"Such moments keep things engaging long after youíve finished the gameís plotted moments. Thereís just something fun about walking into a bakery and telling a merchant that you have his best interests at heart. They arenít generally inclined to believe you, which is when you have to talk some sense into them. Often, you do this with your fists. Maybe thereíre some fragile items sitting on a nearby shelf. You can target them and smash them."
Assume for a minute that The Godfather: The Game turned out perfectly, that it didnít suffer from the numerous issues that plague normal games and that somehow, itís the greatest piece of interactive entertainment the world has ever seen. My theory is that even if this happened, people would be disappointed. Thatís the sort of license The Godfather is. Perfection isnít enough. With that in mind, one might wonder why Electronic Arts even tried. Was it the money? Of course it was. The thing is, the world is a better place for their effort. Itís got a few issues, but the end result is a game thatís actually well worth your time!
First, thereís the obvious question: how well does The Godfather translate into a game? The answer is that it does so rather clumsily. The film boasted moments of intense dialogue and some mighty fine acting from a few of Hollywoodís finest. Electronic Arts chose (perhaps wisely) not to splice those bits between chunks of gameplay, but instead to let high-polygon characters guide you through the plot. Their movements are jerky at times and amazingly lifelike at others. Of more concern are the gaps in narrative. Even if you complete each of the plot-revealing objectives in rapid succession (a 10-hour feat) like I did, youíll find rather large pieces missing. If you really want to understand the characters, watch the movie.
With that said, The Godfather: The Game still presents a compelling plot. Youíll watch major sequences from the movie unfold, always from the sidelines but seldom to the point of frustration. As an example that will mean nothing to those few people who havenít seen the film, think back to the events that transpired at the tollbooth. In the game, you pull up just too late to interfere, but you play a role in the revenge. Itís like that the whole way through, with you watching from a window or serving as one of several who take part in a massacre.
Since you arenít filling a pre-existing characterís shoes, you have a lot of control over what shoes you do fill. That helps you to feel more involved with the plot. Character creation is accomplished by way of an in-depth system that lets you choose things as precise as the angle of your nose, its length and width, the height of your eyebrows and more. An intuitive interface makes each modification a snap.
Once a character is created, youíll skim through several plot-based missions that introduce you to physical combat. Thatís good, because what youíll find here is surprisingly cool. Instead of mapping your attacks to the face buttons, which may seem like the obvious approach, the developers turned to the right analogue stick. You lock onto a character with the ďLĒ button, then press forward on the stick to throw a quick punch. If you prefer, you can pull back and then thrust forward for a more powerful blow, or you can pause partway through to feint. The ďRĒ button allows you to grab someone instead, and you can drag them around the nearby area if you are so inclined. This system allows for more dynamic fights. You can bend people over ledges and make them fear for their lives, or maybe throw them into confined and uncomfortable quarters. Sometimes the plot and mission objectives even demand it. This level of integration feels natural, like the sort of thing we should have seen done in plenty of games before.
Gun combat is a bit less satisfying, though. First, you should know that running into any room with your muzzle blazing is a great way to invite a fatal shotgun blast to the face. It also guarantees that youíll run out of ammunition at the worst conceivable moment. Instead, you generally have to creep along walls and duck behind crates for cover while making frequent stops to reload. Then you can peer around and fire shots at the thugs on the opposing side, who are using the same tactics. The problem comes when they rush you. If youíre stuck to a wall, you might see someone coming and quickly press the button to jump away. However, as you turn the camera so you can see them, aim and fire a shot, theyíre already unloading a burst of lead that does great damage to your life meter. The auto-aim feature is also lackluster if youíre aiming at a group. Often, it target some fool hiding behind a crate while the guy thatís right out in the open mows you down with his automatic weapon. Not cool.
The gameís driving sequences are even more frustrating. As was the case in the Grand Theft Auto franchise, youíll have plenty of opportunities to drive cars that belong to other people. Hijacking one is as easy as falling off a log, but driving anywhere in an acceptable amount of time proves more difficult. The streets of New York are choked with traffic and brain-dead pedestrians.
Iím thankful for the realism on one hand, but it seems like everyone moves at a snailís pace. Even if you drive rather reasonably, people will be shouting out for someone to call the cops, or diving out of your way (or into it) in exaggerated fashion. You can drive right over them without any real effect, but brushing against barrels and other vehicles gets quite tiresome. Sometimes, in the case of a high-speed chase, stupid drivers turn into your way just when it will do the most possible damage. And when your car bursts into flames, you know itís time to bail before the ensuing explosion. Trust me when I say that bumping into a few slowpoke cabs while trying to flee from opposing mob hitmen, then having to abandon your vehicle and shelter in order to hijack a new car is one of the most frustrating things youíll ever encounter as you play the game. Thereís also too much driving just on general principle. Even if it werenít as frustrating as it is to avoid collisions, the constant journeys around town would get old fast.
Fortunately, Iíve just described the bulk of things that the game does wrong. Just about everything else is perfect. And though Iíve made much of the plot-based missions, they only make up a fifth of the actual game. The rest of it is comprised of standard mob activity like extracting money in exchange for ďprotection,Ē demanding money from those who conduct rackets in your turf (and elsewhere), robbing banks and delivery trucks, assassinating fools who get in your way, and just behaving as a menace to society in general. You can get away with it, too, because most of the police offers are susceptible to bribery. As long as you donít pick on the wrong person, the law enforcement officers will keep your payment in mind and look the other way when you get particularly nasty.
Such moments keep things engaging long after youíve finished the gameís plotted moments. Thereís just something fun about walking into a bakery and telling a merchant that you have his best interests at heart. They arenít generally inclined to believe you, which is when you have to talk some sense into them. Often, you do this with your fists. Maybe thereíre some fragile items sitting on a nearby shelf. You can target them and smash them. Or maybe you prefer to grab your intended victim by the scruff of the neck and shake him a bit until he sees the way things are going to be. The physical combat system I mentioned makes such moments seamless. Itís not as non-linear as the chaos you can cause in Grand Theft Auto, since each shop you can raid is pretty much set in stone, but itís a nice touch.
Certainly, there are other places where the game could improve. Walking through nearly identical streets and hearing the same lines from passersby that youíve been hearing for the last ten hours can definitely get tedious. Still, itís easy enough to ignore petty concerns like those. They donít change the fact that The Godfather: The Game is a worthwhile addition to almost anyoneís library. If Electronic Arts can polish things up even more for the sequel, Iíd say theyíll have a new legacy to be proud of. As things stand, this title is no slouch and will probably entertain you for a good long while. Finally, a movie-based game you canít refuse.
Staff review by Jason Venter (April 01, 2006)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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