When you see that companies are still using the Jaws and Nightmare Before Christmas movie licenses, you've got to think that the well has run dry and there are no untapped licenses left. We're just about there, but EA has been holding on to an ace in the form of the rights to a videogame iteration of The Godfather series for quite awhile. Delayed a few months to iron out a few issues and give the game the polish it deserves, The Godfather: The Game has finally been released. It's an enjoyable game that makes great use of the license, but it doesn't bring a whole lot new to the table.
After showing you as a child witnessing your father being gunned down by a rival mob boss, the game picks up at the beginning of the first film. At the wedding of Don Vito Corleone's daughter, your mother asks for him to bring you into the family. Since the head of the family cannot refuse a request on the day of his daughter's wedding, he accepts, and places you under the tutelage of Luca Brasi. You'll start off performing minor tasks for the family in a tutorial that's actually engaging, but as you gain their trust and respect, you'll become a "made" man, entrusted with vitals tasks, and eventually you'll vie for control of the entire family.
Very few will argue that the story of The Godfather isn't a great one, but somehow EA missed the mark in transitioning it to a game. When you're a part of certain scenes from the movie, like the infamous horse head scene, the game is enthralling, but there's too much time when there's nothing going on to advance the storyline. It can also be very difficult to follow exactly what's going on if you haven't seen the movies. The game does give you a short bio on-screen before certain chapters, but many characters' roles aren't explained enough, or they aren't in the game long enough. The timeline is also very difficult to follow, with characters who are supposed to be gone for long periods of time showing up just a week later. Don't get me wrong – the story is better than 90% of the other games out there, but it could have been better.
The Godfather attempts to get you more involved in the story by allowing you to create your own character, however, you're limited to creating "Italian" looking characters. Since it's highly unlikely you're going to be able to create a character that looks like yourself, it's odd that this feature was not only included but heavily hyped by EA prior to the game's release. It would have helped the story if your character was addressed by his name, rather than "you" or "guy".
At its core, The Godfather's gameplay is essentially Grand Theft Auto with a few minor twists thrown in. You can steal cars, harass citizens, purchase and upgrade a variety of weapons, and you'll even save your game in safe houses. As you'd expect, the more trouble you cause, the more attention you'll garner from the police. Unlike GTA, however, the police are really easy to get away from. The basic mission structure is also very similar to GTA. You'll be asked to perform hits, plant bombs, and chauffeur people to and from crime scenes. The game does a nice job of always having a couple of things for you to do. If you're stuck on a mission you can get a contract for a hit, extort some businesses, rob banks, buy new safe houses, look for hidden film reels (they unlock movies), or blow up some safes. If you're ever lost, all of your objectives can conveniently be accessed by pressing the select button.
One of the things you'll spend a lot of time doing is extorting local businesses by offering them "protection" from other mobs. Most of these businesses are under the thumb of rival families, so it's up to you to convince them that the Corleones are who they should be dealing with. The method for extorting a business is entertaining for a while, but when you've done it essentially the same way 50 times, it gets a bit old. Taking over a business is done by talking to the shop's owner and then roughing them up or damaging their shop, until the intimidation meter shows they're ready to crack. If you push too hard they'll refuse to cooperate or you'll kill them. The good news is, if you kill them, they simply reappear the next day and you can do it all over again. I killed the same hotel owner about five times before I convinced him to see things my way. The rival families aren't big fans of you taking over their territory so a few of them usually bust in, guns blazing in an effort to protect their turf. Many of the shops are fronts for illegal activities, which you can take over by killing all rival gang members and bribing the person running the racket. Not only do you earn respect for taking over businesses, but you'll get paid at the end of the week based on how many business you have taken over. The family takes a huge portion of the profits, but as you gain respect and move up, you're share will increase.
Considering how many actions you can perform, The Godfather controls surprisingly well. Weapons are cycled through using left and right on the d-pad, up draws and reloads, while L1 locks on your target and R1 fires. You can aim manually if you choose, and the game allows you to target specific body parts, but you'll seldom need to do so. Using wall cover, which is done by pressing square, is essential, and other than the occasional glitch where the game doesn't recognize that you're facing the wall, it's simple and easy to use. Fighting is done by pushing up on the right analog stick or down and then up if you want to throw a haymaker. You can even grab someone and slam them around, throw them off buildings, or just dangle them over a fire burning oven, tossing them in if they don't see things your way. When you've got someone's health bar low enough the game gives you the freedom to execute them with the R2 button. These finishing moves are pretty hardcore and they're plenty graphic, but hey, it's a mob game. Sometimes your contract hits will require you to kill a person in a specific fashion, which is a nice way of incorporating the many actions you have at your disposal. The combat is the most enjoyable part of the game and never gets old, no matter how many people you whack.
The way the vehicles handle is a little more difficult to convey. They feel nothing like driving a real car, and they can't handle turns well, but for some reason they're super responsive when weaving in and out of traffic – which is a good thing because the computer controlled cars move agonizingly slow. It's extremely annoying to be driving down a street with a slow moving car in front of you, another car heading towards you and no room to pass. If you try to squeeze over towards the sidewalk it's almost as if the game times it so there's a car parked there, leaving you with about 1 inch of leeway for you to make your pass. You'll also notice that when you're being chased traffic behaves more erratically, swerving into your path even when you're trying to avoid them by driving on the sidewalk.
Enemy A.I. is uneven; sometimes your foes will dive behind cover, carefully picking their spots, while other times they'll run around in circles. For the most part their actions reflect the weapons they have, so you can expect someone with a shotgun to come at you aggressively, while someone with a pistol will try to keep their distance. They also seem to engage you in hand to hand combat if you don't have your weapon drawn and you start pummeling them. This is actually a good thing, since it's so easy to die and you can easily be overmatched in close quarters. Speaking of dying, it's going to happen – a lot. One blast from a shotgun at close quarters is enough to kill you, and there aren't a whole lot of health bottles lying around. Fortunately when you die, you don't lose your weapons, you're just respawned at a local hospital. Some of the missions are quite long, so as long as you've reached a checkpoint, you can simply start from there instead of starting all over again. This is a life saver for the missions that force you to drive across town twice.
The Godfather does a nice job of replicating the look and feel of New York City in the 1940's, but the rest of the visuals aren't particularly noteworthy. The city is huge, and even incorporates New Jersey into the mix. The areas load seamlessly, but this comes at a price since you must drive through long, boring tunnels or bridges while the game streams the new area. Frankly, I would have preferred short load times. While the city layout is realistic, this isn't necessarily the best choice for making the game enjoyable. You'll spend lots of time pausing the game to look at the large map because there are so many dead ends you can't get to your target, even though you are right next to it. In addition, the game forces you to drive back and forth across the city for seemingly no other reason than it's there. You'll go to the compound and pick someone up, drive them all the way across the map, do a job, make a getaway, drive them across the map, finish the job, and then drive all the way back to where you started.
At first, the interiors of buildings are impressive, but after just an hour into the game you'll realize there's very little variety. Other than two or three different layouts, the 20+ hotels in the game are exactly the same, with bad guys placed in the exact same spots. Banks, nightclubs, funeral parlors, tailors, and barbershops all look exactly the same as well. Not even the wallpaper, location of safes, or even furniture varies from place to place. It would be unreasonable to expect them all to be completely different, but when you walk into the same hotel for the 10th time and shoot the guy in the corner by the door on the 3rd floor for the 10th time, it makes it hard to become immersed in the experience. The game is very dark and drab, utilizing a very limited pallet of dark colors to help convey the movie's dark tone. There are day and night cycles, but even at high noon it's so dark it feels like there's a total eclipse happening.
The framerate is steady for the most part, but it does occasionally get bogged down, particularly when you're wreaking havoc in the streets. The camera is surprisingly efficient, only becoming a bother when you're getting ambushed inside a small room, and you're unable to find your attackers before a shotgun blast has left you dead. An on-screen indicator (similar to what was done in Black) that points out what direction you're getting attacked from would have been helpful.
EA has really perfected the art of recreating an actor's likeness for their games. Each character looks incredibly lifelike – even the minor characters you come across on the streets. The cut-scenes are done in real-time and letterboxed, but the rest of the game does not support widescreen display, or progressive scan.
Electronic Arts pulled out all the stops when it comes to The Godfather's voice acting. As he was in the movie, Tom Hagen is voiced by Robert Duvall and James Caan reprises his role as Sonny Corleone. Marlon Brando recorded dialog for the game before he passed away, but from what I've been told, portions of it weren't usable so a Brando sound-alike was used. I couldn't tell the difference, so it's safe to say whoever did voice Don Vito, he did a good job. Michael Corleone, who was played by Al Pacino in the movies, is the only main character whose likeness and voice are different. EA was unable to get the rights to use Pacino, perhaps since he's currently involved with the upcoming Scarface game. The peripheral characters, such as shop owners and random people on the street vary in quality and get repetitive quickly, but for the most part they're just fine.
The theme from The Godfather is one of the most recognizable songs in movie history and it's put to good use in the game. It's hard not to feel like a badass as you drive a stolen vehicle back to the Corleone compound after pulling off a successful hit with the theme playing in the background. Unfortunately there are very few additional songs in the game so even the great Godfather theme gets old. It would have been nice to have at least one radio station in the car that played some period tunes and gave breaking news on the mob wars that waged across the boroughs.
The Godfather is an enjoyable game, especially if you're a fan of the movies, but as is often the case with GTA clones, it doesn't bring much new to the table. Extorting shopkeepers and taking over illegal rackets is fun for a while, but it quickly becomes repetitive. Despite the fact that you can beat it in as little as 12 hours (closer to 20-25 if you do everything), the game also feels artificially lengthened due to the tremendous amount of cross-town driving you're forced to do. If recent duds like True Crime and 50 Cent: Bulletproof have got you down on the genre, you might want to pick up The Godfather. As long as you don't expect anything revolutionary you won't be disappointed.