The Godfather

Review

posted 4/6/2006 by Cyril Lachel
other articles by Cyril Lachel

Last year Rockstar Games released a game based on the 1979 cult classic, The Warriors.  It was a game that bucked the trend of disappointing movie games and became one of the best brawlers since the original Final Fight.  Not to be outdone, Electronic Arts has readied a game based on an even older movie with a significantly larger fan base.  I'm talking about The Godfather, the 1972 Francis Ford Coppola movie that managed to win a Best Picture award at the Academy Awards (along with 10 other nominations).

There's little denying the importance of The Godfather, it has spawned numerous mafia movies and influenced everybody from Martin Scorsese to the Sopranos.  But just because you have a great movie doesn't mean you're going to have a great game (just look at Enter the Matrix).  Thankfully The Godfather: The Game does more than a enough right to recommend … but it's not even close to being in the same caliber of the famous movie trilogy.

Instead of playing as one of the movie's central characters, you have a chance to experience life as a brand new player that does not appear in any of the films.  From the very start you have a chance to create your character in the same way you might in one of EA's sports titles (such as the Tiger Woods series).  You start out as nothing more than a grunt, the type of character everybody bosses around; but soon enough you'll be climbing your way up the ladder to eventually become the Don of New York City. 

Despite the appearance of this new character, The Godfather: The Game manages to stay surprisingly close to the source material.  Your character (which you get to name whatever you want) finds himself with a front row seat for just about every key moments in Francis Ford Coppola's epic.  In most cases you'll be the one actually performing the tasks that lead to everything from the famous horse head scene to all of the death sequences that gave the movie its edge.  Although EA did take a few liberties, if you're one of the many fans of the movie chances are you'll have a great time playing this interactive version.

At first you'll be asked to do simple tasks, usually involving you beating somebody up or shooting a bunch of rival families.  The hand to hand combat is a welcome surprise, instead of using the face buttons to jab and punch you use the right analog stick (similar to how you control your fighters in EA's popular Fight Night series).  This keeps the combat interesting, allowing you to perform a number of powerful attacks that are a lot of fun to control.  Along with the standard hand to hand fighting you can also strangle enemies and even push them off of tall buildings.

On the other end of the spectrum is the gun play, which is easily the worst part of The Godfather.  In a lot of ways The Godfather's aim mechanics are similar to Rockstar Games' Grand Theft Auto series, except that here they are much worse.  You hold one of the shoulder buttons to aim and then you hope that the auto aimer points to the correct enemy.  More times that not you will accidentally aim at the wrong guy which leaves you open to all kinds of cheap hits.  Switching between the enemies is also extremely difficult, something that gets in the way of the fun late in the game when the difficulty is ratcheted up.  This gun play, while bad, is still manageable, but it's a shame they weren't able to improve this one aspect before releasing the game.

Along with the disappointing aiming you may also find that there aren't as many weapons as you might have hoped for.  There is your standard fare, such as a tommy gun and a shotgun, as well as a few alternate weapons, like a lead pipe and Molotov cocktails.  When these weapons stop being as effective as they should you can hit up the back-alley arms dealer and upgrade them a couple of times.  There may be fewer guns to play with, but in a lot of ways you can still cause the type of chaos that made games like Grand Theft Auto so popular.



Speaking of Grand Theft Auto, a lot of people are going to compare The Godfather: The Game to Rockstar's best-selling 3D adventure series.  But The Godfather is less about the open-ended game play and more about the overall story that takes you up the ranks.  In a lot of ways The Godfather is more like the 2002 game, Mafia, than the Grand Theft Auto series.  Along with the game's similar look and feel, many of the game's missions will feel instantly familiar to anybody who played through Mafia.

From the very beginning New York City is open for you to explore either by foot or car, which means you can get out, and extort businesses and hunt down people who your bosses want you to whack.  These mini games are pretty simple (usually requiring you to do nothing more than beat somebody up or take over their business), but they go a long way in helping you earn enough money to afford whatever you want.  Like many of the other open-ended games of recent years you can do just about anything you want (such as carjacking, beating innocent people up, and running from the cops), but don't expect to spend as much time completing these mini games as you might in one of the Grand Theft Auto titles.

The look of New York City is straight out of the movie.  This is a perfect recreation of 1940s New York, complete with old cars, appropriate attire, and even a few classic songs from the era.  You can drive around any of the city's five areas -- Little Italy, Brooklyn, Midtown, Hell's Kitchen, and New Jersey -- with no loading times, which gives you a chance to check out some of the key sites and find all of those hidden items.  Not only that, but you are also able to go inside of many of the buildings and search out people and just see what is up.  Sadly, most of the interiors are repeated more than you would like so after awhile the thrill of running through a motel killing people will subside and leave you wondering if you've been here before.

But enough about the buildings and city, it's the story that most people are going to be excited about … and for good reason.  Many of the biggest names from the movie make an appearance, which means that we get fine work from first-time voice actors like James Caan, Robert Duvall, and Abe Vigoda.  The Godfather: The Game also marks one of the final performances by Hollywood legend Marlon Brando, who manages to add a lot of credibility to the Don Corleone character.  It's a shame that not everybody came back to reprise their roles (the most disappointing being the lack of Al Pacino), but you'll hardly notice thanks to some otherwise amazing voice work.

The game's missions are extremely diverse, especially as you find yourself getting closer to the end.  All of your tasks fit perfectly in The Godfather universe, and there aren't many times where you're forced to do the same thing twice.  Granted there are a lot of driving and shooting missions, but that's to be expected from a game like this.  Thankfully the game goes well beyond that and features everything from bombings to sneaking levels to all out chases from the police.

Speaking of car chases, the vehicles in The Godfather feel pretty natural, which makes for some pretty exciting chase sequences.  Sadly there aren't a lot of cars to choose from in the game.  Perhaps that has more to do with the time than the game's design, but it's still noticeable when you've carjacked the same truck for the two-hundredth time.  It's worth noting that some of the cars go a bit faster than you might expect for the 1940s, but that's definitely to the benefit of the overall game.

Unfortunately none of the cars in The Godfather have radios, which means you will be forced to listen to the same incidental music for the entirety of the game.  By no means is the music bad, but it won't take long before you start hating that Godfather theme.  The fact that it plays ad nauseum while you're driving is enough to make you want to turn the music all the way down.  But chances are you won't, if only because of the phenomenal voice talent.



As you complete the missions you will get experience points, which allows you to level up and increase your character's stats.  Each time you level up you will be given a couple of points to put wherever you want, such as your fighting, aim, speed, health and so on.  Getting your character to a high level will make him extremely difficult to kill, especially if you've upgraded your weapons and have mastered the control.  That won't mean you won't die from a direct shotgun blast to the face, but it curbs those unfortunate situations quite a bit.

Don't worry too much about dying, though.  Although it's a blow to your confidence, chances are you're going to be dying a lot while playing through The Godfather.  But that's okay, because if you do run out of health you will be revived at the nearest hospital for a small fee.  Best of all you get to keep your weapons and just try again.  Better yet, if you die in the middle of a mission you will only have to start over at the checkpoint, which can make things a lot easier.  As the game winds down you will probably pass on more than you would like, but only after the game decides to go from normal difficulty to hard (and cheap).  Still, The Godfather is never too frustrating and can easily be beaten if you have the patience and can put up with a few frustrating game play hiccups.

The graphics, while adequate, are something of a mixed bag.  The Godfather looks great when you're given a close up of the characters, each modeled perfectly from the movie.  As you step back, though, you'll be disappointed by the repeating textures, occasionally grainy graphics, and strange animations.  This doesn't ruin the experience, but it's clear that EA wasn't able to make the game look as good as they promised when it was first announced.  One can only wait and see how much better this will look on the Xbox 360 compared to the outdated PlayStation 2.

But The Godfather: The Game is about more than graphics, it's really just an exciting game that manages to get more right than wrong.  Considering the quality of the movie it's easy to be a little iffy on whether the game could live up to the steep standards, but thankfully Electronic Arts has managed to do the impossible and make a fun game out of one of the best movies of all time.  That's not to say there aren't a few bumps on the road, but none of them will keep you from having a great time exploring the New York City of the past.  With it's amazing voice talent, diverse mission objectives and great story, The Godfather: The Game is will worth checking out.  It won't have you playing for dozens of hours like San Andreas or Vice City, but it does offer a different vibe and a few new twists.  The Godfather is an easy game to recommend, no matter if you're a huge fan of the movie or somebody who has never experienced Francis Ford Coppola's classic.






B-
It's hard to believe, but Electronic Arts has done the impossible and turned one of the best movies of all time into one solid PlayStation 2 game. It's not without a few quirks, but most gamers will have no problem overlooking these defects in order to play this fantastic adventure game with an exciting story.