Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Electronic Arts
Release Date: March 21, 2006
It's not often that a game based on a movie license matches up to the source material in terms of quality, accuracy, and entertainment. We're normally shoveled the same formulaic gameplay so that a newly released film can have a video game tie-in to take to the bank. So when Electronic Arts announced that they'd be taking the beloved The Godfather film license and spooning it into a video game shell, many fans of the classic film were dismayed. Before seeing the first screenshots of the game, a large percentage of gamers had written off the title as just another cash-cow movie license being exploited for the sake of filling a game company's coffers.
Now that I've got the obligatory setup out of the way, let me say this: The Godfather is far from being a bad game. It may rely on Grand Theft Auto mechanics a bit too heavily, but if you liked the GTA games or even The Godfather movies, you'll have a great time here, too.
The game begins with a flashback scene of your character witnessing his father's death at the hands of mobsters. You then have the opportunity to create a character from scratch, choosing pretty in-depth facial features, body size, outfit, and more. Once you decide on a look for yourself, the game zips forward to your adult years; you are living a life of crime, running with a very tough crowd. Your widow mother pleads with Don Corleone to take you under his wing and save you from the streets, and since it is the Don's daughter's wedding day, it is a favor he cannot refuse. He sends the hulking enforcer Luca Brasi to steal you from the streets and get you set up working for the Corleone family.
The Godfather does a respectable job instructing you in the ways of the game. While not feeling too much like a tutorial, the first few missions are lessons in controls and extortion mechanics. The controls themselves are a very mixed bag, especially melee fighting, but again, the game eases you into the role of a bruiser, and after a while, the clumsy controls don't feel so frustrating.
The city of mid-twentieth century New York is large and home to many businesses, rival families, and other locales to test your merit. See that Taylor's Shop over there, or the Bakery? Those aren't just there for window dressing. You can enter them and extort the owners of such establishments, requiring them to make a weekly donation to the Corleone family or else suffer the consequences. Some shop owners are overly brazen and will refuse your mobster threats. You sometimes have to toss them around a bit, or trash their store sufficiently before they come around to "generosity." Some businesses are governed by other mob families, but these can still be stolen … if you have the firepower and the fortitude to attempt such a thing. The extortion racket feels akin to Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas's gang territory takeovers, where you have to constantly keep guard over your claimed property, or other families can steal them from you and step that much closer to ruling the city.
Electronic Arts chose Grand Theft Auto as an inspiration because it is such a proven crime-game formula. The similarities between The Godfather and the Grand Theft Auto franchise are not discreet: the police meter, hijacking vehicles, extorting businesses, a free-roaming city, side-missions, all of these were done first in the infamous GTA games. The Godfather plays and feels like Mafia or Grand Theft Auto, and makes no excuses for the fact that it's a copycat. It may be an imitator, but it's one of the best the genre has seen.
Besides extorting and terrorizing businesses, you can buy stakes in small-time casinos, rob cargo trucks, and become a hit man. These are all side-missions to the main story, which sticks very close to the film. While your character is completely new to The Godfather world, he acts as a bystander while the film's scenes are acted out in video game form. Many missions will have you indulging in gunfire with cops or rival families, such as the hated Tattaglias or Barzinis. The story itself is nearly as good as the source material, and you have to respect a game that does the movie and Mario Puzo's novel justice.
Despite the melee combat being a bit clumsy at times, the gun battles are where the bulk of the fun is to be had. At your disposal is a variety of firearms, and using them to take down the Five Families of New York is highly satisfying. You can press against a wall Solid Snake-style, and peer around corners to take shots at hiding enemies. Head shots are instant kills, and sometimes even a close-up body shot can fell an assailant. Learning to successfully take pot-shots from around corners is the path to victory in many firefights, because the level of accuracy in such situations is based on how well you lock onto your target and aim at certain body parts. If there is one aspect of that The Godfather that one-ups Grand Theft Auto, it is the shooting mechanics. When locking onto an enemy, you then have the ability to target specific areas, such as the head, legs, and arms. This can even be done when hiding around a corner.
If you can get up close to an enemy after damaging enough of his health, you can perform an execution. There are many different executions to uncover in the game, and the game rewards you for each and flashes which type you have just successfully committed on the screen. Think of them as fatalities like in Mortal Kombat. The executions are animations that instantly end your enemy's life, and most are incredibly violent. If you are armed with a shotgun and hit the execution trigger when the option is displayed, you may push an enemy to the ground, straddle him, put the shotgun to his face, and pull the trigger. Others may include breaking necks, bringing an enemy to his knees so you can shoot him in the temple, and other disturbing acts of violence. The game is not for those of weak constitution.
Reprising their roles in The Godfather are most of the original cast of the film. James Caan, Marlon Brando (recorded his lines before his death), Robert Duvall, Abe Vigoda, they are all in here. Also, their character models are brought to life with such accuracy that you will feel like you're an active part of the movie itself.
The game's graphics are, for the most part, well done. Noteworthy are the explosions and fire, which look simply phenomenal. If a car explodes and you are within radius of its concussion, you will be sent sprawling on the pavement in true Hollywood form. Car models are repetitive, as are pedestrians, and the city buildings sometimes seem uninspired and copied-and-pasted to form an entire street, but otherwise, the amount of detail in the game is respectable. It's obvious the main focus was on making the movie locations and characters as authentic as possible, while other areas were left uninspired and redundant.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Godfather and can recommend the game to anyone who enjoyed the Grand Theft Auto series, or to fans of the original film or novel. Some people may be a bit put off by the liberties taken with the source material in order to incorporate your character into most of the famous movie scenes, but for the majority of the game, the license is handled with care. In fact, this is one of the best uses of a film license I've seen in recent years. Controls can be a bit wonky, especially melee, but the gun battles are satisfying and reassuringly violent for you bloodthirsty wannabe mobsters out there. The Godfather may be a straight-up Grand Theft Auto, but it is one of the best monuments to the GTA legacy yet.
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