How pioneering open-world blockbuster The Getaway squeezed London’s criminal underworld onto PS2

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How pioneering open-world blockbuster The Getaway squeezed London’s criminal underworld onto PS2

Celebrate the 15th anniversary of the hit PlayStation exclusive with the team who made it

Morning, sunshine. Good to see ya again. We’re going to play a little game…”

When is a movie more than a movie? That was the question posed back in 2002 when an intense, memorable live-action promo helped pioneering open-world crime saga The Getaway jostle its way onto PlayStation 2. Sure, the popularity of the British gangster movie had been reinvigorated by Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels but that kind of widescreen Cockney swagger was very new to the world of video games.

Whereas Hollywood-grade production values are taken for granted in AAA video game development today, that gruff two minute promo was a revelation, promising an all-action, open-world London, recreated on your TV screen thanks to the power of PS2.

The Getaway

So, it only seems fitting that we celebrate The Getaway’s 15th anniversary with a few of the original developers from what was Team Soho (now Sony London Studio) to get beneath the gritty fingernails of a PlayStation classic…

London calling

“I’m not sure any of us actually knew what we were getting ourselves into,” remembers Gavin Moore, The Getaway’s Director of Animation (now Creative Director at Sony Japan Studio). It’s easy to see why – before it became a massive, photorealistic game map taking in 10 square miles of London, The Getaway started off as a spiritual successor to PS one hit Porsche Challenge.

Merging that game’s open-world driving concept with The Italian Job-inspired gameplay (nicknamed “Minis in a Field”), the core idea took shape.

“It was a mission-based game where you were a getaway driver for hire on different robberies around the world,” explains Gavin. “Brendan McNamara, head of the studio, saw the potential of a massive, narrative-driven open world on PlayStation 2 and suddenly a small heist/getaway driver game became a giant gangster action movie where the real star was the city it was set in, London.”

The Getaway

The Getaway

“Hang on lads, I’ve got a great idea…”

As the team expanded to over 60 people, so did the technology required to fulfil their ideas.

“We didn’t want to break the recreation of London into areas and impose loading times,” says Gavin. “We wanted the player to remain immersed in the game. But there was no hard drive on the PS2 and no way to load the whole city into memory.

“So the engine was completely rewritten to stream geometry and textures of areas that the player was close to, which was ground-breaking at the time. To load and stream the data that fast put a lot of pressure on the PS2 disc drive, so the data for the city was burnt onto the disc in sequential order to reduce the strain.”

The Getaway

Similarly, the game was also one of the few titles at the time to favour a minimalist on-screen user interface. There was no visible health bar, ammo counter or map, meaning you had to pay careful attention to subtle cues like the blinking indicators on the back of the car to guide you to your destination.

“I loved the opening and how you transitioned straight from intro to gameplay,” says Will Burdon, Technical Director (now at Sony London Studio). “This wasn’t a typical game with loads of cluttered graphics on the screen. It just felt very cinematic from start to finish – it was hard work, but ultimately very rewarding.”

When black suits meet blue uniforms

There were long nights involved to make the action adventure look and feel the part, but there were also plenty of memorable moments during its development. It was the first time any game studio had done full face, body and voice motion capture of seven actors at once and Gavin remembers some of the more comedic elements of being part of such a new set up.

The Getaway

The Getaway

“All of the actors who played the gangsters in the game were big men,” he recounts. “But I used to have a good laugh – in secret, of course – watching them in the motion capture studio acting out intense, often violent scenes, with a lot of colourful language… dressed in these skin tight, black suits.”

And then there were the jokes that came with the live action commercial, which was given a VIP movie-style premiere at Leicester Square’s Odeon cinema.

“I was dressed as a police woman and riding around in one of the stunt cars in-between takes on London Bridge,” recalls animator Tara Saunders, now Head of Studio Operations at London Studio.

“We pulled alongside a van driver who was drinking from a soft drink bottle and shouted ‘you shouldn’t drink and drive’. The van driver looked at me in uniform and gushed ‘I’m really sorry ma’am, I won’t do it again’. Then we sped off with blue lights to do the chase sequence!”

A London landmark played across the world

The Getaway went on to become one of PlayStation 2’s biggest and most popular games, its slick cinematic style influencing the third-person action adventure genre in the following years, although very few titles attempted to ape its London-based flavour.

The Getaway

In fact, it was the same team that ended up carrying the torch for the gaming-based Cockney capers that came after, creating the commercially successful PS2 sequel, The Getaway: Black Monday in 2004, and its PSP spin-off Gangs of London in 2006.

15 years on from its launch, The Getaway and its team still casts ripples throughout the games industry, with key members of its staff delivering acclaimed games such as Puppeteer (Gavin Moore) and L.A. Noire (Brendan McNamara), while Designer Dominic Robilliard is now Creative Director on highly anticipated PS4 exclusive Concrete Genie, recently unveiled during Paris Games Week.

Not only that, but both Will and Tara are working on the action-packed PlayStation VR exclusive, Blood & Truth, which looks to recapture the same London crime thriller feel of its PS2 forbearer.

It’s been emotional

Given its legacy, it’s easy to see why The Getaway still has a faithful following, especially amongst those that spent years of their lives working on it.

The Getaway

“The Getaway was my first project and also still one of the largest and most successful franchises I’ve worked on so it will always hold a special place in my heart,” says Tara.

“For me personally, still being part of the studio after 15 years and seeing us return to some of our London crime scene roots with Blood & Truth is very exciting! It’s incredible watching the action narrative genre be re-invented for virtual reality.”

The Getaway

“It was my first big project,” recollects Will. “It seems strange today with how far games have come along in 15 years, but for its time The Getaway was very cutting edge.

“As the development process for Blood & Truth shapes up, everything that comes with the experience of making a game of this scale – the anticipation, the energy – reminds me of my Getaway days. Its spirit definitely lives on in PSVR.”

“I’m very proud of the Getaway and what we achieved at the time,” says Gavin. “Even though the process of creating the game was long and hard, I look back on those times with great fondness.

The Getaway

“In London Studio, if your game sells a million copies you get a plaque with a platinum disc. I brought mine to Japan and it’s hanging in my house in Tokyo. It’s a good reminder of my roots and that however impossible the task looks, you can make it happen. Happy 15th anniversary to everyone who worked on The Getaway!”

6 things you didn’t know about The Getaway

  1. The team took over 500,000 reference images to capture London streets and locations used in the game. The large scale led to one of the team’s artists being banned from local planning offices, as he spent too much time looking at reference material.
  2. The grooves on the back of The Getaway disc are a digital map of London.
  3. Some of the art team were chased by club bouncers whilst on a reference photoshoot around Soho.
  4. There’s a secret first-person drive mode in the game involving Free Roam mode, a pink shop front, Charing Cross Road and a very tight time limit – can you figure it out?
  5. The character Eyebrows was played by Paul ‘Fish’ Burfoot, who has a successful hair product company based in London’s Soho neighbourhood. Other actors in the game went on to star in both Hollywood and Bollywood movies.
  6. The Getaway was the 100,000,000th disc to go through Sony’s DADC (Digital Audio Disc Corporation) supply chain – a big milestone for the company.

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2 Author Replies

  • The Getaway is one of my favorite games ever and it’s really awesome of Sony to remember it, but I was really hoping for something more, such as a remaster of the games on PS4 or a new game! Thank you for remembering The Getaway. Happy 15th Anniversary my favorite game of all time!

  • This game needs to be released on PS4!!!

  • Would love the two games to be brought to PS4 (or PS3, preferably PS4 though), would grab them in an instant!

  • I worked on this back in my QA Supervisor days at Sony. It was *not* easy to test due to the size of the city. I remember the test team having a massive map of London on the wall to help track and to test each and every building and piece of street furniture’s collision. Fun times! ;-) Plus being up in Liverpool, we all used to do impressions of the Cockenys too, heh.

    • Really glad to hear about your experience. I want to ask you since you have work on the game in some way what are the chanced to see a re-release on PS4? I understand that you aren’t working for them, but I want to know what you think :)

    • Cockney impressions are mandatory when playing/working on this game ;) Good to hear about your experiences – must have been a very interesting time given how fairly new 3D the open world genre was still.

    • Sorry, mate, I have no insider info… :-s

  • Hmm, missed opportunity to announce a PS4 PS2 HD release, along with the 2nd one that bizarrely didn’t have a 60hz mode in Europe like the first game.

    I always thought Anna Edwards just did not look as awesome in the game as she does badass in real life. Absolutely stunning facial expressions in the game too that still hold up very well today, obviously not against the best today but they certainly still give other games a run for their money. And this carried on into LA Noire.

  • Would love to see this and it’s sequel added to the PS2 on PS4 catalogue. Unfortunately I can’t see it happening (possible licensing issues as it used real cars?)

  • It was a very mediocre experience as far as i remember.

    It was hyped to be ” the gta killer” but it was an average game with a boring and ultimately pointless open world. On top of that the shooting/game play were clunky. It also featured one of the stupidest health regen systems in the history of gaming.

    It’s only saving grace was the story.

    It’s sequel was even worse.

    • Agreed. Despite all the bad press it got, I thought I’d give it a try… even slightly bad games can be fun to play, at times… not the Getaway. I found it barely playable. Never made it past one of the first shootouts because the gameplay was so clunky it was so unpleasant to play.

      People can have massively huge nostalgia goggles, sometimes ;-D

  • Plz dont bring this as a ps2 classic just remake the game. the controls will need updating

  • Hey Sony, still waiting for The Getaway 3 on PS3…

    Oh wait, yet another studio that you closed down! Happy Birthday!

  • Anyone remember the ps3 tech demo of the getaway 3 using all 16 of Ps3s layers pitty it got canned it looked brilliant

  • Is this coming to PS4 with trophies! ? Also please make The Getaway 3!!

  • Still Don’t understand why there is no 3rd game or even a complete reboot of the franchise.

    Done right it could have similarities with GTA or possibly even something like LA Noire but of course the location based in London.

  • Loved this game when it came out. Having lived in London in the mid 90’s it was like travelling back in time.

    I can remember the camera and combat mechanics annoyed at times, which made the game more difficult, but still a superb experience.

    Congrats to the team that worked on it. Must’ve been difficult, but as they say, worth it!


  • This frustrates me no end. You ‘celebrate’ this game series but cannot see it would be worth rereleasing as a PS2 classic, with its sequel as well!

    Ive lived in hope that this would be announced and this post just teases at it…

    For anyone who worked on the game, thank you as this series is criminally underrated.

    Pretty please Sony, can we get this done ASAP!?

  • Defiantly, wish this title would come back or at least be available to buy on playstation network on my ps4. Im glad the team recognizes this game and this article’s tone showed that the team that put The Getaway together, misses it as much as we do. With all the reference to Blood and Truth, I am at least curious to check that title out and see what these guys have been up to.

  • This would have been a good time to release The Getaway on PlayStation Store as a PS2 Classic. After all this blog post is talking about a series that people will have never played if they only have a PS3 or PS4.

  • Love this franchise. Hope that Sony will bring it back soon. Also PS2 Classics of this and Black Monday would’ve been great.

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