Scarface: The World Is Yours Review

Once you get over the whole rewriting-the-end-of-the-movie thing, Scarface: The World Is Yours is a competent but usually uninteresting action game.

Hey, remember the movie Scarface? How about that ending, with Tony Montana taking on an army of thugs with his "little friend" and managing to kill most of them...except for the guy creeping up from behind with a double-barreled shotgun? Guess he didn't see that coming. Too bad they didn't leave it open for a sequel, because the continuing adventures of Tony Montana probably would have been pretty cool.

Coke deals and other character interactions are often governed by a golflike meter.
Coke deals and other character interactions are often governed by a golflike meter.

Slight variations on that conversation have probably happened thousands of times since the 1983 release of Scarface, which featured Al Pacino as a tough-talking up-and-coming crime lord who makes a fortune dealing cocaine in Miami, only to lose it all by taking his eye off the ball and becoming way too focused on getting high on his own supply. Through the power of video game magic, Sierra and Radical Entertainment have teamed up to answer the question: What would have happened to Tony Montana if he had escaped from the mansion? What about his empire? And the video game answer to that question is that he'd lose it all and have to perform a number of Grand Theft Auto-like tasks to get it back.

Rewriting the ending to a movie just so you can justify a sequel is a tough pill to swallow, especially when you're dealing with an ending as memorable as the one in Scarface. It's likely that some fans of the film will never be able to get over that hump and will despise the game for existing in the first place. But if you can deal with that concept--you'll take control of Montana shortly after the "say hello to my little friend" line and orchestrate his getaway yourself--you'll find a foul-mouthed and bloody adventure that does next to nothing with the characters. In the film, you saw Tony Montana grow from a simple refugee to the king of the coke world. In the game, the shock of losing his empire causes Tony to clean up his act and get off the yayo so he can start dealing again. Then you basically kill everyone who wronged you, all while talking about the need to have balls. The whole experience feels flat and often self-conscious. It's like the makers of the game watched the movie, picked out a few common words that Tony Montana would say (cock-a-roach, balls, f***, chico, and coño), and then set about writing dialogue that uses those words as often as possible.

It might not feel terribly true to the spirit of the film, but as a game, Scarface is functional. You're given the open city of Miami to drive around right off the bat, though you'll be doing business in only one part of the city at a time. You start in Little Havana, and your goal is to take back that part of town so you can deal cocaine unabated by the other dealers that have risen during your three-month absence. You take back the streets by going to war with gangs that have taken up residence in various parts of the neighborhood. These gangs are denoted by a skull on your map, and your task here is to roll up to the thugs, open fire, and not stop shooting until they're all dead. You'll also need to buy businesses in each part of town, mainly so that you can use them as drug fronts, and you won't able to advance the story if you don't. But you can't just waltz in and buy each business right away. Business owners have specific tasks that you must complete before they'll sell. That means you'll have to go on a mission. Some of the missions make perfect sense and fit with something Tony Montana would do, like defending a restaurant from attackers. Another has you guarding a speedboat from a fixed gun position on a helicopter while it tries to find shark fins to make shark-fin soup for a wedding party at another restaurant. The slightly goofy missions conspire to make the whole game feel disjointed and flippant.

In addition to the main process of completing missions and buying front businesses, there's the more open-ended goal of making money and building a reputation. You have a reputation level that increases for a variety of different reasons, including completing missions, and you won't be able to take on some missions unless your reputation is at a certain level. If you need to earn a lot of rep, that might mean you go several hours without progressing the story because you need to earn money to purchase junk for your mansion, which raises your rep and also gives you access to the stupidly named "pimp my mansion" feature.

The life of a coke dealer is a dangerous one, but death in this game usually doesn't have much of a consequence.
The life of a coke dealer is a dangerous one, but death in this game usually doesn't have much of a consequence.

Or, you can just go on what seems like an infinite number of side missions to help out coke suppliers, usually by defending them from attackers for a minute or two. Once that's done, you can get connected with the suppliers and purchase cocaine. Grams can be dealt on your own to street dealers or through your front businesses, though the street dealers usually give you more money for your product. As you move up the food chain and take over entire neighborhoods, you get access to supply warehouses. Around that point, you can start buying by the kilo and store those fat keys of powder in your warehouse. Once you've stored some coke, you can then go on a distribution mission, which has you drive around to your various front businesses, ostensibly to deliver the coke you've accumulated. But all you really do is drive around and run over boxes that give you money. During this process, gangs will show up and attempt to attack or take out your front businesses, but they're never too hard to deal with. Completing distribution is a great way to earn a lot of cash...dirty cash.

The game keeps track of two different sums of money. Your cash on hand is treated as dirty money, and when you die, you lose all the grams and dirty money on your person. The only way to protect your money is to go to a bank and launder it, which also lets you save your game. The laundering process isn't automatic, though. Whenever you go to deposit your cash, a golf swing-style meter appears with various percentages on it. That percentage is how much of a cut the bank will take for cleaning up your cash flow. You need to hold down a button to start the meter moving and let off when it reaches a success zone at the end to get the lowest rate. This same meter shows up throughout the game and is used to intimidate gangs, fast-talk your way past police, sell grams of coke to dealers, and even disarm bombs. It's a clever system that makes you feel like you're actually working to accomplish these tasks, rather than just pressing a button, though it's not very hard, and you'll rarely fail once you get the hang of it. There are two other factors that impact some of these meters. Your heat with local gangs has an impact on how much money you'll get for selling coke to dealers, and your heat with the police has an effect on the percentage the banks will offer to launder your cash. You can pay either of them down with bribes, though the best way to deal with the police is to not attract their attention in the first place.

This may be the only game around that features something called a balls upgrade.
This may be the only game around that features something called a balls upgrade.

One of the most exhilarating parts of any Grand Theft Auto-style game is the ability to get out in the middle of the street, arm yourself to the teeth, and start going crazy. Scarface doesn't let you do that, because not only can you not pull the trigger when pointing at any civilian (the game likes to repeat the "I don't need that s*** in my life" line from the movie when you try to blast innocent people), but you also can't get into a protracted standoff with the police. As you do dirt in a visible manner, such as shooting it out with gangs in the streets or even getting into a lot of hit-and-run accidents, a meter starts to slowly fill up. If it gets full, the police show up on the scene. If they don't see you shooting, you might be able to put away your gun and sweet-talk the law into leaving. Or, you might just have to get away. The meter then becomes a timer that slowly drains, and you absolutely must get away from the police in a fast car. If you don't get away before time expires, the game lamely proclaims "you are f***ed," and shots ring out from nowhere, killing you almost instantly. There doesn't seem to be any way to fight your way out of this situation. You truly are "f***ed." It's interesting that someone tried to come up with a new way to deal with the police in a Grand Theft Auto clone, but this method isn't any fun at all.

That applies to much of the game, really. Most of the missions aren't much fun, either, though at least the act of firing a gun is handled well and surprisingly bloody. Comical, Mortal Kombat-like streams of blood blast out of just about any person you shoot, especially if you blow someone's head off. You can lock on and target enemies, and then use the right analog stick to refine that aim for headshots and so on. But once you start getting AK-47s and other high-powered weapons, locking on seems like a waste of time. You can just aim at head height, hold down the trigger, and sweep across a row of enemies to wipe them all out immediately. Plus, shooting without locking on is a more effective way to earn "balls," which is a rage meter. When your balls gauge is full, you can go into a blind-rage mode that takes the game first person for a bit. While in rage mode, you autotarget enemies, which makes them extremely easy to kill. Also, each kill causes you to regain some of your health, making it a useful feature.

Multiplatform games that appear on both consoles and the PC can be a real crapshoot, and the PC version is usually the one that ends up suffering. That's the case with Scarface for the PC, which has the same menus and controls as the console version. It has been poorly adapted to work with a mouse and keyboard, and the mouse aiming never feels smooth. Even more telling is the cheat-code entry screen, which still requires you to scroll through letters to spell out the cheat, rather than letting you type it in.

Graphically, the PC version suffers when compared to the Xbox version, let alone when compared to modern PC games. Even on machines that go way beyond the game's recommended system requirements, we noticed plenty of frame-rate trouble and slowdown. The textures aren't pretty, and overall, the game looks like a quick and dirty console port.

After taking over a couple of neighborhoods, you'll have to visit some of the surrounding islands via boat.
After taking over a couple of neighborhoods, you'll have to visit some of the surrounding islands via boat.

The audio side of the game is all over the place. While the first credit in the game might say Al Pacino right on the screen, that's just because the character looks like the original Tony Montana. The final credit, however, is the credit for the voice actor portraying the lead character by doing his best Tony Montana impression. He's pretty good, and just like in the movie, most of his lines are absolutely packed with cursing. And just as the movie was back when it was new, this may be one of the most curse-filled games around. The rest of the voice cast is full of fairly big names that don't necessarily sound like the sort of names you'd want in a Scarface game, like Bam Margera and Jason Mewes. For the most part, the voices are fine, though the character Mewes (Jay of Jay and Silent Bob fame) plays shouts "die, fat a**, die!" at one point. Who thought working in a fairly obscure Mallrats reference was a good idea? Tony Montana isn't even fat! The rest of the sound effects are as you'd expect. There are good gunshot effects, and the car engines sound decent. The game makes good use of surround-sound setups, especially on the Xbox. The soundtrack is pretty long and contains songs from the movie as well as a bunch of newer stuff from acts like LL Cool J and Cypress Hill, though much of it isn't very effective at setting the appropriate mood, and at its default setting, the music is usually a bit too loud, drowning out important sound effects or character speech.

Overall, Scarface: The World Is Yours is more a victim of some poor design choices than any glaring technical issues. The developers accomplished the task of bringing Tony Montana back to life. But by taking the focus off of the gameplay elements that you'd want in an open-city game and putting it more on the game's bland mission design and all the dull side tasks you'll have to do to earn a reputation, Scarface doesn't play to its potential strengths. The end result is a functional game that presents an interesting premise, but underneath you'll find a wholly uninteresting game.

The Good

  • If you hit the talk button when no one is around, Tony starts cursing at no one
  • decent targeting system makes shooting easy

The Bad

  • Boring missions
  • flat dialogue and storyline
  • rewrites one of the most iconic scenes in film history to justify its existence
  • poorly adapted to the PC platform

About the Author

Jeff Gerstmann has been professionally covering the video game industry since 1994.