SEVERAL MONTHS late and with the stinging criticisms from the movie trilogy's director, Francis Ford Coppola, still ringing in its ears, The Godfather has a big point to prove. The point being that the good name of the revered films won't be tarnished by a crude videogame cash-in project.
With such baggage weighing it down it'd be easy to dismiss The Godfather, but even purists will have to drop at least one disapproving raised eyebrow at the result. Instead of harming the legacy, the game clearly has a lot of respect for its source material, and doesn't shy away from the violent and gory subject matter. It's even got the confidence to dispense with much of the trilogy's talkiness and concentrate on ramping up the violence even further, creating a veritable bloodbath of an action game.
Marlon Brando's death soon after recording his lines for the game also gives this an almost macabre appeal - although whether they all made it, we're not sure. It's Brando's Don Vito Corleone who takes your character under his wing at the beginning - an obligation forced upon him after you witness the murder of your old man at the hands of gangsters as a nipper. Your long-term goal is to usurp Vito as the head of the Corleone family, and then eventually become the Don of New York.
Before any of that you get to create a character from scratch - your angry young man not actually existing in any of the movies. Using a similar system to that found in the Tiger Woods games, you can model the way your character looks and more importantly dresses, shaping everything from how hollow his cheekbones are to the colour of his slacks. Whatever looks, clothes and haircut you select, that's how your character appears in all the subsequent cut-scenes. It's just a pity there isn't a system whereby the smarter you look, the more respect you earn right from the beginning. Still, we defy anyone not to go on an ego trip and create a version of themselves.
Classic Italian-American looks and style are one thing, but you're still a nobody until you've earned the trust of the family and helped raise its reputation. To rise through the Corleone ranks you'll need to take on a mixture of main story missions and side missions, exploring every aspect of the game to reach the very top.
Scenes from The Godfather movie appear as missions, with your character initially taking a backseat role but eventually making a more active contribution to the most famous bits. For instance, in the early training missions you witness the stabbing in the hand and strangulation of Luca Brasi, and must gun down the henchmen who carry out the act before escaping by car. Later, you're the person who keeps watch and creates a safe passage for another grunt to behead Khartoum the racehorse and deliver it to the bed of Woltz, the movie producer. And later still, you're the guy who hides the gun in the cistern in the restaurant, allowing Michael Corleone to collect it and kill Sollozzo and McClusky. It's just a shame that Al Pacino chose to lend his likeness to the Scarface game instead.
Sensibly, EA has done much more than cherry pick the best bits from the film - since despite the three-hour running time it'd make for a pretty short-lived game if that were all there was. Your actions in this living, breathing city have a definite impact on how people act towards you, and how tough it is venturing into certain parts of town. Kill too many innocents or steal too many cars and your heat level rises, forcing the cops to arrest you or even shoot on sight. That said, you can bribe cops to turn a blind eye to your activities, with higher-ranking officers bending the rules for longer. Wasting too many gangsters from the same family also makes life harder since you risk turning manageable rivalries into all-out vendetta warfare, leading to a situation where you can't walk through a neighbourhood without being shot at. This ebb and flow of heat and vendettas help prevent the game from becoming stale or repetitive.