Electronic Arts makes an offer it hopes fans of Mafioso mythology cannot refuse, in this video game translation of the award-winning 1972 Francis Ford Coppola film. Players take the role of a small-time thug, newly inducted into the Corleone family and looking to make it big. By running missions for the family in the game's rendition of 1940s New York City, players can earn the respect of the family and be promoted to positions of power and influence in the organization. The game is designed to track the player's decisions and interactions throughout the criminal career, such that NPCs will remember how they were treated in the past and react appropriately in future dealings. In order to encourage players to truly take on the role of their own Corleone henchman, Electronic Arts' The Godfather offers a "MobFace" custom character creator which allows for adjustment of physique, facial features, and attire. All other major characters featured in the game are voiced by the actors who played them in the movie, including Marlon Brando (posthumously) as Don Vito Corleone, James Caan as Sonny Corleone, and Robert Duvall as consigliore Tom Hagen.
It's no secret that Francis Ford Coppola, director of the Godfather trilogy, is no fan of The Godfather videogame. Having finished it, it's not hard to understand why he might be less than thrilled with this adaptation. It's not that it's a bad game -- it's actually fairly entertaining -- but it's in no way a reflection of the movie other than the fact that it borrows many of the main characters and the classic setting of 1940s New York as its backdrop. Where the original movie was full of political intrigue, wicked subplots and occasional gratuitous violence, the game is all about the violence, and it's so over-the-top that it would make Joe Pesci's character from Goodfellas blush.
You play a low-ranking member of the Corleone family who is seeking revenge for the murder of your father, who was killed by the Barzini gang when you were a wee lad. All grown up, you start your career as a mobster as the events of the movie begin to play out, and you work your way up the mob food chain. Your character takes part in many of the famous scenes from the movie -- you see Luca get garroted by The Turk, you're charged with protecting the Don in the hospital, and you even get to shoot the rat Paulie on the orders of fat Clemenza. The horse head? Yeah, that was you, too.
In addition to following the main storyline, you're free to earn extra loot by extorting from local shop owners and taking over behind the scenes rackets such as gambling halls and brothels. The extortion tends to get a tad repetitive, though. You simply walk into a shop and rough up the owner or start breaking stuff until he (or she) relents and decides to pay you weekly protection money. You can take this too far, though: If you push the person over the edge, they'll defend themselves with everything they have, so learning the art of "persuasion" is one of the more important parts of the side missions. Still, after a while it gets boring doing the same thing over and over again -- even the contract killing side missions get old after a while. After earning some weekly income, it's best to just stick to the story and try to take over the occasional crime family warehouse in order to reduce their power.
The developers did a great job in capturing the flavor of the time period and that of the movie. Using the voices of many of the film's stars such as Marlon Brando, James Caan and Robert Duvall, the game world feels like a comfortable old shoe. This fact is driven home when Michael Corleone appears -- Al Pacino didn't sign on (he's doing the Scarface game), so Michael looks and sounds nothing like the movie version, and the game suffers for it.
The main problem with The Godfather isn't one of aesthetics but rather one of design. Being a Godfather game, you'd expect things to be a bit less "insane" than your run-of-the-mill Grand Theft Auto clone. But there's more gunplay, more Blues Brothers-inspired car chases, and more thuggery in general in 30 minutes of the game than in the entire movie trilogy. You can make the argument that a videogame needs more action, but instead of building up any suspense that leads to action, the game beats you over the head with the action to the point of desensitization. That might work for a generic mob game, but when you slap The Godfather label on it, that raises the standards a bit.
One of the more controversial aspects of the game is the fighting model, which is where the PC version specifically suffers. On the consoles the system feels natural, but on the PC you almost have to play with a gamepad exclusively because it's extremely awkward to perform the game's many combos (like smashing a guy into a wall or delivering a headbutt) with the mouse and keyboard. Unless you have a 10-button analog gamepad, you're in for some headaches.
Another PC snafu is the game's console-style save game system, which requires you to reach your safe house -- at times halfway across the city -- in order to save your game. It's extremely annoying to hop in a car (or steal one) and drive from Midtown to Little Italy just to save your progress after you've been playing for 45 minutes.
The Godfather's main storyline provides several fun moments, even if the action is way over the top. If you can think of it as a generic gangland-themed game without constantly comparing it to the films it borrows its license from, you can certainly have a good time gunning down members of the other four New York crime families. That said, it's hard to play The Godfather without thinking that this was a missed opportunity. A little less brawn and a lot more brains might have gone a long, long way.
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Scarface: The World is Yours, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Godfather II, The, Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven, True Crime: Streets of LA, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Need for Speed Underground 2, Lord of the Rings, The: The Battle for Middle Earth II
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