The Italian Job
The Year 1999 was a wonderful time to be a young go-getter in the games industry. Well I remember touring that year’s popular ECTS trade exhibition in London’s swanky Olympia, marvelling at all the wonderful games due for release that autumn. Games such as Max Payne, Duke Nukem Forever, Prey and Warcraft Adventures. Well, one out of four isn’t bad (even if Max was a year and a half late).
But the biggest thrill of all came from the most unlikely of sources. Wandering into the SCi booth, mainly to see how they were continuing to flog the dead horse of Carmageddon, we were stunned to see the facial visage of Lord Michael of Caine glaring down at us with the words 'The Italian Job’ perched above his shoulder as though they were grafted on at birth. They hadn’t gone and actually done it had they? Turned out they had. SCi had snapped up the rights and the game was on its way. And then, just when the fields of Elysium were looming large, the PR rep on the stand hit us with the two cruellest words in the English language: PlayStation only.
Suddenly everything changed. Games no longer seemed quite as fun. The sun didn’t shine quite so brightly in the morning. Newborn babies started to get uglier. Porn trends moved from large breasted blondes towards waif-like post-teens with tiny man chests. Things just weren’t right with the world anymore. Sure the PR guy assured us that a PC version was being developed, "at the same time", but no one believed him.
The Italian Job meant everything to us at ZONE. Our then-editor would forever shout the "bloody doors off" quote whenever anyone did something over the top. Caine posters adorned every filing cabinet in the office. Camp Freddie was the nickname of our art assistant. It was like a hammer blow to our hearts.
Luckily for us all, the console kidz knew a good thing when it hit them and thanks to the madcap driving romp being a fairly sizeable hit with PlayStation owners, SCi decided to let developers Pixelogic get to work on a PC version. Only a year or so later, but we’re patient folk at ZONE. Especially if it turns out to be any good.
First question is obviously how you go about turning a film like The Italian Job into a game. The only really obvious bit is the car chase at the end, hardly enough for a whole game. So it would seem, thus Pixelogic has 'interpreted’ some of the other aspects of the plot and expanded the horizons a little.
The main game mode is obviously The Job, in which you start by practising the driving moves needed for the heist and recruiting your team. All of which is set in '60s London of course. Cue tearaway chases through notable traffic landmarks such as Trafalgar Square, pursued by Z Cars-style coppers.
At heart it’s a mission-based driving game in the Driver mould. Practise your moves in Blighty, then drive through Italy dealing with the local mafia, pull off the heist in the jam-packed streets of Turin, then finally escape by bus across the Swiss Alps. And we all know what happens then, right?
It’s not just gold heists in Europe though. For those that don’t want to risk Mr Bridger’s resources straight away, Pixelogic is including several other game modes to try out. Free Driving is pretty much exactly that, driving at your own pace through the pretty scenery, but with all sorts of hidden extras and secret paths to discover. Checkpoint racing puts a Midtown Madness spin on the game, while the Stunt Course lets you put the Mini Coopers, luxury sports cars and just about every other vehicle that made an appearance in the film (even the football van), through their paces in a variety of challenge - most of which involve the car’s wheels leaving the ground at some point.
Finally there’s the intriguing Party Mode which adds some much-needed multiplayer fun to the proceedings. SCi won’t confirm exactly what form this takes (ie whether it’s network/lnternet-playable or not) but there’s not likely to be much chance of any co-op shenanigans with the Turin Polizei. Which would have been fun. On the PlayStation, most of these modes could only be unlocked by completing the main story-based game. Whether the same holds true for the PC version we’ll have to wait and see.
Which also goes for the spirit of the game. Driving familiar-looking cars around familiar-looking scenery is one thing. Whether Pixelogic can capture the real essence of the film, the tongue-in-cheek humour, that plain sense of fun and good times, the feel-good factor that surrounds every viewing of the boys pulling it off is something else entirely. PlayStation gamers are a lot less discerning than we PC owners tend to be, but our hopes are high for this one. Like we said at the start, it means a lot to us.
One Last Thing
Incidentally, I’ve tried to go through this whole preview without regurgitating all those familiar quotes from the film. It’s been hard and frankly I don’t think I can hold out any longer. So if you'll just indulge me... "You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!" "Get your skates on mate!" "Look happy you stupid bastards, we won didn’t we?" "Are they big? I like ’em big." "You must have shot an awful lot of tigers..." "...Yes, I used a machine gun." "We’re the selfpreservation society." "Hold on lads, I’ve got a great idea." And, of course, "Camp Freddie you all know." Thank you. I feel so much better now.
Download The Italian Job
Method reviewing. That's the way forward my friends. Just as actors will sometimes spend months getting into character by emulating someone in real life beforehand, so I figured the bes' way to really get in the right frame of mind to review a particular game is to immerse oneself in the surrounding paraphernalia as much as possible first.
Which, as far as reviewing SCi's take on The Italian Job goes, basically involved watching the video several times, listening to the soundtrack a lot and talking in shouted exaggerated cockney until friends and family threatened to whip me with chains UNTIL I BLOODY WELL STOPPED (you'll have to imagine the voice).
Taking The Michael
Now, steeped as I was in all things Caine you can imagine how the most important thing on my mind was how well the man himself made the transition to the interactive arena. Unfortunately SCi couldn't persuade the genuine article to show up, but personally I think we've got the next best thing. Hidden away in the credits is the name Phil Cornwall -professional impressionist, star of Stella Street and Dead Ringers and one of the best Caine voices around.
For legal reasons I expect that SCi would have it that Cornwall isn't 'doing' Michael Caine himself, but an impression of the film's lead character Charlie Croker. No matter, it's still bloody good and just about lifts this incarnation of The Italian Job above the level of average arcade racer. ONLY JUST, MIND (sorry, I'll stop that now).
Plates Of Meat
The game is essentially a reworking of Midtown Madness (even down to the dated graphics), but with a more controlled gameplay structure and story-based missions running through the main campaign. The film's spirit is fairly well captured in the missions directly related to scenes from the film, with most of the main characters putting in an appearance and plenty of variety in things to do (albeit all of a driving nature).
Unfortunately, what most comes across is how those levels not directly based on moments from the film do feel like mere padding. Slogging my way through interminable 'tests' such as Lorna racing with one of the chinless wonders, or Bill trying to ram Charlie off the road were soon dull and repetitive when forced to replay a dozen or so times.
Of course, as soon as the gold is in the Minis and the getaway ensues, the thrill is right back up front. Same when you're driving the bus around the Alps or trying to get the three Minis into the back Spy Hunterstyle. As grand finales to games go, I have to admit that these latter few levels are indeed very playable (especially the Minis' getaway) and standard as they are, the FMV clips played as rewards do leave you with a grin on your face.
Nuts To Yer Watches
Sensibly, the developers seem to have realised that a single campaign would hardly provide a lasting experience and have included a number of alternative game modes to try and liven things up. As well as a Free Ride option in either of the two main locales, you can play timed checkpoint races, cone-bashing challenges and a sort of mission 'training' section that parallels the middle section of the film. And, in true console style, many of these options or a greater choice of cars to play them in can only be opened when levels from the main game are completed. Unfortunately there's a problem with this sort of reward structure as well. It's too basic to really be worthwhile. Since this is an arcade racer and not nearly as detailed as Gran Turismo 3 or Project Gotham Racing where new cars have a major impact on the main gameplay, the 'rewards' here just aren't really worth the effort, rendering the alternative game modes as little more than novelties that soon wear thin.
It's not SCi's or Pixelogic's fault that The Italian Job underperforms in the long run. Both companies have done the best with what they had, and all the non-campaign game modes show that there's no shortage of effort on display. The real problem is that the limitations of programming for a dated console such as the PlayStation are just all too apparent when you do a straight port across to the PC.
I hate sounding snobbish about console games (some of my best friends are console games) and the developers have clearly achieved what they set out to do - make a simple arcade racing game based on the film. But while that kind of thing might be acceptable over in PlayStation land, let's not forget that that particular audience will accept anything as long as it has lots of primary colours and flashing lights to distract them from the hell of their real-world existence. We demand a little bit more class here in the world of the PC.
Still, it's hard to totally slag the game off. Amazingly, just the fact that it is The Italian Job will be enough for most fans to forgive some of the simplicities. It won't exactly last a lifetime, hardly even a whole weekend, but if you think 20 quid is decent value for a couple of days' play, then you're probably not going to mind too much. The final few levels are worth it alone - it's just a shame that the rest of the game isn't up the job. Your best bet is to stick with the video and play The Italian Job drinking game instead. You'll feel better in the long run.
This Job, not to be confused with the first Italian Job game (PS1), is loosely based on the recent Italian Job movie remake. I know this because of the approximately five seconds of film footage they show at the start. Once that's out of the way, the game consists of a series of missions, most of which involve driving a Mini, finding a Mini, or driving a Mini in search of more Minis. If you are, say, in the Guinness book as the world's biggest fan of Mini Coopers, this could conceivably be quite enjoyable--like a dream, even. If you're anybody else (well, aside from G. Ford), it gets boring fast. You'll soon stop caring about the mission objectives, since they're almost all the same: The red dot on your radar is where you need to go. So get there. While the arcadey driving physics aren't too bad, there's nothing else about Job that's particularly fun. Not the meager Stunt or Circuit modes, and certainly not the stage where you have to chase another car for six and a half minutes. Go see the original '69 Italian Job movie instead, and let us never speak of Italian jobs again.
Gee guys, you're being awfully rough on The Italian Job. I know it's nothing revolutionary, but this racer offers simple, responsive controls, neat stunts, and story bits lifted from the movie's cool plot--enough to keep me entertained until the end. The Story, Circuit, and Stunt modes are all solid, sending you through an impressive-looking L.A. in some sleek cars (with no noticeable graphical hit in two-player matches). My biggest beef? You'll most likely polish off this game in a weekend. A great rental.
I think Ford's letting his crush on Marky Mark cloud his judgment, 'cause I wouldn't even rent this game if it were free. My big problem is that the radar in Italian Job is completely useless. Including a rough street layout map (like in Vice City or Midnight Club II) would have improved the gameplay dramatically. As it stands, the boring, repetitive, and annoying missions will only frustrate you. If you must drive a Mini, buy the much better (and much cheaper) Italian Job on PS1.
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