'iss Monday, see. Innit. Cause it's Monday. And it's Black, cause, well, some geezer turned the lights off. Black Monday. Somethin' to do with London and some other game called the Getaway...
Now where's that gun, son?
After the Getaway blew down doors in 2003, a sequel was always on the cards. And why not? Bullets, heists, broad accents and brawling â€“ if it was a movie it'd already be a trilogy. In producing Black Monday, developers Team Soho have put another year's work into gangland London, keeping the gunfights, car chases and style sense of the first game but pushing out in new directions. Along the way they've added some elements, fixed some holes, and generally gone one better on the original.
From its opening moments Black Monday brings all the style of the Getaway and more. You start off as Mitchell, a hardbitten detective called into a drugs bust. Things go right, then they go wrong, and then they go REALLY wrong, with a midnight roof chase and bodies turning up by the dozen. It's the Russian Mafia, you see, going toe to toe with the Yardies, and one little copper in the middle doesn't stand a chance...
Black Monday operates like a Guy Ritchie flick on steroids, with funny, attitude-leaking cutscenes that take you right into Mitchell's world. The cutting and dialogue couldn't be slicker â€“ and there's also more swearing and gunplay than a Tarantino convention, so be warned that this probably isn't one for the young'uns.
After giving you a taste of cop life the game switches perspective, not once but twice. You'll line up as Eddie, a muscle guy with anger management issues, and then as Sam, who brings the sneaky side of things as a thief. She also happens to be young, curvy, and female, a total change of pace from the other two sluggers.
And what do you do with these characters? As in The Getaway, you shoot stuff, you hit stuff, and you drive very fast down tiny streets, this time for a total of twenty two missions. The balance has changed in the new game, with less of the ultraviolent shootouts that marked the original, and through each chapter you'll experience a different side of the action. Mitch tends toward pursuits and gun battles, Eddie is all about his fists, while Sam isn't so hot with the weapons and thus goes for stealth. The three characters start off apparently unrelated, but as Black Monday progresses they cross paths repeatedly until their fates are roped together. Details in each storyline - a body here, a bank heist there â€“ add up to brutal consequences later, as Black Monday builds to a remarkably clever ending.
The Gangland London environment that this all takes place in looks spectacular. After several years of mapping the central city down to the last trashcan for the Getaway, Team Soho have gone back in for a spit'n'polish, and it shows. The place has been tarted up considerably, and Black Monday's visuals are several notches above its predecessor. Indeed, it's a shame that the game doesn't take more advantage of the space on offer: the linear, mission-to-mission structure leaves few opportunities for going walkabout.
Gameplay, likewise, has been given a shineup. It's easier for one â€“ most of the levels can just about be played through straight, and the difficulty rises smoothly. Many of the control issues of The Getaway have been addressed, though there are still rough patches, and some of Team Soho's design choices are headscratchers.
Once again there's no Heads Up Display on the screen. In the interest of realism you don't have a health bar to indicate your state of being: if you're hurt you'll start to complain, and stagger, and bleed, and eventually drop dead, but specific numbers are lacking â€“ no conveniently fictional â€œ38% healthâ€ for you.
More problematic is the fact that there's no longer any kind of targeting reticule. You've got the option of manual or automatic aim, but manual is virtually impossible without a crosshair guide. This isn't helped by decidedly wayward camera control. Titles like GTA: San Andreas have shown the way for 3rd person action games: movement with the left thumbstick, 360 degree camera control with the right. Black Monday's camera doesn't offer full rotation, tends to get stuck at unfortunate times, and can leave you struggling to walk down a stairway or get through a door.
Driving, the other side of the game, does much better. High-speed rush hour traffic mayhem is the word once again, and Soho have added a stack of new car models to the carnage. Handling has been overhauled, and while you'll still be crashing frequently it's a fun, sporty kind of crash, the sort of thing you do just because you're hooning down a street at one-fifty and you feel like it. Which is really the whole point of the videogame thing, yeah?
Apart from the main storyline, Black Monday offers up a host of subgames to play your way around. Free roaming lets you explore London to your heart's content. You can do driving missions, chase missions, and Black Cab, the most enjoyable, which lets you run an inner city taxi moving passengers around the ever-more-dangerous streets.
Overall, Black Monday has all the qualities of a blockbuster sequel. The graphics are better, London is bigger, and the music and cutscenes outdo most movies. Triple plotlines add real juice to the story - it's fascinating to play through a second time and pick up the subtle links between Mitchell, Eddie, and Sam. Black Monday's not perfect, and it maybe could have done with a few more months in the Team Soho garage, but this is a solid, improved followup that brings the Getaway experience to a new level.