Scarface: The World Is Yours Exclusive Hands-On

Vivendi Universal gives us an exclusive update on its upcoming action game based on the classic cussin', cokin' Al Pacino opus.

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Vivendi Universal's Scarface: The World Is Yours has had a pretty low profile since last year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, where the game was being shown behind closed doors. Following the show, not much was said about the game until its ship date slipped into this year, which has left many wondering what's going on with the Radical Entertainment-developed title. Some light was finally shed on Tony Montana's extended console adventures thanks to a visit by reps from VU today, who brought by a work-in-progress version of the PlayStation 2 game for us to see.

If you thought a few bullets were going to keep Tony Montana down, think again.
If you thought a few bullets were going to keep Tony Montana down, think again.

The demo started with a quick update on what's gone on since E3. In the wake of the behind-closed-doors demos of the game, Vivendi and Radical reevaluated the project and opted to push it into this year to make a unique game that was more than just a cookie-cutter experience. The work on the game since E3 has been focusing on overhauling every aspect of the design to offer a more polished experience, as well as fleshing out the new storyline with more content.

For those who haven't been following Scarface, the game picks up where the movie ends (although with a bit of dramatic license). You may remember that drug lord Tony Montana was killed in a blaze of glory at the end of the film. However, rather than offering a zombie-tinged experience where you play the reanimated corpse of Tony Montana (which could potentially be an awesome game in its own right), the game lets Tony survive the bloody assault on his mansion from a rival drug kingpin. Unfortunately, once you make it past the game's first level, which tasks you with making it out of your once-fabulous but now bullet-ridden digs, you'll discover the days of wine and roses are over. While this is a bit of a bummer, it provides the perfect setup for another rags-to-drug-fueled-riches tale starring everyone's favorite foul-mouthed Cuban kingpin.

The game will task you with guiding Tony as he works to rebuild his empire. As anyone who has lost a thriving empire built on drugs should know, rebuilding is a pain. You'll have to start small and work your way up to bigger and better things. Not only will this yield money, which you'll have to launder in a nice little mechanic based on real-life crime, but it will also grow your reputation in the game. The greater your rep, the more the world will react to you in positive ways, ensuring that, much like the title implies, the world lays itself at your feet. You'll find that carjacking will be easier, because your reputation will precede you once you raise it high enough, and people will willingly fork over the keys to their car and let you do your thing.

The gameplay in Scarface is being tweaked to a rather lofty goal, that of appealing to both casual and hardcore gamers. We're a little skeptical about whether this will work the way the team hopes, but we're intrigued by what we've seen. The game takes its foundation from the tried-and-true mechanics seen in the third-person, open-world action of the Grand Theft Auto series. The fine mechanics are where the team is hoping it will have its broad appeal. The game features a lock-on aiming system that lets you target foes quickly; however, you'll also be able to free-aim if you choose, which allows flexibility for veteran players anxious for some pinpoint shooting.

Rebuilding your drug empire will be tough, but you'll just have to start at the bottom and work your way back up.
Rebuilding your drug empire will be tough, but you'll just have to start at the bottom and work your way back up.

Both options let you target specific body parts, which fills your "balls" meter. This meter indicates Tony's brashness in combat. Once the meter is full, you can trigger a blind rage mode that shifts the view to a first-person perspective that slows down time and lets you blow everyone away like only a rage-fueled madman can. You'll also find that Tony's patented taunting and small talk come into play as you interact with non-player characters and the police. We saw Tony chat up an NPC who reacted negatively to his low rep status and lacked the respect a former kingpin would expect. In another demo, we saw Tony smooth-talk his way out of a police confrontation, which you can do if you meet up with an officer without an exposed firearm.

NPC encounters can also lead to an intimidation minigame that requires you to stop a meter in a set spot when confronting NPCs or when being accosted by them. If you pull off this meter game, you'll mouth off in a suitably menacing fashion that will put your opponents in their place. Of course, if that fails you can always blow them away. You won't be able to go too gun happy, as you'll have to worry about your heat meter, which raises when you're being a public nuisance and frightening the locals. When the meter tops out, you'll have to contend with the police by either fast-talking, running, or shooting. However, like the GTA series, Scarface will feature some diverse gameplay elements to break up the monotony of roaming about on foot. You'll find vehicles to use or car-jack for driving missions, and boats for missions that find you on the open water.

An interesting twist to the Scarface experience is that once you've gotten enough cash, you'll be able to purchase your mansion again and start to restore it to its former glory. You'll use cash that's been earned and laundered to buy items to dress the old shack up. Not only will these items have a cosmetic effect, but they'll yield a buff of some kind to Tony, be it greater health, quicker shooting, or sturdier vehicles, to name just a few. The other perk of rolling stacks of cash is the ability to hire some help, which ties in to a smart gameplay element: minions. You'll find that once you earn enough cash and rep you'll be able to get some help. For one, you'll gain a driver who is a satellite phone call away from delivering you whatever vehicle you have stored in your mansion's garage.

You won't play just as Tony--you'll be able to hire some much-needed help with all that drug money, too.
You won't play just as Tony--you'll be able to hire some much-needed help with all that drug money, too.

Besides curbside delivery, the car's driver provides support thuggery and will follow you if you let him. In addition to riding shotgun, your helper will assist in combat. You'll eventually be able to hire three other helpers you can take active control of while playing the game, leaving Tony chilling at the mansion. Each of the minion characters--a driver, an enforcer, and an assassin--have unique attributes that let them come in exceptionally handy as you play. The driver, for example, has a better time with cars, has higher top speed when behind the wheel, and offers his vehicles more durability.

The visuals in Scarface are a little rough around the edges, but they're shaping up. The team has retextured Miami to sharpen it up a little, and the results are promising--the Miami environment was detailed and looked cool as the day and night cycles did their thing in the game. More impressive was the smooth transition from a building exterior to interior, which was load-free in the sections of the game we saw. Tony Montana looks just like you'd expect him to: surly and a little haggard, which is a few shades cleaner than the other character models we saw. The work-in-progress version's frame rate was scattershot, but it lacked an optimization pass to smooth things out. When the game ships, VU and Radical aim to have it run at 30 frames per second with widescreen and 480p support on the PS2 and up to 720p support on the Xbox.

Look for Giorgio Moroder's classic film score to be joined by period and modern pop music.
Look for Giorgio Moroder's classic film score to be joined by period and modern pop music.

The audio in the game sounds as though it's going to be a beefy assortment of tunes that should provide a suitable accompaniment to your life of crime. The game will feature a robust voice cast that will be headed up by a mix of actual Al Pacino sound samples from the film and dialogue voiced by his handpicked soundalike. As far as music goes, the classic, synth-heavy Giorgio Moroder soundtrack will be front and center in the game, but will also be supplemented by a mix of period tunes. You'll be able to unlock contemporary songs as well. In keeping with its time period, the game will use a "mix tape" format to let you customize your music to suit your tastes.

Based on what we saw, Scarface is looking scruffy but promising all the same. The game's GTA-inspired gameplay seems solid enough, and there appears to be a ton of things to do. The little touches used to make it more in line with what you'd expect from a game based on the film are interesting and could turn out to be pretty cool with some polish. While movie games are always a hit-or-miss affair, Scarface at least looks like it has some interesting stuff going on beyond its license. If everything can gel properly, the game should manage to do right by its license and stand on its own as a solid crime experience. Scarface is slated to ship this fall for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC. Look for more on the game at this year's E3.

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