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The Italian Job

Score: 55%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Developer: Pixelogic
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Miscellaneous

Graphics & Sound:

The mission-based driving genre has gone from zero to sixty in the past year or so. Fueled by the popularity of games like Midtown Madness 3, Midnight Club and the Grand Theft Auto franchise, it seems as though every company is trying its luck at high speed, vehicular mayhem. The Italian Job is Eidos' entry into this ever-growing, and some could say overcrowded, genre and though it does provide a few arcade-like thrills, they are fleeting. The ending result is a game that feels like it was quickly thrown together in order to cash-in on the film's release.

The car models and buildings present in the game don't look bad, and are very reminiscent of the style found in the more recent games in the next-gen Grand Theft Auto series. The game's look also shares a remarkable number of similarities with Crazy Taxi -- such as using car transports as ramps or and lining your destination with big red bars. Though the game doesn't deal in ultra-realistic, highly detailed models, there's enough polish so things aren't a total write off. There is, however, a noticeable lack of car damage, which isn't a game breaker, but is always fun to see. If I'm going to jump my car off a two-story building, well damn it I want that 'just jumped two-stories down' look!

One of the things that really bothered me in terms of the city was that it was that they lacked any life. Unlike other games in this genre, street traffic doesn't react to you. Every car you run into is programmed to go at a certain speed on a certain path. This kills the thrill of going though against traffic since they're not swerving out of the way, they just drone on. Sure some drivers will just plow through you like they own the road, but this is just taking things to a new level. Except for the lobotomized cars and buses, there's really no life to the city -- no pedestrians, no side-walk cafes, no fruit stands to run through...nothing. The layout and design of the city isn't all that great either, but the in-game representations of Los Angeles have that 'big' feeling too them, even if most missions confine you to one area of the map.

Since this game ties in with the plot of the recent movie, I was surprised that more aspects of the film weren't incorporated into the game. During the game's intro you're shown a really neat montage of in-game graphics and scenes from the movie that really help set-up everything. However, once the game starts, the most you'll see is a still frame from the movie during a load screen. I wasn't expecting something as grand as The Two Tower's intertwining of movie and graphics, but at least showing a few movie clips like in nearly every movie-based platformer would have helped. There's also a distinct lack of people in any of the game's story sequences, which just feels silly.

Sound is about average and offers little to the game's overall presentation. The car effects are decent, but it can feel like you're driving around the city in a ride-on lawnmower at times. The mini-cooper is a powerful car, make it sound that way! The game's sub-par, techno soundtrack is also a bore. Think of a really good techno song and remove all the bass, and that's what you get in The Italian Job. To make matters worse, there's no Custom Soundtrack support in the game -- but I've already gone through three whips and two dead horses when discussing that issue. The game's plot is narrated by Mark Walhberg's character from the movie. However, the actor portraying him doesn't even attempt to sound like him (at least in my opinion) and just sounds like he's going through the motions.


Gameplay:

The Italian Job recreates the plot of the recent movie staring Mark Walhberg and Charlize Theron, which in turn is a remake of the (in my opinion) even better 1969's version staring Michael Caine. The game places players in the role of Charlie Croker, a thief who was double-crossed after a big heist. After reassembling the old gang, Charlie sets off on a mission to double-cross the double-cross. However, the movie's plot is ultimately irrelevant in the game. Sure you can listen to the game's narrator drone on about what happened between missions, but this is just set up. All of the game's 15 missions boil down to one simple aspect -- drive your car towards the big red spot on the radar and park in the big red box.

Most of the Story mode's problems stem from it's creatively-bankrupt mission designs. Every so often you'll have to deal with police cars or race rivals, but for the most part you're just driving around playing 'find the red dot'. The only real mission provides intrigue to the game involves you tailing someone. Trying to tail the guy while attempting to keep a safe distance was probably the most fun I had with the game. A few more missions like this would have helped. This style of play was enjoyable in Crazy Taxi, and at times can be enjoyable in this game. However, after a few trips around the game's sterile city, you'll begin to want more.

In addition to the main Story mode, you can also participate in a number of other modes, such as Circuit Races, Free Roam, and Stunt Courses. Of the three, the Circuit Races are probably the most enjoyable simply on merit of the game's nice arcade racing engine and two-player capability. Free Roam is one of those modes I've never thought worked outside of an online racing title and can become quite boring after awhile. However, it does provide a nice introduction to the layout of the city to help shave a few seconds off your mission clock. Stunt is perhaps the worst aspect of the entire game, trouncing even the Story mode. Basically, this mode has you trying to keep your car from falling off platforms and going through ultra-tight turns. One of the more annoying aspects of this mode was how many times my car got stuck for no reason. There were even times when I would put a little too much gas in a turn and my car would flip over like it was made of plastic. Instances like these force you to either manually reset the course or wait for the time limit to expire instead. Yes, I know it's a lazy complaint, but if you're going to make it so my car gets stuck, at least have the decency to automatically reset things.


Difficulty:

One of the more striking aspects of The Italian Job is its incredibly short length. Even though it will usually take one or two tries to complete some missions within the time limit, even a half-way decent player will spend more time watching the movie than playing the game. Each of the game's 15 missions is split into separate sub-missions. One of the more frustrating aspects of the game is that if you fail one part of the mission you're forced to go back to the beginning of the mission instead of restarting where you were. This adds challenge to the game and increases play time, but also brings with it needless frustration and boredom.

The typical arrow indicator which usually accompanies games of this type is also noticeably absent. In its place is a compass that, while not totally useless, makes navigation around the city just a little more difficult.


Game Mechanics:

If anything, at least The Italian Job plays well. Once again borrowing gameplay aspects from Crazy Taxi and other arcade racers, The Italian Job is very easy to pick up and play. Even someone with little to no gaming experience could find their way around the game in only a matter of minutes. With this arcade feel comes a nearly open-ended experience. Although you're racing against the clock and have to find a certain spot on the map, the path you take to get to the red dot is completely up to you. Of course saying completely up to you is a bit of a misnomer. Sure you can jump buildings and use passing cargo trucks as ramps, but there are a few curbs and steps the designers have deemed you cannot cross, thus causing them to set up an invisible barrier and denying you entry to that particular path.

While it lasts, The Italian Job is a fun experience and a nice departure from games that require actual brain-power. Considering the lack of depth and replay value, as well as the atrocious production values, it's hard to recommend The Italian Job as anything more than a rental. If you're looking for a fun arcade racer, you'd do better with the other options available for the Xbox like Burnout 2 or Midtown Madness 3.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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