The movie-licensed game is a longtime, if somewhat dubious, tradition in this industry--every summer you see a raft of games that tie in to the latest box-office-busting Hollywood films. In the past, these games were generally confined to consoles, but in this age of simultaneous cross-platform releases, they've begun to pop up on the PC as well. In addition to this summer's expected crop of current-action-flick games, we've also received a game based on a 40-year-old action flick. The Great Escape is an action and stealth game based on the 1963 Steve McQueen film of the same name, and though it provides a large amount of varied gameplay for fans of the movie, none of its parts are developed enough to be wholly satisfying.
In The Great Escape, you must use stealth to complete your missions.
The plot of The Great Escape, the game, is closely tied to and actually expands upon the plot of The Great Escape, the movie. While the film focused on the escape of Allied POWs from Stalag Luft III, a high-security Nazi prison camp, that event doesn't occur until several missions into the game. Prior to that, you'll be playing missions that detail the back story of memorable figures from the film like Hilts (the McQueen character), MacDonald, and Sedgewick. These early missions fill you in on how the heroes of the movie came to be imprisoned at Stalag Luft III and provide a good introduction to their personalities. Of course, after the big breakout, you'll play several more missions that chronicle these characters' harried path through Europe to freedom. Each mission has a set playable character, and you'll switch back and forth fairly often to catch up with the progress of each one.
The Great Escape's gameplay is surprisingly varied, but it's a stealth action game at its core. You control your character from the third-person perspective, and you have a standard assortment of basic moves to facilitate sneaking past the ubiquitous Nazi guards. You can vary your walking speed or crouch to move around silently, and you have a "stealth camera" that lets you look around corners, over boxes, and even through keyholes to see what the guards are up to. You can also punch enemies or choke them from behind, but doing so is pretty awkward and can often backfire, leading to your capture. When alerting a single guard means you have to start the mission over, you want to keep to the shadows as much as possible. Though The Great Escape is a console-style action game, and it appears to have been developed primarily with consoles in mind, it plays perfectly fine on the PC in terms of control. As you'd expect, it supports standard gamepads, and it even handles relatively well with a mouse and keyboard. However, the added precision of the mouse offers both an advantage and a disadvantage: Though you can aim more accurately in the combat portions than with an analog stick, you're not given as much auto-aim assistance as in the console versions, so you have to do more of the work yourself.
Unfortunately, when compared with the best games in the stealth genre like the PC's reigning champ, Splinter Cell, the gameplay in The Great Escape doesn't hold up very well. For one thing, it never seems like your sneaking has much of a point--the stealth missions mostly degenerate into glorified fetch quests. Sneaking from point A to point B, then back to point A, then to point C just to grab some trivial items and throw a couple of switches can be pretty uninteresting. The game's stealth wouldn't be so bad if the guard AI were a little more realistic, but sometimes you'll end up getting caught for no discernible reason, while at other times you'll be able to sneak past a guard that has a direct line of sight to your position. To make matters worse, you're limited to three saves per level, which you'd expect would make the game more challenging. It does, but at the cost of introducing a lot of repetition--when you can get caught at the drop of a hat, you'll be repeating large portions of the missions over and over until you've figured out exactly how to evade the guards' search patterns. Occasionally the gameplay and level design will come together and you'll encounter a sneaking segment that's pretty cool, but these bits are too few and too minor to rescue The Great Escape's stealth missions from the otherwise pervasive tedium.