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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 30, 2006

'Godfather' welcomes you to mob

By Scott Jones
Hartford (Conn.) Courant

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Rated M, for Mature (17+)

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I wasn't happy when I heard that EA was turning "The Godfather" movie into a video game. It's like making a Saturday morning cartoon out of the Sistine Chapel. Like making a pop song out of "The Catcher in the Rye." Like making a late-night Cinemax movie about the Mona Lisa.

It just should not be done.

Some hubris EA has. After locking up the exclusive rights to the NFL last year, and after it began littering its games mostly terrific games, but still with product placements for Burger King and Dodge, I was figuring EA had gone too far.

So when I sat down with "The Godfather" game about a month ago, I had more than a little skepticism.

But the game isn't bad. It isn't the mess I thought it would be, not by a long shot. The game's plot contorts itself like a Chinese acrobat to conform to the film's narrative. According to the game, there was a Wild-West-style shootout going on in the hospital basement while upstairs Michael was quietly pushing the Don's bed from room to room. I played through the game with a wince, certain that the next level would offend my "Godfather"-loving sensibilities, prepared to cry out in agony.

I cried out relatively few times. EA, to my surprise, has done a fairly decent job, exonerating itself.

The game's prelude borrows a page from the superhero handbook: A child witnesses the murder of his father in an alley. Don Corleone happens to be passing by. (EA actually hired Marlon Brando to do the voice.) The Don sees the grief-stricken boy and tells him that one day he will grow up to take his revenge.

That child turns out to be you. Via an interface similar to the one in EA's "Tiger Woods" games, you can doctor your grown-up visage to look as handsome, or as hideous, as you please. Big nose, bushy eyebrows, bare pate it's all here.

The game flash-forwards a decade to the wedding scene from the movie.

The Don, as we know, can't refuse any requests on the day of his daughter's wedding, and when your widowed mother comes to the Don asking for help with her troubled son (that's you), the Don assigns the ape-ish Luca Brasi to the case.

Luca schools you in the ways of the family how to fight, shake down shopkeepers, bribe policemen, hijack cars, use firearms, etc.

The game play isn't terribly original. It generally adheres to the tried-and-true "Grand Theft Auto" (Rockstar) model. There are the usual driving missions, the usual shooting missions and the usual missions that start with shooting and end with driving (and vice versa). One mission even has you driving the Don's ambulance to the hospital. Call it "Grand Theft Corleone."

The game world feels small when compared to the massive "Grand Theft Auto" cityscapes. Yet, at the same time, the "Godfather" world a microcosmic version of actual New York City and New Jersey streets feels more substantial, meatier, less cartoonish.

It has a physical heft that the "GTA" games don't.

As a result, car crashes result in a spray of fiery particle effects; fist fights feel visceral and brutal. And trash and papers constantly blow all over the streets. Seriously, didn't 1940s New York have any garbage men?

The game's biggest flaw is that it feels a little too linear at times; there is too much "go here, meet Clemenza, do this" game play, which left me feeling like an errand boy instead of an up-and-coming mobster on the make. Even when I decided to go on side missions like hijacking trucks or robbing banks, there was always a ringing telephone nearby, summoning me to the game's next plot point.

On the plus side, the game's animation and writing are generally top shelf.

And seeing "old friends" like Clemenza, Tessio, Sonny C., Tom Hagen and, of course, the Don himself was a bona-fide pleasure for me.

My biggest problem is the game's glorification of violence.

The violence in the film, though brutal, always seemed justified by the plot. Not so in the game. It even features a list of Execution Styles you're encouraged to tick off one by one, including a Grand Slam (killing someone with a baseball bat) and Last Gasp (strangling).

Beyond the fact that this is a decent game with big-dollar production values, the larger questions are these: Did we really need this game? Does it do anything to further the medium of gaming? Does it do anything at all to expand the world of Francis Ford Coppola's film and Mario Puzo's book?

I'm putting it in the same category as the film "The Godfather Part III":

"The Godfather: The Game" is an unnecessary chapter to a story that, for me, ended a long time ago.