Monday, 12 December 2011

Game On #6. The Italian Job

"C'mon lads, get a bloody move on!"... The Italian Job (1969)

Cor Blimey Guv'nor! Excuse the colloquial's, but we're going a little bit cockney this week as Game On jets off to Turin for one of the great crime capers of all time - The Italian Job (Collinson, 1969)! The film may be an established classic, but can this PS1 tie-in get away with the gold?

I remember the day my Dad first introduced me to The Italian Job. It was a drizzly Sunday afternoon, and the absence of The Great Escape (Sturges, 1963) on TV had led to a forage through the VHS cabinet; that treasure trove of celluloid dreams. 100 minutes later and I'd discovered a firm favorite, and Collinson's film ended up wearing out on tape when I re-watched it over and over again as a 10-year-old. In fact, it was the first film I ever watched on DVD, after receiving it for Christmas aged 11. It's stayed in my heart ever since, frequently perking me up on down days and making the good days even brighter - which reminds me that I now need to upgrade again with the 40th Anniversary Blu-Ray! Looking back on the film to write this piece I find that it's still one of the best heist movies ever made, boasting a suave, sharply suited turn from Michael Caine, a classic theme tune, high-stakes car chases and a cliffhanger ending to die for... oh, and some Benny Hill chubby chasing! When the game was released in 2001 (just two years before The Italian Job's US remake, and its own undervalued PS2/Xbox tie-in) I picked up a rental copy at Rainbow Video, and it provided months of frustrating entertainment. Coming back to the game now I was concerned that it wouldn't quite meet my nostalgic expectations. Was I right? Well, there's only one way to find out...

The covert art for PixelLogic's PS1 tie-in, The Italian Job...

Would it surprise you to learn that this one was something of a letdown? Generously adapted from the 1969 film, The Italian Job is basically a succession of increasingly difficult races and chases, finding the player picking up contacts, escaping the police and invading enemy headquarters from the comfort of a dozen cars - including those iconic Minis. What's most disappointing about the game is its linear and claustrophobic level design - 2000's classic Driver 2 allowed for players to control Tanner both in and outside of his car, with a free roam option offering you the chance of exploration and hijacking passing vehicles. What The Italian Job may have benefitted from is some variation in the missions, and giving us the ability to control Croker and co. as they plan and execute the heist. What we're left with is a straightforward driving game, although outside of the campaign there are solid Checkpoint, Challenge and Party Play modes, the latter of which supports up to 7 players (pretty good for such a retro title)!

Visually the game is no great shakes, and the cities - while distinguishable from one another - lack any real identity. Each fuzzy lane bears the same repetitive front, and there's sometimes noticeable glitching as the game struggles to load the environment ahead. Mounting corners at a breathless clip can be an exciting experience, as the cars handle pretty well, but too often I was left catching onto flat objects which didn't respond appropriately to my movement; those who suffer from seizures might want to look away in some of the faster paced missions. This also results in missions becoming needlessly complicated, as the ticking clock (each level is restricted to 2-minute time zones, which gives some indication of the game's length) can lose vital seconds while you're glitching underneath a cumbersome lamppost. This is never better exemplified than in the opening mission (The Ambassador's Car), which finds you controlling Croker as he drives to the safehouse, before being rudely interrupted by a patrolling police car. Despite a fluid control system (finally, a PS1 game with analogue movement!) the cars ultimately feel very sluggish, meaning that you'll misjudge corners, crash, allow the cops to catch up and run out of time.

The extra game types are a breath of fresh air, at least allowing for some variety, but they're ultimately throwaway events and don't add much to the overall play time. If you can manipulate the environment well enough (my tip: stay in the middle and speed) you should clock this one in 60 - 70 minutes, but it's certainly an enjoyable enough ride. Not quite the bullion many were hoping for, but I doubt you'll feel robbed by its conclusion...

Next week Game On is moving back to the small screen for The Simpsons: Hit & Run, a forgotten classic of the PS2/Xbox.

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