Monday, March 20, 2006

VG REVIEW: Getting Up

Atari, for PlayStation 2, Xbox and PC
rated M for Mature (blood, strong language, violence), $49.99.
Rating: 3 stars

This shouldn’t be a three-star review.

Considering all the promises and high expectations, "Marc Ecko’s Getting Up" should by rights have been a much better game. Certainly Ecko, the famed fashion designer who was the driving force behind the game’s conception, alluded to as much.

That it’s decent enough to recommend offers some comfort, but it’s still hard to ignore the feelings of disappointment and missed opportunities.

"Getting Up" is similar in some respects to games such as "The Warriors" and "Jet Set Radio Future." As in those titles, you play a rebellious urban youth obsessed with laying down graffiti and sticking it to "the man."

This time you’re Trane, an ambitious youth living with his grandmother in squalor, who dreams of becoming a big-time underground artist. To realize his dream, he must deal with rival gangs and the jackbooted thugs that make up the police force to get his "tags" up and around the city.

Along the way he finds himself going up against the tyrannical and corrupt government that rules New Radius, the futuristic city he resides in. Thus, his spray painting turns from simple egotistical vandalism into political expression.

For a game that’s so focused on graffiti art, the actual act of laying down paint in "Getting Up" proves to be an overly simplistic affair. You simply walk up to the appropriate spot (discovered through your "intuition" powers), pull the right trigger and press the appropriate button.

That’s it. No tricky maneuvers to remember, no colors to change. Just pull and push (though you can’t stay in one area for too long or you’ll get drips).

Normally, I’d applaud such stripped down design, but here it’s simply too easy and I hungered for a bit more interactivity. Trane’s art can be striking, but you wish the game allowed you to aid in its creation a bit more. Worst of all, you can’t create your own tags.

The fighting system, too, feels oversimplified, considering the amount of time you spend battling cops, thugs and subway workers. Any fight can be won by merely dodging, then hitting or kicking your opponent until they stay down. A variety of combos and "insult" moves are offered, but they feel extraneous.

Neither the lackluster fighting nor the painting is enough to derail the game. Both play well enough to keep you moving, it’s just that it seems terribly unambitious considering the potential.

To get attention and increase his "rep," Trane must put graffiti tags in large, hard to reach places, such as subway trains, billboards and the tops of buildings. That involves a good deal of "Prince of Persia"-style acrobatics on Trane’s part, and one of the high points of the game is exploring an environment, trying to find a way to get to a spot that at first glance seems unreachable.

The one thing the game does is give you a solid appreciation for graffiti as an actual art form. Whether through Trane’s own artwork, or via the striking tags created by various real-life legends for the game, players should come away with an appreciation for what is usually seen as ugly defacement.

Perhaps part of the problem with "Getting Up" is it tries to do too many things. Between the melee fighting, painting, acrobatics and whatnot, the phrase "jack of all trades, master of none," keeps popping up.

"Getting Up" boasts a strong story, solid voice acting (by folks such as Talib Kweli, Rosario Dawson, George Hamilton and Adam West) and a striking, gritty look and feel. That the game play is average is a shame, but not necessarily a deal breaker.

Ecko’s brainchild attempts to offer something a little different from what passes for most video game entertainment these days. That it succeeds at least partially is something we should be grateful for.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2006


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