It's been just over a year since EA took the wraps off its game based on The Godfather, surely one of the most important and revered films in American history. Since then, we've seen the film's principal cast join the game's voice-over lineup (which subsequently suffered a bit of a setback); Francis Ford Coppola lashing out at the idea of a game based on his film; and a delay that pushed the game back into 2006 release territory. Obviously, this is a news-making game--but is it any good? In order to get the early scoop, we've gone hands-on with a nearly finished version of The Godfather to find out.
Since The Godfather presents such a character-driven story, we were hoping to see a lot of those characters throughout the video game version, and so far, the lineup has all been here. The Corleones (Sonny, Michael, and Don Vito himself) are front and center, along with family consigliere Tom Hagen, and goons like Luca Brasi, Paulie Gatto, and Monk Malone. With the exception of Michael, all the characters bear their classic likenesses, and Sonny and Tom Hagen are even voiced by James Caan and Robert Duvall, respectively. Generally, the game seems to have re-created the social and criminal hierarchy of the film fairly well so far.
But you won't actually get to play as any of those famous characters. You'll instead take control of a custom hoodlum that you can create in a complex interface akin to Tiger Woods' GameFace system. You'll be able to tweak facial variables all the way down to forehead intensity, eyebrow size, and chin shape (all important elements for a good mobster) before finalizing your body size and physique to create your custom wiseguy. The story hook here is that in your youth, you (and Don Corleone) witnessed your loyal father being gunned down by a rival family, and so once you've come of age, it's time to join the Corleone ranks and seek revenge along with your own fortune.
Once you've gotten past the traumatic opening sequence, you'll find 1940s New York City is a landscape of opportunity for the enterprising young mafioso. You'll start out with Luca Brasi as a guide, and he will instruct you in the ways of beating people, shooting, and shaking down storeowners for protection money--all the tools of the trade, in other words. Soon enough, you'll be undertaking your own missions by moving from one point of contact for the Corleone family to another. Navigating the Big Apple is similar to what you've seen in Grand Theft Auto or any number of imitators--you've got a minimap that indicates your next points of interest, and you can jack any pimpin' ride you see to get you where you're going more quickly. Attracting the ire of the police (referred to here as "heat") also works similarly to what you're used to, so don't try to pull too much dirty business in plain sight.
The Godfather does deviate from or improve on the GTA formula in a few ways we've noticed, and the bulk of these changes are found within the nitty-gritty of the actual mission gameplay. The game's fighting engine is interesting since it uses the right analog stick for punching, which we've found gives the melee combat a pretty fluid feel. In addition to left and right punches and uppercuts, you can grab enemies and beat them while they're in a hold; throw them into a wall or hold them over a ledge; or toss them to the ground and stomp on them.
We've picked up everything from bats and revolvers to shotguns and a tommy gun in the game's first few hours, and the shooting combat has been easy to get a handle on. You can lock onto enemies with a shoulder button and then cycle through multiple targets with the same button. And once you're locked on, you can fine-tune your aiming reticle for a headshot or to take out a specific limb, if the foe is armored. In the few missions we've seen so far that require the use of stealth, you'll be able to back up against flat surfaces to peer around and take potshots.
As you progress through the Corleone ranks, your status with the family will increase and you'll be rewarded with skill upgrade points that you can apply to five categories: fighting, shooting, health, speed, and street smarts. Most of those are pretty self-explanatory. The first fighting upgrade will increase your damage output and allow you to hold an enemy for longer. The street-smarts category, interestingly enough, will do things like keeping your heat level down so you can terrorize the streets with relative impunity.
It seems that there are also a good number of ways to augment your cash flow in The Godfather. Optionally, you can enter a large number of local businesses and try to intimidate the owners into paying you protection. Most of the owners are resistant to your advances, needless to say, so you'll often have to rough up their store (or even them) before they relent. Once you gain control of the business, you'll get some extra cash on a weekly basis, and you may even discover a backroom gambling operation that you can buy into to further increase your profits.
EA's acquisition of The Godfather license has drawn some derision from skeptical industry commentators--how could one of the most famous films of all time (and a 34-year-old one at that) be shoehorned into a solid video game that pays proper respect to the source material? How the storyline will play out by the end of the game remains to be seen, but there seems to be quite a solid sandbox-style crime action game here. We've seen a variety in the missions, at least. For example, we've performed a hit or two; escorted the injured Don's ambulance to the hospital (and fought off a group of assassins once there); and even roughed up a couple of punk college kids. It looks like there will be plenty of game to chew threw, since we've only managed to explore part of Little Italy during the first few hours, and there are still numerous other districts on the map, like Brooklyn, Midtown, and Hell's Kitchen, and each one is controlled by a rival family. The Godfather is slated to release in mid-March, so stay tuned for further updates.