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A New Addition to the Family

Tae Andrews and Chris McGrady | Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Tae: Prior to the video game release of “The Godfather,” fan speculation about its quality was high – would it do justice to the film, or was it just a money-making addendum to the film series, in pursuit of the almighty dollar? After a March 21, 2006 release, the final verdict is out: justice is served, although the game is hardly a masterpiece.

The EA Games’ video game rendition of the classic film follows the precedent set by the Rockstar Games hit series, “Grand Theft Auto.” Based primarily on the “GTA” format, the player has virtually unlimited free reign to explore the city map of 1940s New York.

However, the game’s strength lies in its storyline missions. Players can name and create their own characters, then pimp them out with customizable features such as mustaches, fedora hats and fine Italian suits. (Perhaps the most hilarious part of the game is hearing a college dorm room packed with heterosexual guys arguing the finer points of a created gangster’s wardrobe and hearing lines such as, “Pick the tan tie, it goes better with his shoes!”)

The player-created character is peripherally woven into the plot of the film version of “The Godfather.” For example, when Michael Corleone uses a planted pistol to knock off some mob leaders in a restaurant, the player is responsible for stashing said assassination weapon. In addition, the film’s cut scenes are excellent. The pixilated versions of the film’s characters are for the most part very good, with the exception of Michael Corleone’s video game self, who fails utterly to look or sound like Al Pacino. Especially well-rendered are the hot-headed Sonny and the Godfather himself, Don Corleone. The video game Corleone resembles late actor Marlon Brando down to a T, with that same dead stare, preposterous jowls and raspy mumble.

While it remains faithful to the film, the game’s true fun lies in allowing the player to embrace his or her inner gangster. Tired of being a “button” for the powers-that-be? Feel free to take to the streets and dodge the coppers en route to achieving capo status. Again, like “Grand Theft Auto,” “The Godfather” encourages players to both beat their way down and shoot their way up to the top of the criminal food chain.

While piloting his or her self-created Slim Shady around town, the player is required to earn his or her dishonest living by shaking down local businesses for their hard-earned cash. Having the freedom to rule with an iron fist quickly goes to the player’s head, as he or she hustles, extorts and intimidates the various denizens of New York City.

Should the locals refuse to comply with diplomacy, do as any true Godfather fan would – simply make them an offer they can’t refuse. Like Don Corleone, it helps in the game to speak softly but carry a big stick. Or a lead pipe. Or a tommy gun. To rustle up some cash, a veritable armory slash-hardware store is available for use as instruments of destruction. However, if gamers get tired of using the tools of the trade, they can simply lose the jackets, roll up those sleeves, and get their hands dirty with an innovative fist-fighting system. Remember, spare the rod, spoil the child.

Unfortunately, despite all its fun, the game has definite drawbacks. The game’s playing aesthetic has a knack for the arcade – after special gangland-style executions, different catchphrases flash on-screen. For example, after whacking a guy with a baseball bat, the player is rewarded with the words “Grand Slam Execution” flashing onscreen. Also, button instructions advising players to “Press Triangle to Extort” and “Press R2 for Execution,” while humorous, fail to capture the grave and somber nature of the classic film.

While the game has good graphics, it recycles the same character models and building interiors over and over again, to the point where wandering around feels like the film “Groundhog Day” – every backdoor gambling ring and back alley hustler on the street looks identical.

Despite its shortcomings, “The Godfather” video game is a solid enough effort for fans of the film series to reaffirm a lesson worth learning from the film “Office Space” – damn, it feels good to be a gangster.

Chris: Here’s a simple rule: tread with caution when remaking a classic film. Rule number two: be even more careful when remaking said classic film into a video game. However, Electronic Arts does a sincerely impressive job of just this task in its video game “remake” of “The Godfather.”

Although any avid – or even novice – “Godfather” fan can tell that the game strays from the plotline of the original film, there are similarities that are poignant and necessary. Don Corleone looks very similar to Marlon Brando and sounds almost exactly like him, the cut scenes are nearly identical to the films in some cases and the general feel of the game is very much like the movies. However, Electronic Arts (EA) did not strive to make a replica of the movie, but rather a game based on the general premise of the film. While this may irk the “Godfather” aficionados, the game is still beyond entertaining.

This game’s impressiveness hinges on its playability. Rather than follow a linear plot line, the gamer can feel free to roam about the New York/New Jersey area (think of classics like Rockstar’s “Grand Theft Auto” series). The player can exhort shop owners, shake down back alley rackets and generally cause mayhem on the streets.

The gamer starts off as a lowly street thug, taken under the wing of the mob. Customized to look however the player desires – from eyebrow intensity to hair color to style of clothing – the fully personalized character makes his way through the hierarchy of the organized crime family, ultimately ascending to the lead role as Don while avoiding police and other gang vendettas. This task requires skill, streets smarts and a little bit of luck, but comes together for a fun experience.

However, the game is not without its faults. Although the map is huge, many of the areas are vague and lack detail. The game would have a more realistic feel if specific landmarks were more recognizable as actual places.

In addition, what is meant to be New York Cty is filled with large areas with nothing in them. While driving from place to place, oftentimes there is nowhere to go but straight. In this sense, the game is a bastardized version of “GTA,” taking away much of the freedom that was allowed to the gamer. This game would have been served well by spending another six months in development, increasing the variety of the scenery. The game lacks in detail and tries to make up for it in quantity. It doesn’t work.

However, what is unique about this game compared to the slew of other games in the genre, such as “GTA” and “True Crime,” is the fact that it was adapted from a previously existing – and beloved – film. The plot line is more substantial, albeit not as complex as the movie, and provides the gamer with a bit more interest in the actual outcome of the story.

At times over the top, the game is definitely not for those fans of “The Godfather” movie looking for an exact replica. However, the entertainment value is too much to pass up. So don those pinstripes and fedoras and ascend to Mob greatness.