The Sopranos television series is in its twilight and is long past its peak of popularity, but that hasn't stopped THQ and 7 Studios from producing a game based on the show. The Sopranos: Road to Respect is a straightforward mission-based action game with a strong cast of identifiable characters and a fairly interesting story, but it's also ugly, short, riddled with bugs, and just no fun to play.
Road to Respect puts you in the shoes of Joey LaRocca, the son of informant-turned-corpse Salvatore "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero. With your father out of the picture, you get taken in by Tony Soprano as a lowly thug for hire. It's up to you to do a lot of dirty work for the DiMeo crime family so that you can earn the respect of the bosses and eventually become a made man. You're given missions by Tony, Paulie, A.J., and other members of the family. Some missions have you roughing up thugs who are causing trouble; others have you carrying out orders to assassinate certain people. It's all very simple and linear, and all of the missions play basically the same, to the point that you'll revisit the same locations to beat up the same generic thugs multiple times throughout the game.
The missions are all combat-focused, so you start at one end of a level and move down a corridor or go from room to room beating up enemies two or three at a time. Usually there's a special character that you have to confront--and of course, beat up--at the end of each mission. The combat controls are extremely clunky and unresponsive, which makes the fighting frustrating and tedious. You have a quick attack, a strong attack, and a grapple. Most of the time a fight comes down to mashing the quick-attack button to punch a guy in the face about 50 times until he falls over dead. If you weaken an enemy enough you can grapple him and pull off special finishing moves. You can choke guys, break their arms and legs, or just slam them into walls and kick them in the head. These moves are fun to watch the first time you see them, but they quickly get old because you'll see the same few animations over and over again. There are also context-sensitive attacks where you use objects in the environment to finish off your enemies. You can slam a guy's head in a refrigerator door, introduce his face to a table saw, or shove his head in a toilet. Again, these are satisfying the first couple of times you see them, but there isn't enough variety to make them interesting or worthwhile in the long run.
Aside from being boring and repetitive, the combat is also poorly executed. The controls are unresponsive, so even when you're mashing on an attack button you sometimes won't be able to get an attack off. There are also collision detection issues that cause you to get hit by enemies who are standing several feet away, while you whiff while trying to hit an enemy who is right in front of you. The enemy artificial intelligence ranges from broken to cheap. Sometimes you'll be fighting three enemies at a time and they'll just punch you over and over until you're dead, because there's no way for you to move or attack between blows. Luckily that doesn't happen often, because the enemies usually have a hard time moving around even in an open environment. If there's a table or other obstruction in the room, you can bet that an enemy will get stuck on it and just stand there twitching until you put him out of his misery.
The melee combat makes up the bulk of the gameplay in Road to Respect, but you can also use weapons. There are items such as crowbars, baseball bats, and bottles that you can pick up and swing at your enemies. These items are usually worth using because they will cut down on the number of hits required to put down an enemy, but they still suffer from the same collision detection issues as the standard melee combat. You do get a gun in the game, but you rarely get a chance to use it. If you fire a gun in a public area you'll lose respect, and if your respect gets too low you'll get whacked. That's the only effect the whole respect meter has on the game, though, which makes it feel like a half-baked game mechanic that you'll probably forget about completely. When you do get to shoot your gun, you'll find it completely useless and unsatisfying. You can lock on to enemies by holding the L1 button and fire with the R1 button. There's only one gun in the game, though, and it's not very accurate. It usually takes half a dozen shots to finish off an enemy, so it's quicker to just pick up the nearest blunt object and brain him real quick. If you're on the other end of the barrel you won't find the gunplay any more exciting or intense. You can stand there as an enemy unloads on you from point-blank range and you'll barely even notice it. Stranger yet, the enemies won't fire until you're right up next to them, and even then they take several seconds to fire between shots, despite using semiautomatic pistols.
Other than constantly fighting, there is very little to do in this game. You can collect loot such as cell phones, drugs, and wallets, but there's no reason to do so because the money in the game is pointless. There are only a few things to spend money on, such as lap dances and offerings to the bosses, and none of those things have any impact on the game. There is a clunky and cumbersome game of Texas Hold 'Em included here, but the interface is so terrible that you'll have a hard time playing for more than a few hands.
The presentation in Road to Respect is sloppy. The character models are blocky and ugly, and the animation is horribly stiff and awkward. There are also severe clipping problems, so you'll constantly see characters pass completely through solid objects. There are only about half a dozen stages in the game, and none of them look very good. There's the small, empty Bada Bing! strip club that inexplicably has you waiting as the game loads when you move from one tiny area to another. There's a gym, a warehouse, a hospital, and a few other generic locations that are basically just one long hallway for you to run from one end of to the other. The sound is actually fairly well done. All of the cast members from the television show provide the voices of their respective characters in the game, and most of them sound good. The generic characters sound terrible, though, and the dialogue is full of awful lines that are mostly poorly hacked-together strings of various forms of the F-word. Other than the familiar theme song that plays over the title screen, the music is forgettable--you'll hear the same handful of songs repeated in different stages throughout the game.
It will take you less than eight hours to play through The Sopranos: Road to Respect, and in that time you might die once or twice. The game is very linear, repetitive, and easy, which means it isn't at all fun to play. To make matters worse, the game is ugly, clunky, and full of bugs and glitches. Even if you're a devout fan of the show, there's absolutely no reason to play this game.