The ego has landed, or, in Marc Ecko's case, it's fallen flat on its face. Cynical gamer intuition aside, urban fashion designer Ecko (he of the rhino) seems to think his image is worthy of a AAA release on PS2, Xbox and PC. Whether you like his clothes or not, it doesn't matter, we'll give you the benefit of the doubt Mr Ecko - if your game is good, that's fine by us.
Thing is, after an hour or so playing a build that doesn't exactly inspire confidence that development is going swimmingly (rumours abound that Ecko doesn't approve code lightly), things don't seem to be 'getting up' quite to the standards our resident multitalented entertainment guru would like.
First the premise: set in a near future full of typically decaying urban cities and dilapidated moral backwaters, our hero (rucksack, spray can and ,of course, Ecko inspired clothing in tow) is on a mission to defeat a totalitarian regime through... graffiti (bet Tony Blair's kicking himself), which isn't exactly what my old school teacher said it was good for. Effectively, you need to dodge enemy gang members and 'thought police-esque' (very Orwellian) bad guys (actually called the Anti-Vandal Squad) and tag hard to reach areas with your assortment of cans and what not. This, it seems, is what future protests will be made of.
Ridiculous game premises aside, it seems very Jet Set Radio to us. But will it be as good as the stylish Dreamcast classic?
We begin in a back alley, and overhear some goons revealing a bit of information relevant to the story (no we weren't listening). With PS2 Dual Shock in hand, we move our artistic revolutionary in for a stealth kill, creeping with the analogue and L1 held down until positioned just behind our unsuspecting foe. Then, snap - stealth kill complete. Seems spray painting grubby streets isn't the only talent hiding underneath those baggy trousers and XXL t-shirts.
So Contents Under Pressure is a very violent game. You can pick up weapons including shovels, planks and bars to smack your enemies into a bloody mess, each time a satisfyingly bone crunching sound, worthy of Fight Club, assaults the senses. Immediately we think GTA, and that would fit, since Ecko's clothes are probably worn by GTA's primary audience. But the GTA comparisons end there - they'll be no free-roaming sand box adventuring here.
Combat on the build we tested was fiddly, with cumbersome targeting, but we are assured maintenance is due in this area. One button for kick, one for punch and one for dodge; it's a monotonous chore at this point in development. The system needs more options and increased refinement to be anything other than a frustrating obstacle to the more compelling gymnastic based gameplay Getting Up offers - but we'll get to that later. Combat's also extremely exaggerated. Slo-mo (that damn Matrix influencing everything again) kicks in when a particularly meaty roundhouse meets the oncoming temple of an unlucky bad guy.
Which is all very unoriginal. After combat is finished, perhaps Getting Up's saving grace kicks in - getting into position to tag a particularly hard to reach area. A flash sequence that shows us the best course of action gives us a leg up before we've had a chance to wipe the blood off of our spray can. We jump, climb, swing, dangle, shuffle and creep our way to our destination - a ledge about twenty metres off the ground. The influence here is, quite surprisingly, Prince of Persia. Our protagonist moves in a very similar way, although the level design couldn't be more different (more 'urban ghetto' than 'Aladdin').
And tagging itself, in early levels at least, is a simple, unskilful process. You move the analogue while spraying to fill in the outline of the tag, already in place on your canvas. You need to fill it all in to complete the tag, earn respect among fellow graffiti artists and progress to the next mission. Over spray a certain area, and your paint will start to drip, and you'll lose kudos. Get it perfect in the shortest time for max respect. Later levels we're told, will require much more spraying skill to satisfy your audience.
In another sequence we meet up with a fellow member of the resistance, who helps you dodge your pursuers across a busy highway (Frogger fused with hip-hop), eventually working your way up to a motorway billboard where you spray while dodging bullets. You can even grab a cleaner and chuck him into the oncoming traffic. Lovely. There's even a train level (aren't there always?). You need to swing from either side of the car, jumping down from the roof, dodging signals and tunnel lights and spraying as you go. It should be adrenaline pumping, but it's not
But are we being over critical? Are we even Atari's target audience for the game? Forums seem split down the middle - divided between those who like hip-hop and Ecko's clothes and those that don't like hip-hop and feel Ecko has no right to impose his ego on the world's gamers. Originality, as so often in the industry nowadays, doesn't matter.
As far as Marc Ecko's Getting Up goes, at the moment it's a bog standard, uninspiring hip-hop action game. For those who will be into it, it won't be as good as GTA, but it will suffice for a weekend. If you're looking for the next Jet Set Radio, you'll be disappointed too. The graphics aren't special, the combat isn't amazing and the set-pieces aren't epic - but they don't need to be for Contents Under Pressure to be a success. With the right marketing enough people will buy it and Atari can pat themselves on the back. Remember, if there's one person who knows how to sell urban to teenagers it's Marc Ecko himself. Luckily for Atari, they know it too.