. The graphics are good – very good, actually, some of the best I've seen in this style on PS2 – but textures and level geometry occasionally clip out at the edges, especially graffiti tags. The music can be good, and while it may not be all to your preference, most people should find a couple of songs to their liking (and a couple of brutally offensive ones). So you may want to choose to listen to these songs on your "iPod," which is actually not available in-game at all – you have to go all the way out to the main menu to listen to it. Wait, I have to stop playing to listen to music? Well, at least that means you're not playing the game, I guess.
But the gameplay bugs are the most infuriating, because there are so many of them. There's a stealth mode, sort of, which lets you sneak up on enemies and hit them with a strong, potentially one-hit one-kill attack – except sometimes it just won't work, will go right through the guard, and then you're left to deal with them in standard combat. That wouldn't be so bad if it weren't nearly impossible to deal with some parts without thinning out the enemies first, making this glitch potentially fatal. Once you do get into the combat, there are plenty of weird ways for the AI opponents to get hung up on the level geometry, or not notice you at all, or to just casually walk off a ledge. Sometimes, you will be hiding, and the enemies will be looking right at you while making comments about not knowing where you are. Sometimes, the enemies will just disappear. You will leave to get a weapon, and when you come back, they will be gone. This happened to me in the helicopter-tagging level; that level was a boss fight. Think about that.
So if every problem were technical, that would be one thing, but Getting Up has some major problems on the creative side as well. I'm not talking about the urban setting and themes here because it actually does that part rather well, although I have to admit I found the slang hilarious. The game keeps saying that Trane just wants to "get his name up," as in make himself known for his graffiti art. It's rebellious because, well, it's graffiti, but the game doesn't nurture that idea alone, that idea of freedom of expression – instead, it throws in some cock-eyed revenge story involving your father and the mayor, when that type of personal struggle dilutes the original message of the game. Then, it drapes itself in branding, of which Marc Ecko's rhinoceros is but a single offender; exactly what am I rebelling against here?
There's also the question of graffiti as art, which the game addresses in its dedication, and in its cops rather nonchalantly stating, "Art is a crime!" in one out of every two battles. So why is it that nearly every tag you can put up in the game is either your name or some incredibly immature dirty joke or epithet? If you're just going to out and tell me that graffiti can be art in your dedication, why not include any of that thought-provoking graffiti in the game? I had to do my own research before I was convinced that the game wasn't lying to me.
It's sad, because Marc Ecko's Getting Up: Content Under Pressure has a lot of unique elements going for it, especially in a world of me-too urban action games that survive on controversy but add nothing to the culture, either of gaming or in general. Getting Up, for all its problems, at least tries to shake things up. It's just so technically unstable, so frustrating so often, so confusing in its themes (but at least it has themes) that it's left not thought-provoking, not entertaining, and not recommendable. There may yet be a good game somewhere in this structure, somewhere in Marc Ecko's head; there are certainly seeds of it here. Getting Up is absolutely not that game, and you should avoid it.
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