A hit-and-miss man.
Before fancy rims
and gold-plated grills
, gangsters were called mobsters and believed in respect, tradition, and making all kinds of offers you can’t refuse. And I don’t mean the Shopping Channel’s “Salad Shooter for the low low price of $9.99!” kinds of offers. At least, that’s what Mario Puzo
, Francis Ford Coppola
, and the folks at Electronic Arts would have you believe. The Godfather
franchise has been a boon for everyone involved, from Al Pacino
to Robert DeNiro
to Sophia Coppola
, and now we get a piece of the pie.
But the game, like the franchise, struggles under the weight of its success. The Godfather plays like a GTA clone, with a giant city and a mission-based format. However, the depth of the gameplay beneath the sweeping canvas is actually pretty shallow. What saves the day, in a rare case of style over substance, are the cut-scenes and voice-acting, which are spot-on perfect. The film franchise has never been big on action, earning its respect on solid story-telling. The game, as it turns out, is part of the family…
…and so are you. Set in 1940’s New York City, you play an entry level Corleone enforcer. As you rise up through the ranks, your story intertwines with the events in the first movie. For example, did you ever wonder how the horse’s head got into the bed? The movie never answers the grisly question, and the game takes full advantage, really putting the “Ewwww” in Elmer’s Glue. Same with the gun that Michael Corleone uses to avenge his father’s injuryâ€”you don’t get to play as Michael, but you do get to plant the gun he uses.
This is a brilliant use of the movie franchise. Rather than play out the exact scenes of the movie, you fill in the blanks, playing all of the scenes that the movie so assiduously refused to show. Another example is the final scene, where five crime bosses get hit simultaneously during Michael Corleone’s first Godfather ceremony. Praying isn’t playing, but assassinating goons certainly is. And so it goes, your anonymous character carries out all the brutal crimes that the Corleones command.
With successful completion of missions, and with every enemy kill, your character gains respect. Respect is something like a mafia RPG “experience” meterâ€”as you gain levels you upgrade skills. The skills are pretty generic: shooting, fighting, speed, street smarts, etc. While tweaking the skill sets a bit helps your character out, the light RPG elements of the game really don’t change the gameplay.
Which is a shame, since the action in the game needs more meatball and less antipasti. In most missions, you perform one of two tasks, or sometimes both in succession: driving to a location or fighting your way to an informant on foot.
Driving is a clear miss for this hit-and-miss game. The mechanic is the same as Grand Theft Auto’s, except without a diversity of vehicles or crash physics. It is bad enough that there are only five different types of cars you can drive, it’s worse that you can’t flip them over. There are a couple of pathetic “ramps” that allow you to catch maybe a half-second of air, but they just serve to show how uninspired the vehicular portion of the game is. The worst bit is that you will have to drive quite a bit through the course of the game, as missions take you from one side of the map to another.
The fighting is another shot wide of the mark. The right thumbstick controls the melee attacks, and by holding a button and flipping the right thumbstick in a bunch of directions, your goon will fire corresponding punches and kicks. Another button grabs, and you can drag your enemy and throw them off roofs and into pizza ovens.
It looks okay on paper, but in the heat of battle you can be left fiddling with your thumbsticks to no discernable purpose. It is also nearly impossible to throw, as it requires “swooping” your opponent with the right thumbstick while letting go of the right trigger. The timing is precise, which is to say, dumb. I meant to throw the bastard, but instead I grabbed him by the collar and simply let go . . . over and over again.
Luckily, shooting fares better than fighting and driving combined. The target lock system is quick and usually intuitive. When you are “locked” on a target, you can use the right thumbstick to aim at particular body parts, or over obstacles. This same mechanic was the best part of the abortion-worthy True Crime: New York City, and we’re glad to see it replicated here in a decently programmed game.
That isn’t to say there aren’t any glitches. But, if anything, they make the game easier, so at least they are palatable. For example, when you extort a business away from a rival gang, if the business owner negotiates with you without any violence, the rival gang members make no move to stop you from taking over their turf. How gracious. Also, when you extort a business, there’s usually some racket in the back that you can also extort. But whereas you might expect that to require some busted knee-caps or cigar-clipped fingers, it is as simple as finding the racket. I just had to make an offer, and they never refused. Talking, it turns out, is a big part of the game.
And talking is what this game does well. The voices are pulled from the movies, and are complemented by some superb original voice-acting by O.G.’s James Caan and Robert Duval among others. The scriptwriting is smart and the Brooklyn dialect is uniformly sensational. It isn’t often that we heap praise on voices, but it’s only in a hot and cold game like this where you can see how decent acting makes such a huge difference.
The music is similarly pulled from the movie, and provides a nice soundtrack for the action of the game. The trademark trumpet tune is here, and casts a pleasant sorrow over the story of betrayal and honor. It certainly ain’t vanilla pop or hard-core gangsta rap, and for that, we can all rejoice.
However, the graphics are not nearly as nuanced as the sounds. The city is huge, and looks good from a distance, but up close the textures are bland and repetitive. Cars are similarly featureless, and all sport opaque windows. The buildings that you can enter are surprisingly large, but you quickly discover that they are all cookie-cutter replications of just five or six base models. As a whole, the package is as bland as pesto without the garlic.
The character models are the exception here, and just as with the voices, the modeling and animations are spectacularly immersive. The characters look just like their real-world actors, circa 1978. EA may not have gotten the environment quite right, but they certainly did their homework on the people.
The game itself is pretty short, as the main missions only take a few hours to shoot through. Some side missions, which are restricted to assassinations and extortions, try to fill out the giant double-breasted suit of the full NYC map, but are several pasta dinners short. While there might be a lot of room to explore, the game doesn’t provide much incentive to stray from the main narrative.
In sum, The Godfather has a few good bits, and luckily they are in the right places. And that goes for both the PS2 and Xbox versions, which are identical. The melee fighting and driving are bland, as are the environments, but the story is compelling and the acting is impeccable. For forty dollars it’s a good offer, but not one you can’t refuse.