Italian Job, The Download (2002 Simulation Game)

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Based on the 1969 British film The Italian Job starring Michael Caine, this third-person mission-based racing game offers 16 missions, 50 levels, five game modes, two "free ride" levels, and an eight-player party mode. With a simple four-key control scheme, you'll race as Charlie Croker across London, Turin, and the Alps in the main event, unlocking missions as you go, with an eye on the prize of a four million dollar gold bullion heist at journey's end. Fifteen vehicles are available in the The Italian Job, including three classic Mini-Cooper S cars, 4x4s, and a motor coach.

Gameplay involves finding shortcuts and eluding police and Mafia heavies through sewers, around city streets, and across rooftops, thwarting capture by keeping your license plate number hidden from your pursuers as you follow onscreen arrow prompts. Destructor mode requires knocking down traffic cones within a specified time limit, Check Point tests driving skills through traffic, and Free Ride is an exploration mode with no missions or time constraints. Up to eight players can participate in Party Play with bragging rights going to the player who registers the best times, reaches the most check-points, and earns the highest score.

The Italian Job was made in 1969 starring Michael Caine and the late Benny Hill. Something about a guy trying to cause a huge traffic jam in Turin to steal a bunch of gold bullion. Whatever. I consider myself something of a film buff, and a caper comedy fan as well, so it's kind of a mystery that I never even heard of this one, but there you are. It could be because it stars Michael Caine, who by and large I dislike and try to avoid like some smarmy English plague. What possessed someone to make a game based on this particular movie at this time? Dunno. Maybe because Hollywood is remaking The Italian Job for a 2003 release starring Mark Wahlberg set in Los Angeles. Maybe it's because someone had a really crappy driving engine lying around, and needed a plot to hang on it, and The Italian Job is really cheap to buy the rights to.

For starters, coming off of GTA3 and a little Mafia time, is the whole living city thing - pedestrians and other drivers doing their thing, responding to your actions. Not in this title. Ram another car, drive it into a tree, and it just backs up, gets back on the roadway, and keeps going like nothing has happened. Pedestrians get out of your way, yell some inane phrase at you (like, "Hey, I'm walking here" - apparently I'm in the Brooklyn section of London), and then go back to walking. And very little in this city is random or ever changes. If the first time you play a mission a bus cuts you off, chances are that it's going to be there to cut you off every time you play it thereafter. Replayability is just about nil.

And let me expand on the replayability issue for a moment as long as I'm here. The plotline part of the game consists of 16 missions total, almost all of which simply involving driving from point A to point B in a race against time. I completed the first 7 missions in under 20 minutes including the cutscenes. Some of the later missions are a longer, but none longer than 10 minutes. Once you've run through the 16 missions, there's absolutely no point to going over those again, and the game offers a couple of other modes to try and thicken up the gruel. There's a demolition mode (boring), a race through checkpoints (really boring), and a free drive mode (really, really boring). Yippee. By the way, demolition mode, contrary to what the name would have you believe, has you running over traffic cones in a race against time. The only demolition involved, perhaps, is that you get the "car crash" sound effect for every cone you hit.

The game engine is absolutely the bare minimum you see these days. Your controls are accelerate, brake, turn left, turn right, and horn - that's it, and in a game sense the horn doesn't actually do anything. You can knock over lampposts, boxes, garbage cans, and other small objects. All the other objects you hit are as resistant as the rock of Gibraltar. Traffic lights, confusingly, fall into the latter category. A reasonably realistic physics engine gives you some feeling that you are driving a car; it doesn't loft, corner, or collide ridiculously. I think some of the car models slide a little too easily. There is an odd hink in which your car can kind of get under and roll another car onto its side very easily and at very low speeds. I'm not quite sure how that happens, but I did it with some frequency while playing the game. Another oddity is that you can, if you aim right, run over a light pole, but then kind of get it balanced on the hood of your car where it will rotate, accompanied by a continual crashing sound effect.

This is a console port, and it clearly shows. Made by the same company that gave us Carmageddon, which I personally kind of liked, this game seems to sport the same graphics package from Carmageddon 2 with a few major changes, none of them good. For starters, no gore whatsoever. OK, so you can see that as a good thing or a bad thing depending on your point of view, but, and trust me on this, Carmageddon without the gore is a very mediocre graphics engine. People you try and run over in The Italian Job kind of fly out of the way; I can't think of a better way to describe it, and it's very strange. Also, there's almost no damage model for the cars at all. Except for the damage meter in the corner of the screen, it's hard tell the car is taking damage from accidents. One front tire will start to spin out of true, and when your damage becomes severe, that effects handling a little. Feh. There are no weather effects (always sunny in jolly olde England), and only one mission in the 16 takes place at night, which it too bad because the engine looks a little better at night. The cutscenes, which are rendered using the game engine, are satisfactory, though for some reason all the people walk around like they have sticks up their asses. If you ever play this game, and I strongly recommend you don't, you'd know just what I'm talking about.

Most of the sounds are pathetic. There's little tire skid, and every time you hit something it makes the exact same crunching sound. Somewhere around the fifth or sixth mission there's a car that hits a pedestrian - it's not my car, and I have nothing to do with it, but I tried the mission three or four times to try some different things, and every time this car hit this pedestrian. There's a crunching sound like two cars have hit, and the pedestrian doesn't even fall down! Your horn sounds funny, even for an English car horn if my years of watching Dr. Who taught me anything. Police sirens are acceptable, though for a crime caper game I've got to say that I didn't run into very many cops. The voice work is OK, except the part of the lead character (played by Michael Caine in the movie), which is voiced in the game by a guy who is most assuredly the winner of the grand prize of the world's worst Michael Caine impersonation contest. Literally, Mr. T could sound no less like Michael Caine. I really and truly hope that whoever did that voice reads this and is so shaken that he gives up voice work as a profession and goes into something he might be good at, such as serial killing or breaking open pay phones for quarters. It would, of course, be really embarrassing if it turned out that somehow Michael Caine with a severe head cold had done the voice work. That's one of the risks I take so you don't have to. Appreciate me.

Ultimately this is an awful adaptation of what was probably a pretty good movie. The plotline of the game, which presumably is from the plotline of the movie, is a good one, but that's not enough to hold the poorly executed fragments of the game together. If the actual mission in which you steal the gold is anything like the movie, that movie must have some of the greatest car stunts of all time. And in what I recognize as the game's sole gasp of originality, the system the cops use to catch you is interesting. When a police car is near yours he gets a letter or number off your license plate. If the cop hangs onto you long enough to get your whole plate, you're busted. That's new, and I give them some credit for it because it seems to work well.


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