Marc Ecko's Getting Up is an interesting title. How often do you see a video game emblazoned with the name of a major clothing designer? It's a good thing the man has a history in the world of graffiti art, though, which makes for a much more compelling game.
Getting Up is essentially like Sega's Jet Set Radio series with a more realistic approach and minus the roller blades. As the young Coltrane "Trane" Crowley, you'll traverse the New York-esque Radius City in search of places to throw your name up. Just a "toy" (read: slang for newbie) in the world of street artists, you'll have to earn your way to the top. Of course, it doesn't just end there. Ecko dashes his fictional city with a little bit of magical realism. Radius is just this side of our world, an alternate version of a slummy inner-city-cum-police-state where writers take on the role of revolutionaries against the oppressive forces of Mayor Sung. His hopeful "Revive, Rebuild, Renew" plan is a front for more nefarious activities and population control.
Trane eventually finds that he has a personal vendetta against Sung, but to get revenge he'll have to contend with other opponents along the way. There's the Vandals of New Radius (VaNR), a graffiti squad headed by red-coiffed basketball fan Gabe, the Vandal Squad, a special undercover police unit that blends in with bums in order to target underground graffiti artists (and commanded by the overwhelming Aunt Beth), various orders of the CCK, Mayor Sung's commando squad, and a few other rogues who'd like to stand in your way. Of course, with all the twists and turns in the story, not all alliances stay the same, but Trane's ultimate goal is always to take down Sung's administration.
Getting Up consists of 11 different missions, each split up into several different sub-levels, making it a fairly lengthy game. Regardless of plot points, the basic idea of every level is to navigate the urban environments, throwing up your name anywhere you can. You'll have to tag particular spots in order to move forward (which will either be shown to you at the beginning of an area or can be found using Trane's "Intuition" by hitting L2), but you can essentially tag anywhere you want. Certain spots, both key to the mission and optional, will gain you Rep points which increase your ranking and also unlock various things throughout the game such as new graffiti sets or attacks.
In order to find and tackle these tag spots, though, you'll have to learn how to navigate the environments and dispense those who get in your way. The former involves a bit of platforming, so it's a good thing that Trane is quite athletic. He can climb up pipes and grating, make wall jumps, navigate vines growing on the sides of buildings, and perform many other techniques. This gets especially tricky and fun later on in the game when the levels become more death-defying. Trane will have to tag on speeding subway trains, atop sky cars, on the sides of bridges and towers, and even a blimp hovering over the city. These locales make the experience a lot more interesting and dynamic than if it had just required you to sneak around in dark alleyways. This is a fictional narrative and despite it's more realistic bent, it's good fun to play through these over-the-top moments. Some of the later showpieces are simply spectacular and evoke the same feeling as tackling the gigantic monstrosities in Shadow of the Colossus. Most of these techniques are context-sensitive though. Holding the analog stick towards a pipe, for example, will cause Trane to jump onto it, or you can leap over a short fence just by nudging into it. This works well most of the time, but in a few instances, it becomes a little sticky and you'll end up doing something you didn't mean to.
As for dispatching enemies, the game features a decently robust combat engine. Trane can perform the standard punch, punch, punch or kick, kick, kick combos, but he can also hold the final button press for smash hits, which do more damage but deplete your Skills bar. By pressing Circle, you can make him do an evade roll (this also serves the function of picking up items and weapons on the ground). You can also stun the enemy by tapping forward twice and punching or kicking. There are also quite a few unlockable moves to expand Trane's arsenal even more. Early on, enemies aren't so tough, but once you start dealing with the CCK troopers, taking on more than one or two will get you wrecked pretty quickly. They have no qualms about putting the beat down on you and they come in several flavors, the toughest with machine guns and lots of health. When encountering CCK, you'll likely find yourself in stealth situations where you have to sneak around them as well as security cameras and other obstacles. Trane has another handy move at his disposal for just these occasions. By holding L1, you can crouch and sneak up behind an enemy. Get close enough, hit X+O, and you can knock 'em out cold with the end of your spray paint can.
Tagging itself is handled in an interesting way. There are several different ways to go about it. Freeform tagging can be done at any time and basically consists of Trane just throwing up a simple picture on the wall. This is done by going up to the a taggable surface, hitting R1 to enter graffiti mode, and then hitting square to write it up. Using the digital pad before actually putting anything down, you can select from different designs and colors. There are freeform challenges that require you to nail a wall or signs a certain number of times within a time limit. However, the larger tags require a bit more effort. You'll once again go into graffiti mode with R1 and then throw up your art depending on the type of tag. Spray paint is the most common and requires you to move around the graffiti area hitting Square for a slow spray or Triangle for a fast spray. The latter will produce more drips, which decrease the number of Rep points you get for completing the art. Drip points appear as red blobs and continuing to spray on or around them will mar your picture. Other types include using a roller to go back and forth across the tagging surface or using Square to apply wheat-paste and triangle to apply posters on top of it. Each tag has a time limit on it and you'll be get a certain number of Rep points upon completion as a result of time, drips, whether or not it is a Heaven Spot (a hard-to-reach tag), and whether you produced a big or small picture (large tags cannot be applied to all surfaces, but you'll get more points for them when you can use them).
For a game like this, graphics should play a rather big part, right? Well, most of the environments do maintain the feel of a gritty urban center and the graffiti generally looks nice and bright against the dingy backgrounds. Heck, even some levels that have you high above the ground provide a nice sense of scale and you can see cars buzzing around on roads below. That said, there are some odd graphical glitches and issues with hit detection. Graffiti art and characters will sometimes stutter or clip through walls and other random oddities tend to pop up like the one time the game paused to give me a hint , but the camera never jumped back behind my character afterwards. This is a classy game, but it really could have used an extra layer of polish. None of the things I experienced during play destroyed the experience, but it is rather obvious in some cases and can be quite nagging.
Likewise, the audio has some similar problems. Subtitles don't follow the character dialogue directly and you'll sometimes one person's speech cutting into another's, like it started too early or something. The game actually has quite a good soundtrack with some tunes that really fit the idea of revolution. The problem is that despite a fair number of songs, they're used sparingly in-game, which is a real bummer. You can unlock a lot of the music by finding little iPods throughout the game, but you can only listen to them on the game information screen. What's really cool is the voice talent Ecko managed to grab for the game. Trane is voiced by Talib Kweli, and other main characters are done by Michael Berrin, Rosario Dawson, Giovanni Ribisi, Charlie Murphy, Brittany Murphy, George Hamilton, Andy Dick, and Adam West. It's an impressive list and they all fit their roles pretty well. There are also some graffiti legends in the game, too, but most of them really do come off as cameos a la the Tony Hawk series, instead of being actual citizens within the fictional world created for Getting Up.
There is some replay value to the game, but you'll probably unlock most of the stuff your first time through. I had unlocked everything on the list several missions before the end of the game. These include new moves, more weapon damage, characters and arenas for the 2-player Beatdown mini-game (just like a simple fighter), concept art, and fresh graffiti sets. You can also go back to any stage you've played and finish up the optional spots you never got to or find all of the bonuses and take pictures of any remaining Legend art that you don't yet have in your autograph-filled Blackbook.
All of this is wrapped up in a nicely-presented package, as to be expected from Ecko's design house. With its roots in the eclectic forms of graffiti art, the game maintains a interesting artistic sense throughout. Cutscenes display the same sense of style, conforming to the rhythm and flow of the street. It's almost comic book in its presentation and it comes off as being really cool and classy. Menus also benefit from the themes present in the rest of the game. Though they suffer from a little bit of lag time, it's set up like you're in a subway station. The main menu is in the lobby, selecting to continue a game, will send you zooming down to the escalator to the platforms below, the options menu is presented on a flipping time-board, and so on. It's great and really fits in with everything else.
Ultimately, despite a few niggling glitches here and there and a lack of polish some areas, Marc Ecko's Getting Up is a pretty fun ride and when all of its parts come together the right way, it's unlike anything else you've played in recent memory. Don't be scared off by any misconceptions you might have about the urban style of the game. Anybody should be able to enjoy this one.