Written by: Rik

Date posted: October 25, 2014

You can tell how close you are to being nicked by how many letters from your number plate appear in the bottom left corner.

You can tell how close you are to being nicked by how many letters from your number plate appear in the bottom left corner.

I found the disc for this while I was tidying the house, and was unable to recall ever having bought it. Obviously, the natural course of action was to stop cleaning immediately and investigate further. Sure enough, The Italian Job is a “game” that you can “play” on your “computer” and, given that it’s a pretty old one, and I have now done so myself, I can write about it here.

The Italian Job is based on a film, which I haven’t seen, though I possess an awareness of the rudimentary elements: it’s a heist movie, starring Michael Caine and some Mini Coopers, and, evidently, they were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off. Here, the story is retold via a series of 16 car-based missions, all leading up to the famous heist and escape.

The plot details are revealed through individual briefings and in-game voiceovers rather than through any significant cut-scenes, and while it may be easier to follow for those already familiar with the film, it’s entirely possible that anyone else may emerge from the end of the game no wiser about the specifics than when they started. You spend most of your time being barked at by someone doing an impression of Michael Caine, who has been imitated so many times it becomes difficult to recall what he actually sounds like, although if pushed I’d say the chap on duty here veers towards Adrian Edmondson in either Bottom or The Young Ones at various points. Anyway, after a while it becomes necessary to just tune him out, as he blathers on about having blagged the dog and bone up the mutton chops with the apples and stairs (or whatever).

Bosh! Take that, rozzers!

Bosh! Take that, rozzers!

Having done so, it remains pretty easy to figure out what to do, because the tasks are pretty basic and short. Anyone who’s played Grand Theft Auto or Driver will be familiar with the ‘go here, do that, go somewhere else, do something else’ mission structure, but in The Italian Job, most of the time it’s just, ‘go here’. The main obstacles come in the form of a time or damage limit, with some police interference, although they’re not a particularly tenacious bunch, and the routes are rarely complicated. Most missions can be finished on the first go.

And there’s the rub. This is a game almost entirely lacking in challenge, and for me it was over in three evenings. Well, I say evenings, but I played late at night, sometimes after drink had been taken, and although I did register a personal milestone by falling asleep while playing (this was one mission I didn’t finish on the first try) my progress was relatively unimpeded. Along the way, it increasingly seems that many of the missions are acting as filler before the big final getaway chase, and sure enough, it’s the longest one of the game, and the only one that poses much of a challenge. But get past that, and before you know it, it’s all over. (This is all on the higher of two difficulty settings, too).

This looks impressive, but in about 2 seconds, I'll be slamming into that building.

This looks impressive, but in about 2 seconds, I’ll be slamming into that building.

There are other options aside from the main story mode: Destruction, which involves driving over traffic cones; Checkpoint, a series of unimaginative checkpoint races; Challenge, a selection of jump tests and more checkpoint challenges; and finally, Freeride, which allows you to pick a vehicle and just tool about in either London or Turin. In general they feel a bit tacked on, and certainly lack the thoughtful design of, say, Midtown Madness or Midnight Club 2, the one exception being ‘City Lap Survival’, which gives you the opportunity to drive a Lamborghini Miura around the English capital while avoiding heavy traffic and the murderous intentions of red bus drivers.

As with the main mission mode, enjoyment is undermined by a very basic handling model, which is extremely forgiving and lacks most of the feedback you’d associate with pretending to drive a car. Rather than having a feeling of wrestling a metal machine through unforgiving city streets, it’s more like guiding an avatar through a maze with the four arrow keys. On the positive side, it’s easy to get to grips with, but it also removes any sense of skill, or of satisfaction.

Finish the job by escaping through the Alps.

Finish the job by escaping through the Alps.

On the technical side, The Italian Job was initially a PSOne game, and though it’s been polished up significantly, the models are a little chunky and the visuals have a slightly washed out feeling. Jumps involve a switch to a cinematic camera view, which is fair enough, but it doesn’t switch back quickly enough sometimes, and you can be forced to try and steer your car from a slightly odd angle until it does. There are also one or two invisible barrier issues, most notably for me when I attempted a jump over a train with what seemed like significant clearance, only to be issued with a collision noise and the sight of my car crashing to the ground. Sound is, as we mentioned, a lot of the Michael Caine character shouting, “RIGHT LADS” but there’s also an instrumental version of that self-preservation society song looping endlessly.

The Italian Job took advantage of my curiosity at having found it in the first place, and my personal weakness for a light, undemanding racer. But this takes ‘light and undemanding’ to extremes. One the one hand, it lacks the anger-inducing near-misses, the overly long missions, and general repetitiveness of many similar games, but it also lacks the associated tension and excitement. It’s not particularly hateful, but it is completely insubstantial, and passed me by without leaving much if an impression. No wonder I didn’t remember buying it.