Marc Ecko’s Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure features a young-blood named Trane, a graffiti artist who wants to get his name out there and become famous. After an early game beat-down, Trane rebuilds his image and forms the Stay Free Crew, a group dedicated to “getting up” (slang for painting graffiti) at any cost. The city is ruled by the CCK, a police force tasked with stopping taggers by any means necessary. Trane soon gets in over his head with rival gangs, the CCK, and even the mayor and must fight in order to survive.
I ended up being really torn on the story in Getting Up. On the one hand, it takes a ridiculous amount of time to get started and features some poorly shot cutscenes and some hit-or-miss voice acting. On the other hand, the events go to some truly insane places and everything is so bombastically serious that I couldn’t help but love it. I didn’t particularly think it was a good story, but it was at least different and obviously something the developer (and Marc Ecko, who worked on the project) cared a lot about. There’s a certain enthusiasm to the whole thing that made me respect it in a way I wasn’t expecting. Throw in a couple of pretty slick CG scenes (even for today) and I at least think that the story of Getting Up is worth seeing once.
The actual meat of the game is a mish-mash of various game types: navigation, combat, stealth, and tagging. Navigation mostly resembles something like Tomb Raider or Uncharted, as you climb pipes and ledges to reach the best places to bomb with your work. Unlike those games, however, the controls for this feel clunky and imprecise. Oftentimes, I would attempt to make a jump and watch in horror as my character didn’t even grab the ledge, plummeting to his death. Even worse is that, several times, I had trouble determining where to go. The camera rarely shows the correct angle, and the way forward is often extremely hard to see. I never enjoyed this aspect of the game, but it was at least tolerable.
Getting Up’s combat predates the Batman era of video games, so it isn’t as smooth and simple as you might like. You can punch and kick, grapple, dodge, and block. Holding the attack buttons at the end of a combo does a power move (dictated by a meter) that often knocks enemies down. It all feels okay and even manages to be enjoyable on some of the early enemies, as you knock them down over and over again with jump kicks and overhand punches. Later enemies, however, become unbearably frustrating. The way they are designed almost feels like it was meant to be irritating, such as how they attack so fast and so often (and also drain a fifth of your health bar) that you can’t even get a single hit in. If you get into group conflicts with enemies at this point in the game, you may as well just start over, as winning takes far too much time and effort to be worth it. I understand the need to make your foes get tougher as you progress, but Getting Up goes much too far with this concept.
Even more frustrating is when the game tries to impose stealth on you. There are few instances where getting discovered is an automatic failure, but many of the longer stealth areas feature respawning enemies whose job it is to ensure you can’t do your tagging objectives. You have a method of knocking out enemies instantly by sneaking up behind them, but I found this attack to be very inconsistent. Several times, I hit the buttons required for the attack and instead found myself attacking the enemy normally, causing a massive fight that I didn’t want to engage with. Guards also seem to be amazingly prescient when it comes to your tagging, aggroing from impossible distances and bringing friends. These sections are easily the worst part of the game and made me want to stop playing more than once.
Finally, the highlight of Getting Up is the graffiti system, a clever and well-implemented style of gameplay that I couldn’t get enough of. At various predetermined spots, you can paint one of four images (which you pick before starting the mission) with a variety of tools like spray cans and paint rollers. Each of these tools operates slightly differently: spray cans have you fill in the area with paint while posters require glue before pasting on the image. Every spot gives you Rep (a currency that unlocks more graffiti and fight moves) based on how quickly you painted, if you dripped any paint (which happens if you hold in one spot too long), and the difficulty of the location.
I had a great deal of fun with this part of the game. Each chapter unlocks new graffiti and I was always eager to see what the next image would look like. It’s clear that they were all designed by actual graffiti artists, packed with color and interesting imagery that is beautiful to behold. I loved climbing up to a dangerous ledge, painting a fantastic image, and being scored on how well I did. It’s a fantastic feedback loop that kept me coming back for more. As the game goes on, there are several of these spots in every level. At a point, it does become a little tedious to hit them all, especially since you can only take four different images into one level. You will probably be better off leaving some of the optional objectives alone, especially in the harder levels near the end. Even with this eventual tedium, this is a mechanic that I would love to see in another game.
It’s worth noting that the PC version of this game is a little busted. Since it predates the days of good console-to-PC ports, there are several annoyances to deal with. My Xbox 360 controller was mapped incorrectly at first, with no in-game way of changing the controls. However, there is a file to be edited in the game’s directory that can fix these problems with a bit of work. I also observed several graphical glitches, likely from running the game at such a high resolution, and a few game-breaking bugs that forced me to restart. It is far from an unplayable mess, but you should anticipate running into some issues if you play this on the PC.
Marc Ecko’s Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure is a unique game. Unlike any other high-profile game I’ve seen, it felt like someone’s unique vision. The story may become crazy and disjointed, but it is still earnest in a way that felt very real to me. There were some rough edges in the gameplay, but the creative graffiti system managed to smooth most of them out for me. It’s a game I can’t help but like more than I want to: intriguing ideas packed into a dated gameplay experience. Even with its clunky gameplay and awkward story-telling, I still think that Getting Up is something everyone should see at least once.