January 24, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

The Getaway has nothing to do with the 1972 film that made lovers of Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw. It does, however, bill itself as ”a true filmic crossover.” And it is an interactive homage to cockney gangster movies like Get Carter, Snatch, and The Limey — at least inasmuch as it stars a bunch of foul-mouthed, extremely violent thugs with British accents.

You play Mark Hammond, a reformed stickup man whose wife is murdered and son kidnapped at the start of the game. The son’s abductor is an evil Mob boss (outfitted with Halloween-issue pinstripes and lit stogie), who forces Hammond to carry out a series of increasingly felonious tasks. After 12 plodding episodes of bloodletting and Lexus ramming, The Getaway takes a Rashomon-like turn and retells the entire tale from the point of view of a detective probing the kingpin. (A wasted plot device, since most players will give up and flee the crime scene before it happens.)

To achieve a more movielike experience, the game dispenses with some standard on-screen conventions. There are no maps or way points marking progress through each level, just a full-frame 3-D rendering of modern-day London. It’s so accurate, in fact, that it can be navigated using a real street atlas — which would come in handy, since the only way to get from one place to the next is to follow your car’s turn signals. (Don’t bust out the left rear tail lamp or you’ll spend the rest of the mission driving in circles.) Missing, too, is a health meter. Instead, the severity of Hammond’s injuries is revealed in his wobbly, staggering body language. And he recovers in the most implausible way: by leaning against a wall — any wall, anywhere, anytime.

The level of detail is extraordinary; even the facial expressions are motion-captured. But the slickest graphic presentation can’t cover for Getaway’s flawed script. The game comes off looking like a low-budget film with Grand Theft Auto overtones. (In fairness, Getaway’s creators conceived their mature-themed game before GTA 3’s release.) Start with the huge lapses in internal logic: How is it that Hammond — London’s most wanted man — is able to jog through a police station disguised in a repairman’s uniform and not be noticed? Or leave a crime scene in a car with flat tires, broken suspension, and a busted rear window while still evading a hail of police gunfire? Or get chased for blocks by swarms of cops who disappear the moment he reaches a destination?

In a game infused with more humor and less pretentious aspirations, these flaws would be more forgivable. But just as an overreaching Final Fantasy failed as a movie, The Getaway is something of a videogame blunder. If the worlds of digital and celluloid entertainment are ever to be united — and I’m not convinced that they will be — it’s definitely not going to happen in Mark Hammond’s lifetime.

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