Monday, April 03, 2006

VG REVIEW: The Godfather the Game

Electronic Arts, for PlayStation 2, Xbox and PC
rated M for Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language, suggestive themes), $39.99.

Does the new "Godfather" video game manage to live up to the grandeur of the classic film?

Of course not, don’t be silly.

But if it doesn’t carry the same emotional heft or brooding intensity of Coppola’s film, neither does it reach a "Godfather III" level of embarrassment.

No, what "The Godfather the Game" does is take the movie’s framework and build an enjoyable, expansive action game around it. Sure, it trades in a good deal of the film’s moral viewpoint for some violent wish-fulfillment, but it’s all in the name of good fun.

In the game you don’t play as Michael or Sonny or even Fredo. Instead, you are a nameless up-and-coming young thug in the Corleone ranks with a huge score to settle with one of the rival families.

As with most EA games, you have the ability here to design the look of your character, right down to the pinstripes on your suit.

After dressing up your character, you go right to work for the Corleones, getting some much-needed tutorial advice from Luca Brasi.

One of the more amusing aspects of the game is how the developers try to shoehorn in every memorable scene or character from the film.

You, for example, help put the horse’s head in the movie producer’s bed. You’re peeping in the window when Brasi gets whacked. You plant the gun for Michael Corleone to use in the restaurant. You’re there when Sonny gets killed at the tollbooth. And while Michael is moving his dad around at the hospital, you’re engaged in a gunfight in the basement.

Boy, you sure do have a knack for being in the right place at the right time.

In addition to borrowing several pages from the film, "Godfather the Game" owes a considerable debt to the "Grand Theft Auto" franchise. So much so in fact, that I hope EA sent a nice big check to the folks at Rockstar.

Just about every aspect of the game mechanics, from the expansive layout of 1930s-era New York City, to the way cars handle to the little map in the corner echoes the "GTA" games.

What’s new is the "BlackHand" controls, which allows you a bit of variety in dealing with thugs and unruly shopkeepers.

After locking on your target with the left trigger, you can then beat, grab or shoot them with the right. Grabbing is especially effective, as you can slam them up against walls, dump them off roofs or throw them onto other hard surfaces.

It’s a nice fighting mechanic that I hope other developers follow up on.

In addition to your fists, there’s quite an assortment of weapons to choose from, including Tommy guns, lead pipes, garrote wires, dynamite and Molotov cocktails.

When not following the main storyline, there are a variety of side missions to choose from. You can intimidate shopkeepers into paying you protection money, rob banks, hijack trucks, and attack a rival family’s warehouse.

Doing these not only increases your bank account, but also ups your respect in the neighborhood, which in turn lets you level up your health and other abilities.

It’s during the side missions that some of the game’s seams start to show. There are only about five or so types of buildings throughout the city, and they all tend to resemble one another in cookie-cutter fashion. Many of the side missions start to get repetitive over time as well.

What’s more, the game’s camera can be quite troublesome, especially in heavy firefights, and I had difficulty at times toggling between different targets during these gun battles.

And it would be nice as you move up in the crime world to have some men at your back. It seems odd that an up-and-coming Capo would still have to be pushing flower store owners around for petty cash.

Despite these minor annoyances, I enjoyed "Godfather the Game." It certainly is one of the most visually splendid games I’ve played in a while, boasting great graphics, at least on my Xbox.

It’s also got nice voice work by Robert Duvall, James Caan and the late Marlon Brando. And if Al Pacino declined to give his voice and likeness for the game, well, at least it’s got Abe Vigoda.

Strong-hearted cineastes will no doubt decry "Godfather the Game" as being a slur on a great work of art. True, a good deal of the film’s gravitas has been lost, but one shouldn’t hate the game or Electronic Arts for trying to adapt a classic into an interactive medium.

It’s just business, nothing personal.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2006


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