By all rights, Marc Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure should be terrible. The latest in a long line of mostly dismal "urban" games, it's packed full of brand logos, but still aims for a guerilla image. It's been delayed for years. And if that weren't enough, it's the brainchild of a fashion designer.
So it's a shocker that Getting Up not only does its "street" atmosphere up right, but actually puts together a competent beat-'em-up/graffiti experience. Playing like an inner-city Prince of Persia, Getting Up stars Trane, a teenage art-thug out to make a name for himself in the big, near-future dystopia of New Radius. To earn respect, he'll need to drop spray-painted tags on ridiculously hazardous areas, with short pauses in between to smack the tar out of riot cops and rival taggers.
Trane tears through each stage like an acrobat, jumping off walls, shimmying across ledges and climbing up drainpipes to slap his name on hard-to-reach places. Jumping and tightrope-walking feels a little stiff, but navigating the urban landscape is a lot of fun when the camera isn't getting stuck behind walls.
That's only so long as you're using a joypad, though, because trying to use a keyboard-and-mouse setup is nigh on impossible. It makes combat especially difficult, as the camera pans around constantly and makes it hard to keep your bearings. Worse, the designers passed on using the mouse to paint graffiti, instead forcing players to hold two buttons while spraying with the movement keys (which you can’t re-assign). Tack on between-level loading times of around four minutes, and this version loses some points.
You can tag just about anywhere using markers, stickers, spraypaint, stencils and posters, but to lay down more complex pieces (including billboard-sized posters and full-on murals) you'll need to get to the best graffiti spots. You'll know where these are through Trane's "intuition," a feature that shoots out spectral tentacles to mark the right locations. Once you're there, laying down a complex piece is as simple as picking a chalk outline and filling it in with strokes of the analog stick, which feels strangely satisfying. Finishing a piece within the time limit nets you extra points (which in turn unlocks new pieces), as does painting in high-up, life-threatening "heaven spots." These are cake, however, compared to dodging subway trains or traffic to get your message out.
You'll also need to contend with rival crews, belligerent workers and the stormtrooper-like CCK police, all of whom are itching for a kung-fu throwdown. There are three ways to deal with these threats: Avoid them, sneak up and knock them out, or run right up and kick their asses. Sometimes these fights get silly (like when you try to run from the CCK and they start chucking an unlimited supply of riot batons at you), but delivering beatdowns is a lot of fun as Trane takes on multiple opponents with punches, kicks and whatever heavy objects are lying about. You can lock on to a single opponent or just flail wildly at a group, and the slow-motion "power moves" make it feel like you're really doing some damage.
The best part is grappling, though, as it lets you do things like hurl opponents face-first through windows and watch them fall in slow motion. Mastering these moves also comes in handy for Beatdown mode, which lets two players duke it out as unlockable characters.
Action aside, Getting Up is certainly unique. Six real-life graffiti artists lend their voices and faces to the storyline, lending the game just enough street cred to offset all the product placement (like the Ecko energy drinks and hidden "iPod songs" scattered throughout every level). The overall package is slick, though, with stellar actors and an eclectic soundtrack that blends hip-hop with rock and punk.
Getting Up probably won't do for graffiti what the Tony Hawk games did for skateboarding, but it does make it look like a lot of fun. It's a surprisingly entertaining, well-designed game that stays interesting from start to finish, and if nothing else it'll give you a whole new perspective on those rat bastards who keep tagging your house.