The Great Escape

Review by Old Rooster
August 2003

A British/American Marriage

One of the reasons my English wife married me 42 years ago had to do with my reminding her of Steve McQueen—cool, arrogant, sassy, action-oriented, sexy, and strikingly handsome! So The Great Escape, the film, became one of our all-time favorites when released in 1963. It told the story, as only Hollywood can, of the experiences of several of the hardest of hardcore prisoners in the infamous Stalig Luft 3 camp, located in Germany during World War II. Based on a true story, the film was gripping, climaxed by the incredible motorbike escape of McQueen.

Watch the Movie, Then Play the Game

Movie-licensed games have generally met with poor success, particularly in the eyes of critics. Based on my experience, the most faithful and fun adaptation I've played is Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, followed closely by The Thing, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and The City of Lost Children. In brief, The Great Escape ranks right up there with the best of them.

Following my pattern with games spun off from films, I viewed the movie prior to playing the adaptation. This led, for example, to The Thing (the game) to be viewed in quite a different light than as a completely isolated play experience. So, too, with The Great Escape.

Not only is my likeness, Steve McQueen, complete with voice and swagger, "digitally resurrected" (with permission of his estate), but virtually all of the key scenes featured in the movie are represented in the game—including the motorbike episode.

"There Will Be No Escape from this Camp" —Kommandant

Much like the lesser, and rather different, game, Prisoner of War, TGE's overall theme deals with prison escape. But the scope and settings move well beyond the experiences of sneaking past guards, digging tunnels, and avoiding searchlights—although all of these are parts of the game. Here, as reflected in the enclosed game pictures, we have almost half of the 18 missions played outside the prison walls. This adds tremendous variety to what becomes a quite compelling gaming experience. Much like the film, life is far from dull in WWII Germany!

"Keep at It, Sir" —Flight Crew to MacDonald

Beginning with MacDonald's harrowing experience during a night bombing raid, leading to his eventual capture, we are introduced to the four characters you play in the episodes:

  • Flight Lieutenant MacDonald—intelligence and planning officer;
  • Flying Officer Sedgewick—good with machines;
  • Flight Lieutenant Hendly—wheedles, barters and scrounges; and
  • Captain Virgil "The Cooler King" Hilts—stubborn, tough, and excels at escapes.

You are assigned one character in each chapter and can't voluntarily select among them. Although this seems a bit limiting, the specific goals will require specific and different skills, with this episode movement from one to another giving a very nice variety to overall gameplay.

Settings range from the burning airplane to a castle, a train, mountainous and rural terrain and, of course, the climactic motorbike chase.

"It Is Forbidden to Be out at Night" —Kommandant

Let's say a few words about the technical aspects and mechanics of the game.

Coming on two CDs, with a fine 5×7-inch manual, TGE takes about 1.6 GB of space on your hard drive. It installed smoothly and didn't evidence any bugs, let alone crashes, during my entire playing time of about 16 hours.

Even though we see signs of "consolitis" (a disorder plaguing the PC versions of many multiplatform games), the condition is not at all severe, only presenting the occasional control glitch. Playing in a third-person, over-the-shoulder viewpoint (first-person look-around view available), we find the following camera does a nice job, and it rarely obscures our point of view by, for example, putting us in a visually obstructed corner.

Each mission has multiple objectives, brought up by the Tab key. With the mouse fully employed, you can punch, peek, engage in special stealth moves, speak to NPCs, drive vehicles, and use weapons. There are items to be located, trades to be made, thievery to be done, conversations to be accomplished. An onscreen compass with health bar, danger meter (guards coming close) and action icons helps to guide you. Further, you are allowed a range of two to four saves per mission, depending on selected level of difficulty, which selection can be altered at the beginning of each mission. Thank you, developers!

"Once out of the Camp, You're on Your Own" —MacDonald

The graphical renderings of the PC version may seem dated to some—certainly not up to the level of the Unreal II or even Quake 3 engine, for example. There's a move on now to be ultrarealistic with water effects and facial features. TGE is not in the forefront of this technology. Yet I found the depictions of the varied settings fully satisfactory. The camp, farms and other arenas for your activities look as they should look. Character modeling, except for McQueen's Hilts, is generic. But the overall goal of creating a believable and immersive alternate world is met, from this reviewer's point of view.

Generally, audio is one of the strengths of TGE—from the ambient environmental sounds to the fine voice acting. During one episode, you can hear a rippling stream, with the sound rising and fading depending on your precise location. Even moving in a stationary circle changed the level of noise.

Bernstein's rousing theme from the film is reprised, along with melodies appropriate to the settings. As mentioned, voice acting is convincingly done, including the McQueen remastered lines.

Tom, Dick and Harry

The producer of TGE describes his creation as a "stealth-action" game, one he hopes will bring suspense, adventure and excitement to the player. Indeed, there is a good deal of sneaking about, though not nearly as much as with Prisoner of War. But there are also opportunities to man a bomber machine gun, drive a truck and half-track, engage in sniping and, of course, ride the motorbike. There are objectives to be achieved, but often there are multiple ways to proceed down those paths. It's fun, after all levels are unlocked, to return to a favorite episode and see if sneaking by or distracting a guard may work better than a choke kill. Oh, by the way, Tom, Dick and Harry are names of tunnels.

"Halt, Sound the Alarm!" —Camp Guard

The artificial intelligence in TGE seems inconsistent, even faulty, at times. Some of this varies with easy to hard settings, and some may relate to the kind of guard encountered. Yet, as in many games, you may find yourself standing next to a guard at night who doesn't notice you at all and a long way from another who suddenly and unexpectedly sounds an alarm! I guess this all adds to the tension, but the apparent inconsistency can sometimes be frustrating.

"If You Get a Chance, Steal a Motorbike" —MacDonald to Hilts

The Great Escape is an enjoyable, thrilling and suspenseful accompaniment to the classic film. Employing not only the skills of stealth, but also item-gathering, planning, and combat, the game captures and sustains your attention, involving you in a believable WWII experience. With scenes and a climax paralleling those of the film, I found the overall experience worthy of a solid Thumb Up. Rather dated graphics, AI inconsistencies, and a touch of consolitis keep it from our Gold Star level. But don't let this dissuade you from rejoining "The Cooler" Hilts and his pals in one of the very best movie-to-game adaptations.

What I Liked Most About the Game

  • Faithful to the spirit and theme of the film;
  • Credible and immersive atmosphere;
  • Variety of playing styles required (stealth to action);
  • Large, detailed and believable settings;
  • Interesting level design;
  • Fine voice acting;
  • Replayable, choosing other paths in missions.

What I Liked Least About the Game

  • Some control sloppiness at times, likely due to consolitis;
  • Graphically a bit dated;
  • The AI can be inconsistent. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Pivotal Games
Publisher: Gotham Games
Release Date: July 2003

Available for: PlayStation 2 Windows Xbox

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System Requirements

Windows 95/98/ME/XP
Pentium III 933 (P4 recommended)
128 MB RAM (256 MB recommended)
8X CD-ROM drive
32 MB 3D DirectX 8.0 compatible video card
DirectX 8.0 compatible sound card

Where to Find It

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