“I’ll make you an offer you cannot refuse.” These words have made movie history. We all remember the first time we heard the late Marlon Brando (as Don Vito Corleone) say this legendary sentence. By many, The Godfather is deemed the best motion picture ever made. If you were wondering: yes, it is also the highest ranking film on IMDB. It’s actually a miracle it took such a long time before somebody transformed it into a game. In late 2005, EA at long last presented the audience with The Godfather, the most expensive video game ever, costing over 20 million $. Much to the company’s displeasure, The Godfather received very mixed reviews. Now, almost a year later, the Xbox 360 version of the game has hit the shelves. Is this the game it should have been in the first place?
The Godfather is the nth free-roaming action game to the likes of the Grand Theft Auto series. In this game, you take the role of an unknown mobster wannabe that has to make his way up the ladder of the Corleone crime family. As the story progresses, you’ll meet many of the film’s famous characters, such as Don Vito, Santino, Clemenza, Tom Hagen, Fredo and the likes. Many of the original actors have leant their voice and likelihood to the game, which adds to the feeling of authenticity. Though you don’t actually replay the movie, you’ll play a role in many of the film’s remarkable scenes. For instance, you’ll have to provide cover for the man that planted the horse head in the bed of director… or you’ll be trailing Sonny’s car, just when he gets shot at the toll booth. If I just spoiled a plot twist for you: be ashamed of the fact that you haven’t seen one of the greatest film trilogies ever and go rent/buy them tonight. Infidel.
You start by creating your own character using MobFace, just a fancy new name for EA’s GameFace technology, which we all know from the Tiger Woods games. Later on, as you earn money, you’ll be able to customize your gangster’s clothing. Your first few tasks serve as tutorials, but after that you’re free to do as you please. The game revolves around gaining respect. As you slowly become a force to be reckoned with, you gain levels (50 being the upper limit). Which each level gained, you can improve one of the five attributes of your character (shooting, health, speed, fighting and street smarts). In the beginning of the game, you’ll quickly ramp up your level, but when you reach level 20, it won’t be that easy anymore.
There are many ways to gain respect (thus experience), but the most important ones are doing the storyline missions and taking over shops and illegal rackets. There are over 50 places of interest you can own. You can do this by bribing the owner, “convincing” him to join the Corleones or by doing him a favor (getting a rid of a local drug addict, arsenist,…). The more places you own, the more money you’ll earn (and the more achievements you will unlock). Other stuff you can do to gain money and respect are accepting hit contracts (kill X or Y), heisting banks, hijacking transport trucks, blowing up safes etc. Though, admittedly, that’s a lot of things to do (if you want to do and collect everything, the game should last you north of 40 hours), the Grand Theft Auto games offer more, more varied and better side-activities.
Same goes for the storyline quests. Yes, they can be very amusing at times, but in general, it’s hard to shake the feeling of ‘been there, done that’. Almost everytime, they revolve around killing some guy, capturing this or that building, or returning some object. The good thing about the main missions is that they are divided in several checkpoints, which is huge advantage over GTA, that lets you replay entire missions when you die. Unfortunately, in The Godfather, it’s very easy to get killed, even with highly improved stats. Though you hardly suffer a penalty for dying (you get to keep all of your weapons, for instance), it can be very irritating to get shot down by a mafia member who apparently spawned out of nowhere. Notably enemies with shotguns can rip you apart in a matter of seconds, so it’s best to assault an enemy compound with the necessary care.
To get rid of enemy mobsters, you can use about half a dozen firearms and explosives. That’s not a very impressive ammount, but each weapon can be upgraded twice by visiting an arms dealer and shelling out some cash. But you don’t always have to use weapons to get the job done. The Godfather also contains an elaborate melee fighting system. You can grab your opponents, choke them, throw some quick jabs and punches or knock them against the interior of a building. Depending on how you killed your victim, you’ll gain ‘execution styles’, of which there are around 40. If you can do them all, you’ll gain some more gamer points. It helps that the button lay-out and control scheme are very intuitive.
New York is very nicely modelled after its real-life counterpart, and you’ll instantly recognize landmarks such as the Brooklyn Bridge. The game succeeds very well in evoking that ’50s feel. It’s therefore disappointing to see that EA really didn’t do much to bring the game up to next-generation visual standards. Though the character models and vehicles (only cars by the way) look pretty decent, the game suffers noticeably from aliasing and blurry environments. The explosions and fires, on the other hand, are some of the best we’ve seen on any platform to date. Still, The Godfather truly shines in the audio department. The sound effects and background noises are exemplary done. Aside from Al Pacino (Michael Corleone), all of the actors from the film have given their support to EA. They all did a terrific job in reading their lines (even Al Pacino’s replacement is decent, though nowhere near the original). Even the great Marlon Brando leant his voice to the digital Don Vito, just months before he passed away. Last but not least, the fantastic and well-known movie score succeeds in creating the one and only Godfather-atmosphere, though, in my humble opinion, the theme gets repeated a bit too often during the game.
The Xbox 360 version of The Godfather is undoubtedly the one to get if you were planning to buy the game. With its improved graphics (though still not very impressive to current standards), non-existent loading times and the ever-addictive achievements, it’s simply the best version available. Still, The Godfather isn’t a must-have game. It’s entertaining, but still can’t compare to other titles in the genre, most notably the GTA games and the recent releases Just Cause and Saints Row. Don’t let that stop you from giving this game a try, though.