THE GODFATHER / Electronic Arts / Playstation 2

Traditionally. this is how a movie-licensed game has worked: one of the most popular gaming genres of the time (usually platformer, shooter or 3rd-person action) is chosen, the characters and basic storyline are sort of clumsily hammered in and shoved around to accomodate the chosen format, and it is all thrown together on a limited budget and with limited production time as it is rushed to market to coincide with the release of the movie.

Rarely are movie-licensed games released long after the movie they are based on has hit theaters, and it's even rarer still to see a hallowed "classic" peice of cinema trotted out as a game license. I really don't know what possessed Paramount to license The Godfather in 2006, other than possibly as extra promotion for the 35th anniversary of the movie and the release of the remastered DVD. Whatever the thinking was, however, the game ends up looking, feeling and playing a lot like the standard movie-licensed experience; it uses the currently trendy GTA-style "sandbox" world to re-tell the story of the first Godfather with elements of the movie re-written to accomodate an arcadey sort of action game, oftentimes not with nearly as much grace as you'd like.

Calling it "GTA-style" is actually pretty generous; the engine is really a complete rip of the PS2-era GTA games, down to the button configurations for the most part. The story stays about 80% faithful to the content of the Godfather novel and movie; the main sequence of events and major characters are unchanged, but tweaks are made to ret-con in your player character, a Corleone soldier named Aldo who wants revenge on Don Bartzini for murdering his father when he was a little boy. For the most part, these tweaks are a bit silly. An early mission has Fredo hanging out a window of a speeding car, shooting his pistol at gangsters. A similar mission occurs later, where you pick up Michael after his assassination of Solozzo, and he hangs out the car window with a tommy gun mowing down leagues of Tattaglia soldiers chasing after you. And many of the characters who are quietly "whacked" in the film with a pistol shot to the back of the head now become major "boss battles" for your player to work through. It's all very reminiscent of an 8- or 16-bit generation movie-license game, just in 3D.

So don't come to this expecting any sort of artistic grace comparable to that of the film. It's clearly the brainchild of some fevered marketing exec, probably not even born yet when the movie came out, in a partnership with a movie studio that had $$$ signs in its eyes and didn't bother to involve Coppola or Mario Puzo in any way or even get their approval. The game is not aimed at mature, erudite gamers but rather at the usual 10-to-35 demographic of dudebros and little sociopaths-in-training, as evidenced by the list of "exceution styles" you check off as an optional collectible bonus.

Not that it's really all that bad. More interesting (from a gaming perspective) than the whoresmanship of the Godfather name is that the Medal of Honor team appears to have taken this one on (I haven't found a reference to this yet but it's a safe guess given the game's appearance and the focus on using cover in gun battles), which marks their first venture (that I'm aware of) into both 3rd person and a "sandbox"-style world. This means a somewhat better gun battle system than what the console GTA games had to offer. You can sidle up against walls and doors with a press of the Square button, able to pop out momentarily and shoot by locking on to a target using L1. Crouching and smart use of cover is a must, as the enemy will shoot your face off in short order at close range with their tommy guns and shotguns, and poor Aldo rarely has any allies backing him up against mobs of ten to twenty gangsters at a time. Foes also smartly go for cover when bullets start flying, and though their behavior can be dissapointing at times (hiding behind a box with Flammable on it or a car whose engine just went up in flames), on the whole they offer up a more sophisticated challenge than GTA's gunmen who stand stoically in one spot waiting to be run over or shot with a rocket launcher.

Where the game can't compete with GTA is in depth and interaction with the game world. No jumping off of the Empire State Building here; New York is a very flat, controlled plane in which it's extremely rare for a vehicle to even get a little bit of air. The game offers up 22 story missions that play out the plot of the first movie, but the credits don't actually roll until Aldo has single-handedly bombed the compounds of the other four families and taken over enough of their businesses to drive them out of the gangster market. Shaking down businesses provides you with your weekly revenue stream of "protection money", and an initial look at the game's map makes it appear that it's an incredibly rich system. Once you start visiting them, however, you find that not only is the routine exactly the same at every one, the buildings have literally been copypasta'd with few to no changes. There's really only about ten different types of buildings in the game - warehouse, whorehouse, small neighborhood merchant, nightclub, etc. - and the interior layouts for the most part never change at all. Not only that, but the "five families" consist of gangsters that all share the same clothes and animations, differentiated only by a unique color for each family. And they share the same AI routines, too, and tend to be placed in the same spots and numbers, so once you've raided one whorehouse, you've basically raided them all. The "side missions" and distractions so prevalent in the GTA universe are also almost completely absent here, as well - the vast bulk of the game consists of beating up shopkeepers and storming compounds in Rambo style while grimly gunning down hundreds of color-coded gangsters.

The game basically comes pre-equipped with a great story and great soundtrack by virtue of the license, but it sadly excises quite a bit of both. The inclusion of the iconic Godfather and Appolonia themes are a given and a nice touch, but they get a bit played out when it's nearly ALL you ever hear. The rest of the game's music is original and is mostly fairly decent, though it sounds a lot more like Medal of Honor meets Harry Gregson-Williams. More to the game's detriment is the chopping of much of the story - Michael's time in Sicily is completely excised, as are many of the minor characters and finer points of the story. We only see Fredo once when he's waving a hand cannon around in totally out-of-character style, the movie's female characters are almost completely missing, and there's no visits to Vegas or Moe Green telling us how he made his bones when we were going out with cheerleaders. The story is fundamentally that of Aldo's rise in the Corleone family, with the Godfather movie just sort of playing out in the background. Sadly, Aldo is a completely flat, undeveloped and one-dimensional character that is barely ahead of GTA 3 Guy only due to the fact that he actually speaks. We're only with him because he wants revenge on Bartzini. He eventually gets it, and ... that's it. Now he might as well be faceless. There's a romantic interest at one point towards the middle of the story missions, but it's like the writer forgot that they never finished that bit and never got back to it before the game shipped. You meet this girl, save her life a couple of times, Aldo asks her out and she says "It's not a good idea ... but we will eventually" ... and then two missions later you're living together. Huh? And then two missions after that she's already dead. Oops, spoiler alert.

The voice acting has the benefit of James Caan, Robert Duvall, and the ever-lively Abe Vigoda reprising their roles, and they actually manage to sound like their younger selves quite convincingly. Brando was supposed to be in the game too, but his health was too poor to read the lines properly, so he ends up getting a sound-alike. The worst of it is Michael - since Al Pacino apparently licensed his likeness and voice exclusively to whoever did that Scarface game, his in-game character looks and sounds completely different, which weirds you out when everyone else is so accurate. This is also probably why the Michael-related plot threads tend to get short shrift in this one. On the plus side, the sound work is really fantastic. I honestly can't tell you what 1940s guns and cars really sounded like, but these sound like they do in the movies, and that's good enough for me. And it's all very crisp and punchy.

If you don't mind repetition, it's a decent enough GTA clone to blow off steam with while having a beer after a tough work day or something along those lines. You can't expect much more than that, however. Players who have always dreamed of being in the Corleone family, complete with a fairly flexible (as long as you're a dude!) character appearance creation system that is very similar to the robust one used in Tiger Woods Golf, will probably get the most out of this title, but that's kind of a niche market I'm guessing. The story could really have been done much better justice, however, and the violence has gone from being a lurid but necessary underscore of the movie's themes to simply revelling in stylized killing.

Links :

* Apparently Coppola didn't care for this game

Videos :

* Gameplay Video
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