"Well, it's basically GTA in Homburg hats, innit? With tommy guns and that?" Err, actually no. Despite looking like a 1940s version of the modern-day crime-glorifying mega-hit, The Godfather is a far subtler, far cleverer game than anything served up by CJ or Tommy Vercetti. Having played through several key scenes for ourselves, we're confident EA has made something that will pleasantly surprise Godfather fanatics who might otherwise have been expecting a movie tie-in disaster. Not wishing to name names, but we're still seething over the whole From Russia With Love fiasco.
For a start, The Godfather sensibly steers clear of simply being a straight port of the film. Not only does this avoid the pitfall of upsetting a deeply loyal fanbase, but as a film, The Godfather hardly makes for riveting game material anyway - just a lengthy collection of tastefully shot dialogue scenes. Instead, EA has created a totally new story set within the Godfather world, drawing deeply on both the film and the original Mario Puzo novel to help flesh out and create a totally believable post-war New York City. Fans needn't be too concerned - you'll still bump into key scenes from the movie as you progress, and you'll even be able to take part in some of them - to a limited extent. For all intents and purposes though, this is an expansion, rather than a straight retelling, of the Godfather myth.
Better still, EA's version is far more than your average story-driven action game. If anything, it's a real-time strategy game with action-driven elements. Real-time strategy because your ultimate aim is to take control of the city piece by piece, grabbing every business going (legal or otherwise) while sabotaging rival families as they attempt to do the same. The action-driven elements appear in the way you go about intimidating shop owners into handing over their profits - and it's all down to some very clever use of the joypad's twin analogue sticks.
So how does it work? Picture the scene: you're a young Italian American who, at the request of Don Corleone, has begun learning the Mafia ropes under the expert tutelage of Luca Brasi (who you may remember from the movie). You're standing across the street from a butcher's when Luca tells you to go in and 'have a word'. You stroll across, chat to the proprietor and - when he refuses to cough up any protection money - you get angry. You start shouting, you pull him about, you smash his head into the counter and then you throw the cash register through the window. Not enough brutality to actually kill him, but enough to have the poor guy break down in a puddle of tears and apologies.
It's a very dynamic scene, and one that's controlled entirely via tweaks of the analogue sticks thanks to a system that originally began life as the combat controls from EA's Fight Night boxing games. In essence, you need to use real physical force on the sticks to pressure the mild-mannered butcher into handing over not only his earnings, but the keys to his secret gambling den upstairs as well. The philosophy is that everybody has their breaking point, and it's your task to take them right up to it without pushing them into an unnecessarily messy death-splat beyond. After all, a dead butcher isn't going to earn you as much as a live one, right?
Naturally, the more businesses you start to take over across New York's five districts, the more notorious you'll become, the more money you'll earn and the higher up the Mafia echelons you'll ascend. It's here The Godfather morphs from pure action romp and empire-building strategy belch to its third form: that of fully-fledged RPG. Completing tasks throughout New York earns you experience, which in turn can be used to improve your characteristics in five key areas: Fighting, Shooting, Defence, Speed and Street Smart. Develop these, along with your bank balance (and predictably with this being an EA game, your wardrobe), and you'll start to see a change in not only your appearance, but the way other people treat you as well.