In this weekly feature, CheatCC contributing writer Steve Haske explores the rich history of video games, from notable and memorable games to important events in the industry, as viewed through the lens of gaming's contemporary standards, design, and culture.
Remember back in 2002, when PS2 had finally started to hit its stride, and just a single tender year after the industry was revolutionized by the advent of GTA III's modern open-world design? Sandbox gaming was quickly becoming all the rage, and Sony wanted a piece of the market for themselves, before true free-roaming games would crowd the marketplace with GTA-rip offs and competitors. The result of this desire was The Getaway, which Sony was billing as an interactive British crime film in the vein of genre classics like Get Carter and The Long Good Friday.
The Getaway was a noteworthy game for several reasons, some of them more dubious than others. It marked the first occasion that a big budget, triple-A video game incorporated a script with a significant amount of cursing (like their American counterparts, any filmic explication of modern-day London gangsters generally entails a great deal of language), something we all know is standard in any Mature-rated action game these days. The game's wonky design also placed it as a linear action game in the guise of a free-roaming game: The Getaway's developers, Team Soho, painstakingly recreated London street-for-street, to the point where a UK savvy player could use real world knowledge to get around, yet despite the fact that you could theoretically drive to any section of the city, there was virtually nothing to do anywhere if you strayed from the selection of very specifically designed narrative points placed around the city.
From a design standpoint, you might as well have been driving around a giant blank map between distantly-spaced levels—even a cursory evaluation of the detail and scripting inside these distinctly linear sequences was proof of that. But what The Getaway is probably most remembered for, at least for those that do remember it, was the nonsensical way that protagonist Mark Hammond could simply lean against a wall when not under direct fire and miraculously recover all his strength.
Now, it's true that various games of the 8- and 16-bit eras sporadically made use of regenerating health mechanics, and that the original Halo is most often credited as the first instance of it in modern game design. However, it was only Master Chief's shield that could recharge in the original Halo—regular health had still had to be restored through health packs—essentially making The Getaway the first modern game to utilize a complete auto-regeneration health mechanic.
Hammond was no soldier, nor was he a superhuman. Despite trying to outrun a criminal past, he was just an ordinary Londoner, right down to his gray, non-descript suit and a noticeable lack of running endurance compared to most typical action game heroes. It just so happened that Hammond was an ordinary Londoner that could take a shotgun to the stomach or a spray of AK fire to the chest, at which point, a smart player would go off to a point where Hammond could catch his breath, leaning one arm against the nearest cover. Team Soho had a point to make here, blurring the lines between game and film, and in addition to ample pre-scripted sequences and the inclusion of a tighter camera, that meant no HUD in the game at all.