The Godfather

It’s no secret that sandbox games such as the Grand Theft Auto series have helped to redefine its particular genre. With none to really call their own, EA’s decision to make a game based on The Godfather seemed to be a decision that would be greeted with both derision and curiosity at whether they could actually pull off an adaptation of the caliber demanded by its namesake to take on its rivals. In the meetings and previews held behind closed doors, players could probably imagine EA’s eyes lighting up at the idea of creating a title that could blow away the competition as it baptized yet another new franchise to add to their collection of successful properties. But the result proves once more that having a huge license doesn’t necessarily create a killer title.

The Godfather pulled enough strings to appear on both the PS2 and the Xbox. I played the Xbox version.

This is Business

EA’s adaptation of The Godfather follows the exploits of a new recruit to the Corleone crime family, a recruit whose childhood memories include the murder of his father at the hands of Don Barzini’s men. Don Barzini, for those that haven’t watched the films, is the head of one of the “Five Families” of New York that have divided the underworld of the city amongst themselves. The recruit’s father also happened to be a member of the Corleone crime family and before you know it, several years later, you eventually find yourself working for them as the Corleones take you in and show you the ropes of the business.

From then on, its up to you to extort, assassinate, and pretty much murder anyone that stands in yours or the Corleone family’s way. Forget the thoughtful and deeper nuances of the meticulous plotting, backstabbing, or the inner conflict of fighting your destiny to back this Murder Inc. interpretation of the film. Unlike the quiet, unspoken negotiation of nods, handshakes, and the occasional assassination, you’ll be thrust into a kind of theme park dedicated to mobsters who love to blow up stuff, beat people like Sonny Corleone, and throw around flower girls for their money.

Gameplay

The game places your character in the backdrop of several famous scenes from the film along with a few independent missions that were not directly addressed. For example, what exactly happened to Sonny’s assassins? Who put that gun in the restroom for Mike to pick up and plug Solozzo and McCluskey as they fed their faces fine Italian cuisine? This game puts the player in the background to answer those questions while helping the Corleones extend their power.

When you start off, the game’s “Mobface” engine allows you to generate your character’s build and his looks, creating your own unique thug. Once in the game, the simple to use controls make it almost too easy to get around, fight, and generally cause the kind of mayhem that Dutch Schultz would have been proud of. You can also choose from a somewhat sparse wardrobe to make him look good, changing the colors and patterns to really get that gangster look you’ve always wanted. In a really strange decision, though, this is done outside of the game. If you want to spend your hard earned cash on clothes, you’ll have to save, quit, and then reload your game to get back into the Tailor and Barber modes to change your look. Why you have to do this outside of the game itself doesn’t make a whole lot of sense especially when there are barber and tailor shops in the game.

The “Black Hand” method of control allows you to basically thug out on shopkeepers, brothel managers, and anyone in the street that looks at you funny. Based in part on EA’s control system developed for their Fight Night series, you’ll pummel, kick, snap necks, strangle, and throw people off of the tops of buildings or through windows and displays to help make you the ultimate bad boy in NYC. The remarkable thing about it is how easy it is to manage your brutality without the need to attend anger management classes. With some practice that the game coaxes you through, you’ll soon be busting heads and throwing people through storefronts in no time. You’re also able to crouch and sneak, hide behind crates, or behind corners which the enemy AI will also often do.

For other digital gangsters that want to talk out of the end of a gun barrel instead of with their fists, the title’s precision shooting system makes that easy to do as well. By default, the controls make it simple to lock on and maintain that lock on a foe as they move around, take cover, and generally try to get in potshots at you while you try to do the same thing. But as long as you can maintain the lock, you can also adjust the crosshairs to nip the top of someone’s head as they hide behind one of the game’s many crates. You can also shift into a sort of focused cursor mode that puts the third person, over the shoulder, view of the game firmly pointed to where your character is looking which helps quite a bit when you’re clearing out buildings while trying not to get buckshot planted in your chest.

With well aimed shots, you can also sometimes force your friend with the gun to fall in pain and try to stand back up leaving him open for a lead surprise. Or you can drop someone that’s trying to run at you, blowing out their knee to stagger them. This doesn’t last long, though, as they’ll eventually stagger back up and run around for cover as if they’ve instantly healed. It’s useful if you want to run up and pummel them before they miraculously recover, but that’s pretty much it.

There’s a lot of weapons to be found in the game, from Molotov cocktails to Tommy guns, with even more powerful lead spitters available if you have the cash. You’ve also got access to dynamite for blowing open safe doors, or bombs that you can use to gut rival businesses that don’t want to play ball with the Corleones. There are even a few melee weapons that you can choose from as well as a garrote for being sneaky. The shotgun, though, is massively overpowered. Seriously. You’d think range would affect this thing, but it doesn’t enabling you to range as far out as you can and snap headshots with buckshot. Even in a crowd of people, you can still score a lethal hit if you’ve locked onto someone’s head. Fortunately, the other weapons are a bit more balanced and every death can be pretty bloody.

The Streets of New York

Once you get used to the controls, its time to take to the streets of New York to work for the Corleones. Here, the game certainly takes quite a few liberties with the source material in order to allow the player to do almost anything that they want to. One big addition to the general gameplay is that you’ll be able to take over small businesses and fronts, either by buying into a piece of the action or by taking a pound of flesh from the owners. The owners all have a breaking point that you can exploit for even more of a piece of the pie, ranging from pointing a gun at their head or leaning them over the edge of a rooftop to encourage them to accept your sales pitch. Push them too far, though, and watch as they go berserk and try to attack you, losing the opportunity to make money off of their woe. But be careful. These businesses are run by the other Families and simply talking to the owner may require more than just walking in and doing what you need to do when he has friends outside that you may need to blow away first.

Of course, there are consequences to your free-for-all shooting sprees. The other families won’t take kindly to your affinity for turning their troops into so many target dummies and the more of them you kill, the higher the Vendetta rating will go until you actually start a mob war. In the game, think of Vendetta as the measure of how much leeway you have with a particular family before they decide to simply want to rub you out. Once a mob war has started with that family, their soldiers will try and shoot you on sight instead of just allowing you to go on your Sunday drive. There’s also a time limit that starts up as soon as the Vendetta starts, giving you time to do what you need to do. If you take too long to settle it, the other side ‘wins’ the war and blows up a business or two that you had owned cutting into your take.

As soon as the war starts, you have two choices: you can either blow up one or two of their businesses first to ‘win’ it, but which will also rob you of a potential moneymaker, or you can grease the right palms by finding an FBI agent to put the pressure on the offending family and have the Vendetta canceled…until you start things up again. It’s an interesting system of consequences, but it’s far too easy to be able to call off the Vendetta that starting a war doesn’t really have as much of an implication as you think it would. Unlike the film, don’t expect to defend yourself against the occasional hitman that comes for you just because everyone kissed and made up.

The police are also on the take and given the right amounts, can be bribed to look the other way or keep the heat down when you decide to go blow up more bank vaults. Of course, as their own heat level rises, expect them to start coming out of the woodwork to try and make you pay. Street cops and cop cars will start attacking you everywhere you go when you’ve managed to piss off the city, but the consequences mean very little especially when the way to get out of this is just as easy as it was to get into it. The easiest way is to simply drive out of the section of the city where the heat is highest, or hide out in a safe house to lower it enough to be able to walk around without people trying to take pot shots at you.

There are safe houses that you can purchase or are given to you where you can save the game in between missions, heal up, or basically lower the heat to a more respectable level so that you can continue to do business. When you heist banks, you need to return to the nearest safe house to “avoid the police” and add the loot to your collection. Merely blowing the vault and taking what’s inside isn’t enough as you’ll still have to get away with it. This makes it almost ridiculously easy to basically go on massive Capone-style shooting sprees and then dodge the consequences. Recent GTA titles made the player work to get the heat off of their back and the deadly consequences of trying to avoid fleets of gun toting officers and FBI agents emphasized the very real danger of being caught without a car to save yourself in. In The Godfather, it was too easy to get out of the fire. Even with cops tailing you to your safe house, as soon as you stepped across that threshold, you were declared safe by the umpire.

Tailored Suits

As you progress in the game, you can improve your chances of survival. A few RPG elements have also been added to help craft your gangland persona into a virtual machine of streetwise annihilation. Experience in the game is measured in “respect” earned from a variety of sources ranging from extorting businesses and taking over rackets to pulling off hits and other jobs for the Family. As you rise in level, you get to use points that you can allocate to certain skills such as how much more accurate your are with your guns to how much less heat and Vendetta you earn when you do nasty things in public. The title provides a lot of opportunity to get ‘respect’ outside of the main story and you could spend some time exploring the city and taking out certain businesses and locations belonging to the other Families in between your jobs for the Corleones.

But rising through the ranks in the Corleone Family depends on following the main story arc and pulling off the missions that it gives you. This is particularly important because when you start out, you give almost all of your weekly take from the businesses your extort to them. The higher in rank you are, the less you’ll need to share, eventually being able to rise to the position of Don…which is, in itself, kind of a strange thing to pull of in The Godfather as you’d figure Mike might have something to say about that. Even more strange is that although you’re “Don”, and can eventually rise to become the “Don of New York” by completing even more of the game after it ends, you’re still running out there and carjacking your way to the next bakery that you need to extort. Where’s my entourage?

The Color of Money

NYC looks pretty good, with each section of the city sporting their own particular feel. Don’t expect too much in the way of variety, however, as many buildings look familiar no matter where you go although its varied enough to not feel like you’re driving through a canyon of copycat textures. A few major NYC landmarks are also there to add to the skyline. The people, however, are another story who seem to fall in one of four or so major categories which just looks unusual. The special effects aren’t bad, either, from your weapons spitting leaden sparks to the fiery explosions that they may cause and the greasy smoke that billows out from them.

One other odd thing that you will see is in how the game creates visual cues for the different Family soldiers on the street. Seemingly taking a page out of Dick Tracy, the gangsters belonging to the different Families wear colored suits to show their affiliation which just feels as if it enforces the theme park feeling I felt in going in. They even smash their fists into their palms when they see you approach, sometimes two or three at a time doing the same thing like some kind of can can line with fists, just as you would expect a comic book bad guy to do so…not someone who belongs to one of the Five Families.

But when it comes to the main characters, EA did an excellent job in bringing over many of the film’s famous faces, in particular James Caan, Robert Duvall, and the late Marlon Brando who reprise their roles by lending their likenesses and voices to the game. Although in Marlon Brando’s case, while much of his voice work was replaced by a sound alike due to his illness at the time of production, the acting was still spot on. Duvall’s unmistakable candor is noteworthy and Caan also reprises his role, although his performance sounded somewhat phoned in at certain points.

The animations in the game, especially in the facial expressions of the main characters and your own, help to tell the story that forms the backdrop by recreating many of the signature scenes from the film within the context of the game. The general voice work throughout the game is also entertaining, from the insults your enemies throw at you to the liberal use of the F-bomb on the street or in a firefight. The sound effects are also well done, with every weapon barking out over your speakers and every explosion rumbling through the air.

Al Pacino’s face and voice were also conspicuously missing. One possible reason was reportedly that it was due to the actor’s concern over his voice having dramatically changed too much for the young Michael, while another may be because of his prior commitment to Vivendi’s upcoming game based on Scarface. Regardless, because Paramount owns the rights to the film, this enabled EA to create a character to fill in as “Michael Corleone”. While the voice acting and the character that you see subbing for Pacino works out okay, film fans may not be able to shake the feeling that it just doesn’t seem the same.

Henry Mancini’s score from the movie is also present, augmented by a few additional pieces, but while it sounds good it ironically felt out of place for most of the game especially alongside the new material. Racing through the streets of NYC and accidentally sending a few careless pedestrians flying or smashing into the occasional crate to The Godfather theme just didn’t seem right. In the fixed scenes lifted from the film in which it is used for dramatic effect, though, it works out as well as you can expect it to.

Cars Always Land On Their Feet

The game’s core mechanics are strong enough to be found in their own sandbox style title to allow the developers the opportunity of exploring their own fiction. As an interpretation of the film, its action oriented approach didn’t remind me so much of the film as it did Grand Theft Auto which EA had been aiming at, but it still doesn’t feel right. In playing through this title, I couldn’t help but feel that EA still has a little bit of catching up to do in several areas.

For instance, the driving engine can be exciting especially when you’re roaring down Broadway chased by a fleet of bad guys, it still has training wheels attached to it. It tries very hard to keep your car on its “feet” to the point where it just feels silly. You can tilt your car ninety degrees and watch as it continues to drive ahead and tilt itself back onto its tires. Every time. I managed to literally drive along the storefronts lining the streets this way at one point, pulling away and watching as my car dropped back onto the asphalt. It’s almost as if the cars’ tires have some kind of built in gravity that suck them back onto the ground.

Collisions also show off the strange physics built into the vehicles of the game. As soon as you hit another car, all of the atoms in the vehicle go to zero as you come to a dead stop. Okay, that might be exaggerated, but its not far from the truth. Forget about launching cars, spinning out in dramatic fashion from a collision, or any other sensation of exaggerated movement as soon as you hit one. Here, you just hit a car and stop cold. On the plus side, your horn was enchanted with the power to scare cars and you can use it to force traffic off to the side. Well, most of it anyway.

In addition, getting out of your car is just a chore to do especially when its burning. Why your character has to take the time to close the door while the engine is on fire is something that I never got used to, especially when you try and get your car to stop while instinctively hitting the “get out of car” button hoping to see him leap out and roll to safety. You can’t, by the way.

Sleeping With the Fishes

As far as the story is concerned, it’s not bad, but it’s not great, either, lacking some of the focus and punch within its missions that helped to make Illusion Softworks’ Mafia such a compelling experience. The scenes involving re-enactments from the film itself follow much the cinematography of their namesake pretty well with several of the stars reprising their roles. The main arc concerning your character is a pretty straightforward story told in between the scenes of the film, many of which you’ll take part in. For film purists, though, it takes quite a bit of creative liberty with a few of these to make them accessible for gamers which they may not like if they were expecting the title to be more faithful to the spirit of The Godfather. The blend of The Godfather and GTA stylings felt like a collision between subtle vice and Untouchables inspired action, creating missions lay in too heavily towards gunplay without a lot of variation.

The hospital scene with Michael goes through a far more violent retelling as one example as you defend it from assault, but they also take some liberties with the characters. For example, the scene where Vito Corleone is gunned down is followed up by Fredo asking you to drive his car and follow the ambulance to the hospital to make sure it gets there safely. As you follow the ambulance while under attack, Fredo…gun dropping, backstabbing, weepy boy Fredo of all people…pulls out a Tommy gun and rains leaden hell on your pursuers faster than you can say Hail Mary. Later, Michael does the same thing as you drive him from his assassination of McCluskey and Sallozo, apparently putting that Army training to good use. If there was a mission where I had to drive Tom Hagen over to pick up a sled for his kids on Christmas, I almost expected him to pull out a shotty to defend it from angry shoppers. Sonny also does some gun duty, but that’s Sonny.

It was also mentioned that the persistent world of NYC in the game has ‘memory’, implying that your decisions and have lasting repercussions. Well, yes they do, but only because your character has no choice but to automatically decide to do what the Corleone family wants him to do. At one point, you can interact with your love interest and she asks to take her out to a club. Only you can’t. It’s also mentioned that you can find warehouses and the hubs that supply them by roughing up the drivers of shipping trucks to get the scoop, only you can’t do that, either. Why would you? Everything, aside from hidden reel icons that you can try to find and collect, is already marked on your map so there’s also no real sense of discovery or interaction other than the mayhem you create for yourself.

In addition, taking out businesses and even the heavily protected compounds of each of the Families has no impact on the main game other than in helping you earn more respect, cash, and eventually fulfill the steps needed to be “Don”. Even blowing up the houses of the Families really doesn’t do much other than mark that its done. Their soldiers are still as motivated as ever and nothing really changes in the gameplay. Even worse, many of the warehouses and hubs that you’ll want to test your skills against are almost carbon copies of each other. Once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen most of them. The same with the storefronts that you can lean on.

There’s also not a whole lot of other things to do in NYC. Aside from the main quest, you can extort businesses and take over rackets. And that’s it. The money you earn from these activities simply goes towards buying ammo, new weapons, or safe houses. Although a decade passes in the game, you won’t really notice it, nor will the Corleones ever get rid of all of those roadblocks that you inevitably have to plow through just to get to your own stashes. With a dearth of cars to really choose from and only a handful of interesting collectibles to get into with no side jobs or contests, there’s not much else to keep you going especially with the game being as short as it is.

You can expect to put in around ten or so hours if you keep focused on the main story, more if you decide to try to be “Don” and take out the strongholds and warehouses of the other Families for respect and cash. There are a variety of film clips from The Godfather that you can unlock along with a few briefings describing the nuances of the gameplay, but there’s not much else to really look forward to.

A Thousand Bullets Later

EA’s The Godfather is the kind of game that could have stepped out from the shadow of its license to be a worthy first attempt at taking a piece of the pie held by Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series. As far as exploring the kind of corrupt world of gangsters as we had been exposed to by Coppola’s vision, the game still leaves quite a lot to be desired in its theme park representation of the film, lacking the depth of the subtleties that its cinematic license was very good at portraying. It makes up for this to some degree by being one of the few games that takes player interactivity to another level as it seamlessly brings the gangland-style politics of the fist and the gun to consoles with its gameplay mechanics. It can feel a lot like The Godfather in name only, but there’s still quite a bit to enjoy as you knock over banks, beat up bakers, and generally make life a living hell for the foes of the Corleones which may be enough of an incentive for would-be gangsters to join the Family.

- World 1-1

One response to “The Godfather

  1. Pingback: Game Reviews - Action and Adventure « World 1-1·

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