Sony’s London Studio revealed a teaser for The Getaway 3 at E3 2006, offering an intriguing glimpse into the next entry in PlayStation’s gritty crime series. The trailer opened with a panning shot of a quiet street in Amsterdam, with cars, pedestrians, and canal boats passing by, as the camera slowly pulls into the hallway of a grubby apartment building where our protagonist stands, gun in hand, over a body slumped up against the wall.
It’s a brief, cinematic trailer, but press reacted positively to the reveal, with many praising the level of detail in the trailer’s environments, hoping to see that translated to an actual gameplay reveal in the near future. But unfortunately, the teaser marked the last the public ever saw of The Getaway 3. London Studio went quiet shortly after, and in 2008, Sony confirmed to GamesIndustry.Biz the developer had stopped work on the PlayStation 3 game in order to reallocate its resources towards more family-oriented exclusives, like Singstar and EyeToy, which would become the studio’s dominant focus for years.
The news devastated fans of The Getaway, but not everyone gave up hope of seeing a revival. A dedicated group of fans keeps the series alive to this day through social media campaigns, preservation efforts, and mods of the original Getaway. With so many PlayStation and PlayStation 2 games from twenty years ago like Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, and Medievil making a comeback to varying degrees of success, and a host of new jobs and teases for London Studio’s next project, many fans think the time is right for The Getaway to make a return. IGN spoke to former London Studio artist Mike Rouse, YouTuber and notable Getaway fan JaybillsGames, and the modder RacingFreak, to find out what about The Getaway instilled this fervent dedication among so many, the canceled projects that never got off the ground, and why fans still keep hope alive for a return 15 years later.
What makes The Getaway unique?
Sony released The Getaway for the PlayStation 2 in 2002, just a little over a year after Grand Theft Auto III revolutionized the open-world genre. But unlike Rockstar’s adventure, which created its own fictional city inspired by New York, The Getaway put a greater emphasis on authenticity and realism as its developers aimed to bring to life its London location.
Team Soho (the team behind The Getaway who later merged with London Studio in 2002) didn’t fill its world with fictional stores or brands, instead depicting real locations and vehicles. Players explored this realistic recreation of central London through the lens of two characters, an ex-prisoner named Mark Hammond and detective Frank Carter, unravelling a story about kidnapping, blackmail, and police corruption.
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The Getaway did well enough to lead to a sequel, called Black Monday, that Sony published in 2004, but the follow-up received less favourable reviews than its predecessor, with many critics arguing that it did very little to improve upon the previous title. The IGN Black Monday review, published in 2005, summarised, “While it offers some new, it doesn’t offer enough. Furthermore, it doesn’t fix many of the serious issues that plagued the first title. A map complete with objective markers is a big help, as are the GPS-driven turn signal indicators, but the game is just as stiff, clumsy, and unworkable as it’s ever been.” The story also didn’t continue the events of The Getaway, instead following several new protagonists who exist within the same universe: amateur boxer Eddie O’Connor, police officer Ben Mitchell, and computer hacker Sam Thompson.
Mike Rouse is an artist who worked on both Getaway games and now runs the YouTube channel Retro Gamer Boy, where he shares behind-the-scenes information about the making of the series. He told us that, in order to capture London’s various districts like Southwark, Clerkenwell, and Bloomsbury, Team Soho sent the art team out into the world with bulky digital cameras to capture thousands of images for reference, a process we’ve seen become more common as open-world games like The Division and Watch Dogs aim for some block-by-block realism. This involved visiting London’s Red-Light District, where Rouse claims a member of the team was apparently propositioned for their cameras.
“We travelled the UK hunting down classic cars for texture and modelling reference and spent hundreds of hours photographing and meticulously recreating the buildings and streets of London,” Rouse told IGN. “We set out to create a game that blurred the lines between films and gaming with The Getaway. And while the players enjoyed the story and innovative cover shooter gameplay, I still think the real star of the game was the living London we created.”
At the time, Team Soho’s approach was unorthodox, given that it was still the early days of video game licensing. In fact, Rouse remembers negotiating a deal with one car manufacturer for its likeness in exchange for a handful of PlayStation 2’s, a deal that probably would go a lot differently today when licensing deals are so much more the norm.
This is what made The Getaway so special, though, for fans. The novelty of driving around a one-to-one recreation of London was an uncanny experience at the time and a brilliant showcase for the PlayStation hardware. Even today, it still feels like a fascinating novelty loading up the game and seeing real stores like Pret a Manger or a WHSmith lining the streets. This is something that a lot of games depicting real locations, like The Crew 2, stay away from, in favour of fictional places, typically due to licensing issues.
The Fan Demand
The love for what The Getaway series delivered, and the promise of what could still be, has led to a sustained, dedicated fanbase in the years since its last appearance. JaybillsGames is a YouTuber based in the US who runs the Twitter account @Return2London, a page dedicated to news aggregation, fan speculation, and theories about the future of The Getaway series.
“I started the first page on Facebook in May 2017,” JaybillsGames told me. “At the time, I was busy with high school, but I did my best to build up the page. It didn’t last too long, but later that year, I wanted to give it another shot since the trend of making these campaign pages really shot up when the MediEvil fans, Spyro fans, and Ape Escape fans hit the scene. @Return2London was born in December 2017.”
And now seems as good a time as any in the eyes of fans to bring The Getaway back, given this recent nostalgia-fuelled surge in remasters and remakes of games from the early 2000s, including a slate of open-world games. Recently, Hangar13 remade Mafia as the Mafia: Definitive Edition, making the game more approachable for new players, while giving older fans a way to re-experience their favourite game. Rockstar Games, meanwhile, plans to release the Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition, a collection of the PS2-era GTA classics, on multiple consoles on November 11.
The Getaway’s London would be in familiar company were it to make a comeback now, and JaybillsGames certainly echoes Rouse’s sentiment that the virtual London the studio created is what made The Getaway so unique for the time. That attention to detail is one of the reasons why he personally wants to see the series make a return today. Though the fan reverence for real-world brands could also be part of the reason the original hasn’t made a return just yet, as licensing deals would likely need to be renegotiated or assets swapped when that isn’t possible. It’s been his and others hope that Sony will eventually remake the original Getaway, before continuing the series with a third entry detailing what happened to the original’s characters after its ambiguous ending.
For those unfamiliar, The Getaway ends with Hammond escaping the explosion of the cargo ship the Sol Vita and fleeing London, along with his kidnapped son Alex and the hitwoman Yasmin, while Carter must fight his way off the ship through legions of gang members to get out in the nick of time. Those cliffhanger moments leave plenty of room for story to be developed after, and with Black Monday’s pivot to other characters, Hammond and Carter’s stories remain unresolved.
“Did [Hammond and his family] make it out of London? Did they survive? And I want to know what happened with Frank Carter. Did he move higher in the ranks as a police officer? Did he redeem himself with the work he’s done? Is he still working in the Flying Squad after all these years? I felt there were so many unanswered questions with the characters in the original game,” JaybillsGamessaid of just how much is left to explore from the original’s story.
While some await an official update from PlayStation on the franchise’s future, some are working on enhancing what’s already been released. RacingFreak is a modder who has been busy restoring cut content to The Getaway games, including vehicles like the red w/ black vinyl roof Jaguar XJ6, which was removed from the game sometime after E3 2002. He’s been doing this since 2013 and currently has a Discord community of roughly 200 people interested in his experiments. Similar to JaybillsGames, he’s fascinated by the idea of what happened to the characters after the events of The Getaway.
“I think that it’ll be interesting to have a follow up on the original story as we never really got to know the aftermath of the main characters. Black Monday brought us a completely new set of characters and then after The Getaway 3 was ultimately cancelled, we never got to know the planned story and characters.”
He’s less sold, however, on a remake.
“I’m probably in the small minority of fans who aren’t hoping for a direct remake or remaster of the game,” he told IGN. “While it will be fascinating to see the game in a completely new engine and the city redone from the ground up, the [car and brand] licensing issues alone will make it very challenging, if not impossible to retain the uniqueness that was achieved in the original…We’ve already seen how this can seriously affect a game such as Gangs of London, in which the city still reuses the original map, but it just feels really bland and soulless with the generic textures and fictional vehicles.”
The community around The Getaway is hopeful that the series will make a return in some way or another. But unlike Grand Theft Auto and Mafia, which have generated multiple sequels and been ported to other consoles, The Getaway remains tied to the hardware, making it harder for the community to grow. One thing the series does have going for it, though, is exclusivity. Sony doesn’t currently boast any open-world exclusives across its studios that fit the gritty, real-world crime drama The Getaway offered players in the early 2000s, making a new game somewhat of an exciting prospect in 2021.
Despite such a silent period for the franchise since that E3 2006 showing, it’s worth mentioning there have actually been a number of unsuccessful attempts to create new games in The Getaway series. Prior to development of The Getaway 3, London Studio attempted to make an online version of The Getaway, called The Getaway Online. According to Rouse, this originally started as an online mode for Black Monday, before shifting development over to the PlayStation 3.
Not unlike GTA Online, The Getaway Online would have let players design a character, meet up and play mini-games, and organize their next heist. But it never saw the light of day. At least, not under The Getaway name. Instead, London Studio recycled the technology in order to create its social gaming platform PlayStation Home, which was eventually released in December 2008. A few clues to its origin remain, however.
“In PlayStation Home, you’ll see there’s chess boards and checkerboards and stuff like that,” Rouse told IGN. “Those are internal nods from the team to the fact that actually PlayStation Home was The Getaway Online. So those are internal little nods there. We also had personal apartments. So we had this whole system where you could buy and upgrade personal apartments, and you could put different objects in there. You could buy different objects and they’d give you different levels of prestige. Again, that’s something that you’ll see in PlayStation Home. That’s where personal apartments literally came from.”
Eventually, though, the studio would focus on the potential The Getaway 3. In 2005, a small group inside London Studio put together a demo for E3 of Piccadilly Circus for the Sony executive vice president at the time, Phil Harrison. This demo wasn’t necessarily an actual part of The Getaway 3 but aimed to show what a new entry could look like on the PlayStation 3 hardware. Shortly after E3 2005, development on a true sequel began in earnest. It was one of two big projects the studio was working on at the time, alongside another blockbuster project Eight Days.
“We had these two games being developed and internally we thought it was crazy,” Rouse said. “Because both games were expected to come out in exactly the same year. It seemed amazing that we were building two games that were coming out in the same year, using different engines. But ultimately, the studio decided to go the social route and that didn’t fit in with The Getaway and with Eight Days.”
The decision to cancel The Getaway 3 and Eight Days was allegedly a controversial one inside Sony, with some questioning the pivot to online and social games. According to Blake Hester reporting for Polygon, after these projects were cancelled, a round of layoffs inside the studio also impacted the two teams. Those who survived these cuts moved onto other projects within the studio, including the augmented-reality game EyePet, released in 2009.
Around the same time, in 2009, Nicolas Doucet, a game director at London Studio at the time and now lead of PlayStation’s Team Asobi in Japan, implied in an interview with Gamespot the projects had not been “abandoned, just put to one side.” But former employees we spoke to say The Getaway’s cancellation was fairly definitive, which would in part explain why the franchise has remained dormant for so long.
The Getaway’s Future?
Some glimmers of hope that the franchise was, at the very least, not forgotten have shone through recently. Eurogamer, for instance, reported in 2019 that Blood & Truth, Sony London’s VR crime thriller also set in London, originally carried The Getaway name, before switching directions.
According to our sources, this was indeed the case but the name change occurred to avoid disappointing fans of the series. After all, The Getaway’s loyal base had been awaiting a new open-world adventure, not a narrative-focused, first-person experience in VR. Rouse also believes the scope of a new Getaway project may be why Sony has been reluctant so far to bring it back yet.
“It’s a complex thing to do: to build an open-world game,” he said. “And to build something on the scale of The Getaway is very challenging. If they had put Blood and Truth out under The Getaway license, I think they would have a lot of disappointed fans, whereas if they branded it as this is something new, it’s set in London, and it’s hearkening back to our roots, I think people are more accepting of that. So, there’s some big shoes to fill there, and open-world cover-based games have also moved on massively.”
Despite that, there has been some speculation, though nothing definitive, that London Studio may be working on a new Getaway title. This is due to the studio staffing up for an unannounced online game project and Sony trademarking the mysterious “Soho Engine”. There are some who believe this new engine is a hint towards the studios’ past as Team Soho.
“That stirred things up a bit since it seemed to be completely different from their VR engine and the name is a reference to Team Soho, the team behind The Getaway games,” JaybillsGames said. “Who knows? With the pandemic and the PS5 releasing, the project could’ve been delayed. But the 20th anniversary for The Getaway is also very, very close, so that adds even more on top of that.”
Conversely, RacingFreak doesn’t pay much attention to these rumours. He’d rather wait for official announcements while he continues to focus on new and exciting ways to enjoy one of his favourite games.
“At the moment there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes [among the fanbase] in preparation for the upcoming 20th anniversary next year,” RacingFreak told us. “One of the more important ongoing projects is the preservation of press materials and magazine scans, which to us are incredibly valuable resources. We have also tried to find an earlier demo build of the game which we believe was given to gaming journalists in either July or August 2002…
“My ultimate goal is to begin working on porting the game to PC. At the moment this is only a very ambitious plan as there are no debugging symbols available, however I see last year’s highly successful development of Driver 2’s PC port REDRIVER2 as a great inspiration.”
What the future holds for The Getaway is still a mystery, but there have been enough positive signs, if nothing official or firm, that has instilled the fanbase with a renewed hope. The Getaway turning 20 in December of this year would certainly be the perfect time for Sony to hop on the continued nostalgia train fueling the remasters and remakes of the industry and bring The Getaway back in some form. And London Studio has been recently staffing up for a PS5 online exclusive, which only throws fuel on the fire of hope that it could be a return to the beloved series. For now, that all remains more a hope among fans than a clearly laid plan by Sony. With the number of near-calls over the years, however, only time will tell, but in the meantime The Getaway’s biggest fans are doing all they can to keep the love and excitement of those original adventures alive.
Jack Yarwood is a freelance feature writer who writes primarily about the video game industry. He has written for Fanbyte, Wireframe Magazine, and The Washington Post, among others. You can follow him on Twitter @JackGYarwood.