Based on the classic 1963 movie of the same name, The Great Escape from Gotham Games and Pivotal Games tells the story of several prisoners of war who try to escape from Nazi Germany imprisonment camps. Seeing as it's been years since I saw the MGM movie, it's difficult to say exactly how closely the video game follows the story. Fans of the movie that starred Steve McQueen will likely get a kick out of being able to don the shoes of the movie's key characters and go toe-to-toe with the Nazis in the fall of 1942. Unfortunately, the game suffers from many faults that turn what could have been an excellent game of stealth into a game that is sometimes very frustrating to play.
The story kicks off with a battle in the skies with the players taking on the role of one of the pilots, with the level ending just as the plane goes down over enemy territory. Next thing you know, the setting switches to a Nazi prison camp, although the camp is certainly not like what you'd expect. A number of the prisoners seem to be there solely to help others escape from the camp, with one character digging a tunnel to safety, another forging Nazi soldiers' insignias and others performing other duties all in the name of helping unfortunate POWs get free of the prison camp.
Over the course of the story, players will have to take their time and perform stealth actions to finally reach the goal of getting out of Nazi Germany. Players can move the characters in open movement or stealth modes, depending on whether or not it's safe to make a quick dash or if silence is key to staying one step ahead of the enemy. The controls should be fairly simple to learn, except that the coding seems faulty and some of the commands given don't perform properly under all circumstances. This makes for some annoying experiences, as players only get a handful of free saves during each level and dying means starting from the last save. On the easiest difficulty, players have four save slots. Once they're used up, saving isn't possible again until the next level. While it perhaps maintains some of the atmospheric sense of danger, it really adds little to the game itself. Thankfully, saves can be overwritten with other save points, as long as players only use all but one of the save slots (use that last one and players are out of luck for the rest of the level).
The gameplay controls are a little shaky and take a little getting used to. Combat is especially painful and possibly the worst feature of the game. Firing guns is done through auto-targeting, unless you switch to a shoddy first-person mode. First-person mode is immediately exited if players try to move positions while in it, so it's really only good for sniping. The auto-targeting system only seems to work half the time so trying to get a fix on an enemy will get the heroes killed a few times. If that's not bad enough, hand-to-hand combat is even worse.
To give the game some credit, The Great Escape isn't about diving into dangerous situations with a hail of bullets like most first-person shooters. The game has more similarities to Splinter Cell than to Halo, but while Splinter Cell's in-game controls were nearly spotless, The Great Escape could've used a lot more work before release. Aside from the sneaking and fighting in the game, players will also get the chance to drive a number of vehicles (including a motorcycle), pick locks, pick pockets, pass themselves off as German soldiers, use medikits to heal wounds, peek through keyholes to see if the coast is clear, and repair machinery.
Graphically, the game isn't bad. Facial details and animations are good, and it is kind of cool to see a computer-generated image of Steve McQueen. The sound is also good, but the same catch phrases from characters are heard again and again. Some variety would've been nice.
Overall, The Great Escape will be most enjoyed by fans of the movie. Players who like a good stealth game should consider leaving this title on the shelves and looking elsewhere. There are definitely far better examples of games in this genre.