Posted May 13, 2007
Vivendi would attempt to rewrite cinematic history in tapping the drug addled story of Tony Montana, a Cuban expatriate who ends up in Miami and begins a climb up through the underworld during the early eighties only to lose everything in the end. But unlike the Godfather or the Grand Theft Auto series, being bad in Vivendi’s Scarface isn’t necessarily all that fun.
At the end of the film, Scarface, Tony Montana fends off a small army sent by Alejandro Sosa, a Bolivian drug lord that he had pissed off. As fans will probably remember, Tony is blasted from behind by one of Sosa’s killers, falling into a pool that fills with his blood as he goes from everything to nothing. Vivendi’s title asks the question of what would have happened if Tony had managed to survive, throwing out one of the most memorable scenes in cinema in order to continue his story.
It’s not a drug induced haze that has Tony imagining his death as the player will actually be able to shoot back and defend themselves from Sosa’s thugs. If you’re a fan of the film and can deal with that, you’ll be treated to what can feel like a reunion of sorts with Robert Loggia returning to narrate the location names of what Tony will be visiting to Al Pacino’s likeness returning as the infamous Cuban crime lord. Although Pacino had loaned his face to the game, his personal choice of Andre Sogliuzzo in doing his voice was a great move. The digitized resurrection of Tony Montana looks and sounds just like he did before his fall from money and power, complete with enough F-bombs to outdo the movie several times over. Although Paul Shenar has passed away, the voice acting for Alejandro Sosa in the game is also spot on along with his likeness. Cheech Marin and James Woods have also been called in to voice two key roles in the title, lending their characters just enough personality to really stand out. If you’re an eighties fan, the massive soundtrack in the game should provide plenty of nostalgia, although you can’t use your own tracks if you’ve ripped them to the Xbox. It works for what’s there, though, and the movie soundtrack is also locked in for even more 80’s goodness.
The story was written by Dave McKenna of Blow fame with plenty of in-game cinematics to help tell Tony’s return. Fans of the film will hear familiar names and situations mentioned throughout the title such as the Diaz brothers while the mission load screens sport famous lines from the film. While the story isn’t all that deep and can feel like an excuse just to see Tony swear up a storm, it helps tie many of the missions together, keeping the player focused on the goal with an ending that you may probably expect to see once the world is yours once again. This is definitely a game for fans of the film, but it also has quite a bit to offer gamers that haven’t seen it by focusing on running a criminal empire.
“Hey, do you want a job?”
Scarface’s third person controls make getting around virtual Miami to start corrupting the locals an easy thing to do. The entire city is already open to exploration and the player can head off to the different areas immediately after they start, although they might not get far without scoring a few deals first and in building up their reputation. There’s also the matter of Tony’s personal code, as ambiguous as it is, in regards to innocent people. He won’t kill any civilians on purpose, saying that he doesn’t that in his life, which can create a few sticky situations in which bad guys are running behind people on their way to buy groceries.
To rebuild everything that he had, Tony will need to start from the ground up and begin dealing yeyo just like the peons he used to have working for him. Although Tony can swear up a storm whenever you feel like hitting the B button, when it comes to negotiating how many grams or keys you can pry from dealers in order to deal, or whether it’s intimidating some idiot that rolls up to you and starts talking trash about Tony’s mom, a golf swing-type meter fills in for what he might be saying. Holding down the B button will fill the meter and the trick is to let go right before it goes too far. This is how Scarface negotiates all of his major deals in the game and intimidates people into giving him the best possible angle, especially with banks when he comes in to launder his cash. As the game goes on, though, the whole golf meter mechanic starts to feel like a chore that won’t go away.
Speaking of banks, money is handled in the game in two ways: what’s in the bank, and what Tony has on him. Earning cash will go straight into Tony’s pockets which has to be laundered in order to keep it. If Tony happens to die before he makes it to the nearest teller, he’ll lose whatever drugs or cash he has on him. This makes it imperative to get back to the nearest bank with your cash which also serves as a save spot. But every time Tony makes a deposit, he’ll need to play golf dialog with the teller in order to negotiate the best ‘fee’, or what percentage the bank will skim from the top as a part of doing business with him. As for the coke, the only way that you’ll be able to unload it is to sell it to dealers on the street, once again dealing with the golf meter in order to get the best price.
Tony will get his leads on dealing yeyo from a friend that sets him up with his first deal. In the beginning, you’ll only be able to make small deals allowing you to buy and sell a few grams of the white stuff to help build up a decent nest egg. Later on, you’ll be able to make deals for ‘keys’ of yeyo that can be stored at your local warehouse for distribution runs once you get that far. These are the most profitable parts of the game, sending you on a collection run to each of your fronts for huge sums of cash as you deliver the goods. But before you can do that, you’ll need to take over each of Miami’s major neighborhoods and not a lot of people will be happy to see Tony return.
Other gangs along with the police won’t take too kindly to Tony’s fun and you’ll need to deal with them. If you’re used to the freewheeling world of Grand Theft Auto, you might be surprised at how Scarface keeps you in check by making life difficult for Tony if you start running over people, smashing into cars, or walk around with your shotgun out on the sidewalks, all of which will generate heat. Keeping an eye on how much heat Tony’s getting from the cops or gangs is important as they can affect how much the dealers are willing to sell to him, or how much money they might have to negotiate against adding an interesting twist to simply gunning and dealing your way through the game. Spending hard earned cash can lower the heat from either side, but the higher it is, the more green it’s going to take to get them off of your back. At extremely high levels, don’t expect to spend to walk outside for long before someone gets on your case.
For the police, however, it can get deadly. When the heat from the police reaches a critical level, it will begin counting down the longer that you have the cops on your tail. If you can’t lose the cops before it finishes its countdown, Tony’s life of crime will end in a hail of bullets. There’s no quick paint shop to disguise your car, no special icons to lower the heat, just a fast death. This adds a degree of restraint to your activities while tooling around Miami and can be a challenge to try and stay on the right side of the law as much as possible as you deal with your empire, but it can also be an annoying crutch since it can drag the pace of the game down as you wait out a high level of heat. Fortunately, though, running into water seems to make it disappear quickly for whatever reason.
As you start earning some of cash, you’ll soon be able to buy your first front. Each area of the game is filled with a variety of businesses and Tony will be asked to do a little favor for the owners of each one before they agree to sell their place. Most of these ‘favors’ range from killing a bunch of gang members that are causing problems to defending them against attack. Once all of the businesses in a particular area are taken over, the final showdown is held at the local warehouse and when that’s cleaned out, the neighborhood is yours, unlocking the next one. If that sounds tedious, it’s because it can be.
“All I have in this world is my balls and my word, and I don’t break them for no one.”
The other gangs in the neighborhood won’t simply sit by and watch as he takes everything back and soon bullets will be flying. Tony can defend himself using his fists, but he’s much better with a weapon in his hand and the third person controls allow for easy manual aiming, or you can use the lock on feature and then tweak the aim for their head, legs, or their right nut as the game calls out your shots. Depending on what you shoot, this will have the effect of increasing how much ‘balls’ he’s got. That’s right. Balls.
Being the gutsy gangster that he is, Tony has a lot of balls and a meter shows how much he’s got at any one time. If he insults someone as they die bleeding on the ground, he’ll get balls. If he yells back at a driver that he smashes into on the road, he gets balls. When he talks to people in the game, and there’s plenty of Scarface-flavored dialog here that Tony can spout at whoever you start mouthing off to, he’ll get balls. If he drives the wrong way on the street, that’s a pretty ballsy move…so he earns more balls. And when he has enough balls, he’ll be able to unleash his inner Kratos in a blind, blood soaked, rage of postal fury. When it’s activated, the game switches to a first person view with a red haze filling his vision along with that creepy Scarface stress track playing in the background. His shots become lethal with killing hits and he earns health with every target that he puts into the ground while being invulnerable for as long as it lasts. As cheesy as it sounds, it’s a very handy technique to save up for the right time as it can save Tony’s ass.
In between shooting up the competition, managing Tony’s empire is easy to do thanks to a handy satellite phone menu that puts him in touch with an exotics menu filled with plenty of options with which to spend his cash. With it, you’ll be able to purchase henchmen for Tony such as an enforcer, or even a weapons dealer that will keep him stocked with ammo and help upgrade his guns. There are also businesses that he can invest in and plenty of things that he can buy to decorate his mansion with. Not all of it is unlocked at first, but as Tony’s reputation improves, he’ll be able to buy things such as King Tut’s sarcophagus or the Apollo capsule to add to his collection. You’ll even be able to place his toys within the mansion to personalize it, even going so far as to remodel the interior.
You’ll even be able to buy boats and cars, calling them to you whenever you have the need to get somewhere. Once you get a limo, you can use it to quickly travel in between all of your fronts. Your cars will have a trunk filled with guns and ammo, making it a handy locker to have behind you in a gang war, and it will even bring a henchman that will tag along with you. It’s too bad that they’re about as useful as a paper target, but they do provide a nice distraction.
As Tony’s reputation starts to improve, more items will become unlocked in the exotics menu such as the Hitman henchman and the Enforcer, both of which will open up additional missions as those characters if you decide to give Tony a break from running around Miami. The amount of total balls that Tony earns in the game is also counted, unlocking femme fatales that he can convince to come back to his mansion. It’s too bad that the femmes are about as useful as the furniture, which is pretty much par for the course will most of his hired help. Still, Scarface does a great job in letting you experience a criminal empire from the perspective of Tony Montana. It’s too bad that after the luster wears off, there’s not much else.
“Is this it? Is this what it’s all about, Manny?”
As Tony’s reputation grows, he’ll be able to make bigger deals and start dealing with much larger keys for even larger payoffs at each of his fronts. Unfortunately, while it’s fun for the first few times, much of what you need to do in order to build your bank account is boring busywork. One way that this can feel like a chore is in what you have to do in order to find a lead on a supplier. For whatever reason, Tony’s man on the street is more than able to set him up with an informant, but apparently has a lot of trouble in keeping a list of suppliers leading to plenty of repetitive work to have to find one.
It typically goes like this: call for a lead, do random task for the lead, make deal for keys, travel to where the deal is, make deal using golf swing conversation 101, drive boat back with keys, distribute keys. Fortunately, distributing the stuff is actually the fun and exciting part. All of this is repeated ad nauseaum since Tony has to do all of this stuff himself and can’t set up his own network or assign anyone else to run a pipeline. But, it’s something you’ll need to do for as much money as you think you’ll need in order to buy exotics to help build up your reputation on which a large part depends on how many toys you’ve got, as opposed to how much influence your empire wields in the game or how many gang bangers you’ve planted into the ground. It’s even worse when you get a lead on a supplier and the supplier only has a few keys to offer, or even worse, will sell you grams instead. There’s no way to tell beforehand what kind of lead will open up a particular supplier until after you’ve done whatever random task you’ve been asked to do. This can lead to a lot of wasted time when the supplier turns out to be garbage.
You can also roam around Miami looking for gang nests that you can clear out. Enemy gang members might be hanging around alleyways, behind one of your fronts, or walking a sidewalk. You’ll just have to go out and find out where. The in-game map will list the spots you’ve found, some of which won’t have anyone depending on the time of day, but clearing out these areas can be rewarding in terms of the cash you might get when the last banger bites it. If anyone gets away, though, the nest remains. Unfortunately, this doesn’t have any impact on whether or not gangs will attack one of your fronts during your distribution run. Even if you clear an entire neighborhood of gangs, your fronts can still be attacked.
Say Goodbye to your Little Friend
There’s not much else to do outside of Tony’s life other than the few jobs that you’ll need to do in order to build up his empire and that’s one of the problems. In GTA: San Andreas, you could play taxi driver, vigilante, go around and collect secret packages, work out, or just goof off among other things. EA’s Godfather put the player into the shoes of an up-and-coming mobster, throwing away most of the baggage that the player may have had to deal with as they robbed banks and roughed up store owners in their rise to the top. By being Tony Montana, you can’t just go out and take on Miami with all of the bad assery that you think you’d would, forcing you to do many of the same jobs over and over again. Outside of Tony’s lifestyle, there’s not a whole lot else to look forward to. As big as Miami seems, the handful of locales make the rest of the city feel empty despite its detail. The people on the street don’t do much except walk around, there’s no DJ to make pop culture jokes in between the music tracks, and there are no taxis to play with. Even if you steal an armored car, the only thing that will do is to get the cops looking for you, even though they don’t carry cash.
Tony’s ethics also make for some strange gameplay as it suffers from a sort of “G.I. Joe” syndrome, only in this case, its the civilians that make it out without a scratch. You can shoot up their cars and watch as the driver survives the explosion, beat them down because they insulted Tony on the street, or see them get up and run away after getting knocked off of their feet from splash damage thanks to an exploding rocket. I can understand the game trying to humanize Tony by making him a gangster with some sort of code, but given the buckets of blood and gore everywhere especially if you decide to go chainsaw, or the fact that you can still gun down the boys in blue at will, it’s just not that convincing.
The game makes a big deal out of hiring henchmen, only it doesn’t tell you that they’re as smart as the bullets that they would rather soak up than try and avoid. Also, the only henchmen that you can ‘buy’ are the ones that protect your fronts, or the one that comes free with whatever vehicle you’ve called for. It’s a surprise that no one has tried to assassinate Tony since they wouldn’t have any problems in getting to him. Fortunately, most the enemy is just as smart.
Buying extra ‘muscle’ to protect your fronts simply buys you time in delaying any damage since they’re about as intimidating as Gumby. They’ll stand around, get shot, and sometimes shoot back but for some reason, their bullets are a lot less effective than yours are. And you can’t travel around with a posse, either, so don’t expect to have an entourage surrounding you as you walk into the bank to launder your cash. And you have to defend your fronts because if they’re damaged during a distribution run, you stand to literally lose millions that you could have collected there. Even worse, if its destroyed, you’ll need to fix it out of your pocket before it can continue collecting.
It’s things like this that can take the glory out of being Tony because no matter how much his empire has expanded or how much power he seems to have, he’s still the same gun toting punk that you started off with from the beginning, only with bigger problems. By the end of the game, I must have killed off enough gang members to build several prisons, but they keep coming back. The only real respect that the game gave Tony was in how the people on the street react to him as his reputation improves. What about setting up my own connections? Shouldn’t Tony have a legion of contacts to supply his empire with? What about all of the people that he has working for him? Why can’t you be the one that people call to make deals with? Despite how far he’s come, Tony still has to do everything himself. It’s like asking the Godfather to go in with a pump action and start cleaning house at the end of his own movie.
And then there’s the endgame. You already know that sooner or later, Tony will need to take out Sosa and when he does, he decides to attack his house in Bolivia with a Deagle loaded with seven bullets. That’s right, SEVEN BULLETS, despite having plenty more ammo to spare. This is frickin’ Alejandro Sosa, the biggest drug dealer in South America, a virtual drug baron with a private army. And Tony thinks he’s bad enough to take him on with a pistol instead of the arsenal that you’ve already built up for him including his “little friend”.
Making do with the dropped AK-47’s that the semi-endless stream of soldiers will leave behind as they are cut down is fine, but I couldn’t help but feel that this was some cheap trick to create a situation for Tony’s “one man stand” against Sosa. Is it exciting? Not really, especially when it plays a cinema before dumping you right in front of Sosa who apparently has a bulletproof groin. Oh, and if you’ve saved up your balls for Sosa, forget it. It automagically shrinks to nothing when you start the bullet dance with him, giving you the chance to die and fail so that you can repeat Tony’s one man assault on his mansion.
“Say goodnight to the bad guy.”
Grand Theft Auto had raised the sandbox bar several times with a virtual cityscape teeming with opportunities for mischief, revenge, and good ol’ fashioned goofing around. Even EA’s Godfather allowed you to muscle in on businesses, rob banks, and wade into enemy turf with the ol’ Chicago typewriter to knock them out of your city whenever you felt the need to simply avoid the main story and strike out on your own.
In contrast, Scarface offers a lifestyle sim shackled to doing only one thing well as you live la vida loca in Tony’s shoes which, despite the early fun, becomes numbingly repetitive. Earning dirty cash starts to feel like an unwanted chore and cheap moments in the game towards the end can become a lesson plan in cheap mortality. Miami does look pretty good, there are plenty of neat toys to deck out your own personal palace with, and there are some exciting challenges as you expand Tony’s empire and whack his enemies. It’s too bad that the gameplay eventually fails to live up to the opportunities that are there by making Tony’s high octane lifestyle during the decade of decadence feel as if it’s all work and no play.
– World 1-1