Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Electronic Arts
Release Date: March 21, 2006
EA's Godfather is one of the strangest games I've ever had the pleasure (?) of reviewing. It presents to me a problem I don't think I've ever had before. Usually, when a game makes questionable use of its license, it shows in the end product. Said end product is usually barely playable and easy to slam in 1,000 words. The dilemma here is that, taken on its own merits, The Godfather is a good game. However, as a Godfather game, it fails more often than it doesn't.
The setting is an alternate-universe version of the movie, where different families control each part of the city, the Corleone family's territory is sort of scattered to the winds, and the Don really does die early on. As for you, you play a person of your own creation whose father is killed when you were a boy. Upon witnessing his murder, Don Vito Corleone tells you to wait until you're older, and he may have a way for you to take revenge. That way, of course, is for you to join the Corleone network as an outsider, an errand boy, until you gain enough experience doing jobs, performing hits (yes, those kinds of hits) and extorting businesses all over retro New York City until you rise in the ranks of the family. Should you survive enough of these trials, along with mob wars and high-tension missions and scenarios that the game will occasionally put you through, you have plenty of opportunity to become Don - not only of the Corleones, but of all of NYC.
All of this takes place in a game which is pretty much a Grand Theft Auto mod, down to the rip-off map, free-roaming sandbox motif, wanted star system, hideout houses and vehicular mayhem. It won't take long for you to find out that running over an establishment's enforcers with a car before you attempt to extort a particularly fortified business is a viable tactic. Sure, you'll rank up the wanted stars ("police badges," in this case), but they'll go away after a while. Should the worst happen and you're gunned down, you're healed in a rehab house with little consequence.
EA really packed quite a bit into this game; while it's certainly no San Andreas as far as the amount of things you can do is concerned, your missions and optional endeavors are still impressive and true to the mobster theme of the game. Extorting businesses and finding the secrets within them is fun stuff and showcases some of the game's innovation. To extort a business, often you'll have to smash some things, or some people, to convince them that, hey, they really should pay the Corleones some protection money. You can only do this so much, however, lest business owners get indignant and become (ahem) economically unviable. Extorting businesses and buying out rackets (i.e., backdoor casinos) is how you earn your cash for things such as paying off the local police, which will cut down on those pesky wanted star - erm, badges.
The Godfather has its main missions, of course, which follow its parody of the movie's story from beginning to end; you'll also be performing hits, running errand duties and roughing up some people to teach them a lesson. Learning to play the game is seamlessly interwoven into its own set of playable missions, and between missions, you're encouraged to do your legwork in taking over the city. There are lots of businesses in New York to take over, and every person you'll meet in the city has their own unique name.
There's nothing to worry about here as far as aesthetics go. The 3D engine used for the game sometimes looks middleware as far as the animations go (especially when you're driving; clearly, not much care or attention was given to the vehicles) but really shines when you talk to people, or note that you're really interacting in a bustling New York city full of people equipped with AI to recognize events and crimes. On a high-definition set, the game looks simply awesome. The sound matches the graphical splendor, sometimes to a fault. The authentic voice-acting and the movie theme songs used throughout the game will sometimes pull you into an illusion that you're playing The Godfather as it was intended … then you run over a city block's worth of people in the van you just hijacked and suddenly, you're back in Grand Theft Auto: Little Italy again. Oh, well. Nothing's perfect.
As I've said before, despite the game's good points, people who are heavily into the movie will no doubt feel betrayed. Most of the "action" that takes place in the Godfather movie is subtle and reason-based. Really, the movie is more for your mind than your adrenal gland. Noting all of this, it's amazing how EA has managed to take these parts of the movie and turn them from subtle occurrences into madcap shootout and car chase sequences for seemingly no reason outside of, "well, it's a video game." You'll end up either laughing or crying when Luca Brasi is killed, and instantly, you're forced into a shootout where you're to take revenge on the man who did it, right then and there. Or when Don Vito is shot, and the whole thing suddenly degenerates into a shootout reminiscent of 25 to Life, followed by three futile high-speed car chases to and from the hospital (along with an on-the-fly interrogation in the middle of another shootout!) while the Don's health is forever shown in the center of the screen. Did I mention that rival mob members are trying to shoot you down and run you off the road the entire time? It's just that crazy.
Yes, the game's biggest failing is that it takes events from the movie and shoehorns them into a video game medium without recognizing their meaning to the overall story. Yet, can EA actually be blamed for this? Had they actually sat down and made a game of The Godfather, word for word, it'd likely have been filled with a couple of hits, but mostly negotiations and simulations. It's the opposite of Rockstar's The Warriors, a game that manages to be action-packed and still remain true to the movie in the strictest sense, while adding on to it.
And therein lies my previously stated dilemma. Does the fact that it takes far too many poetic licenses with its source material place a black mark upon the product overall? After much thought, I've decided it shouldn't. In the end, it's a video game. The highest measure of a video game's quality is whether or not it happens to be fun, and this title passes that criterion.
The fact of the matter is that Godfather is a good game, but only if you can keep in mind that it's really a game, instead of a well-adapted license. Instead of expecting to play the movie, instead, simply take this as your chance to cause mayhem in the city that the film presents, and let loose your inhibitions. Finally, there's a game that will let you become the ultimate mobster, through equal bouts of reason and ridiculousness. It succeeds where Mafia failed all those years ago. Try not to pass this one up if you can help it - after all, outside of a Liberty City Stories port, Rockstar's not about to give us another Grand Theft Auto fix for a while yet.
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