The Godfather Review

Developer: EA Redwood Shores Publisher: EA Games
Release Date: March 20, 2006 Also On: PC, PS2 and Xbox

Electronic Arts Redwood held their The Godfather: The Game Community Day event March 10th in Redwood City, California. During the event, several participants from various websites (some of whom are Game Freaks 365 affiliates) had a chance to extensively play The Godfather: The Game and interview the development team behind the game. I personally got a chance to play The Game for about seven or eight hours and I spoke to Executive Producer David DeMartini, Creative Directors Mike Olsen and Mike Perry, PC Producer Rawson Stovall, and Product Manager Dave Rosen about their product.

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The Godfather: The Game is a videogame that takes some of the best aspects of the classic 1973 Paramount film and brings it to life in an interactive experience quite unlike anything I have played before. Just based off of the license, it is clear that EA Redwood had their work cut out for them. Making a video game based off of such an old classic is something that must be done delicately and responsibly, and based off of what I saw, heard, and played, EA and Paramount Studios should be extremely proud.

“We worked really closely with Paramount to make The Game,” said Olsen. “We got everyone [from the movie] that we could,” Perry added. But making an experience based around the movie isn’t the only thing that EA shot for. “This was a big deal for EA. This might even be EA’s biggest game,” said Olsen. The Game, which is probably the most ambitious M-rated product in EA’s history, is also one of the biggest, featuring the largest development team in the studio since the PC mega-hit, The Sims 2. With this much manpower, EA was able to create a game that not only recreated the movie experience, but offered an experience of its own.

The first way that EA pins you with this is right when the game starts up, allowing you to create an in-game avatar from scratch with the MobFace system, which was modeled after Tiger Woods PGA Tour’s GameFace model. With MobFace, gamers can create a character by altering their appearance with details down to nose shape, eyebrow size, hair length, lip texture and more. Basically, with enough time devoted to the process, it is possible to create your exact image in the game. This is what I did, creating a gangster that resembled myself quite well, minus the circa-1940’s pompadour hairstyle.

The awesome experience I mentioned earlier is something that can’t be ignored behind a storyline, and Olsen is one to know. He created a system that makes up one of the fundamentals of The Game’s gameplay, known as Black Hand Targeting. Mixing ideas from Fight Night Round 3 and recent editions of Tiger Woods PGA Tour, The Game forces the player to use the Right Analog Stick to execute everything from punches, grabs, and chokes to brutal executions and throws.

“With Black Hand, we’re trying to eliminate button-mashing and create analog finesse,” said Olsen. This control scheme worked perfectly for the game, which isn’t your normal action game anyway. The Godfather: The Game is an open-world game, the moniker given to your typical Grand Theft Auto clones. But The Game isn’t just another GTA clone. “We needed to make certain aspects of the game better than Grand Theft Auto, while not making another Grand Theft Auto,” said DeMartini.

They certainly hit this off well, as The Game seems to beat GTA at its own game in several different ways. For example, the Black Hand Targeting system gives a perfect balance of brutal aggression and smooth control. It allowed me to slip into the suspenders of my MobFace gangster, grab an NPC by the throat and beat him into submission with the ease of a few analog motions and shoulder button presses. Even the shooting controls are extremely easy and the Black Hand Targeting system allows you to target individual sections of an enemy’s body to incapacitate him or kill him instantly. For example, shooting an opponent in the stomach will cause him to fall to the ground in pain. Shooting his knees will also drop him instantly, while a shot to the shoulder will disarm him. Rather than fumble with a wretched camera and a sub-par targeting system, The Game offered a level of control that other games would find hard to refuse. It also injects a lot of excitement into your actions, especially when you’re grabbing hold of someone and choking them. I noticed that I’d press down on the choke buttons (the L3 and R3 buttons on the PlayStation 2) much harder than normal because I actually felt the aggression that my MobFace avatar was dealing out. It is exciting, it is easy, and it is fun.

Another interesting gameplay concept is the economy system that The Game uses, which allows the perfectionists and hardcore crowd to really stock up on the game’s different secrets and currency. Players have the ability to invade storefronts and offer protection from the family for a price, and one of the most entertaining aspects of the game is the Extortion feature that you use to do this. Using Black Hand Targeting, a player can walk into a store, grab hold of a shop keeper and threaten him or her until he or she finally gives in and offers you weekly payments for protection. Extorting businesses gives the family more and more power across the city, but abusing that power can actually lead to hostility from other families that may eventually lead to a full-scale gang war. How’s that for depth? And if extorting people is not enough to spark your interest, you can always attempt to rob the banks that dot the landscape. Of course, this is almost an entire adventure in itself – each bank is filled to the brim with police and security, but the payload for accomplishing the job is huge.

Playing through the game gives your character respect points that can be spent to increase stats, like Fighting, Shooting, Health, and Street Smarts. Each of these stats has a dramatic effect on everything in the game from extortion to flat-out shooting people and running from the police when necessary. Also, guns and other weapons like bombs can be upgraded by purchasing newer toys from black market salesmen scattered across the city. As I mentioned, perfectionists will want to find and collect everything.

The Game features a living, breathing world that captures the look and feel of 1940’s New York City very well. Featuring five large areas, like Little Italy and Brooklyn, the in-game city is loaded with buildings, interiors, and areas to explore. It’s also populated with pedestrians, rival family gangsters and plenty of vehicles to steal and drive. The visual recreation of the city is fantastic, even on the PlayStation 2 model that I was playing. The streets are filled with walking, talking NPCs, other vehicles, particle effects, and detailed buildings that really flex the muscles of the PlayStation 2 hardware. The interesting factor is that there are not actually loading screens during the game. All of the games loading is done on-the-fly, meaning you will never once watch a bar scroll across the bottom of your screen. “We feel we’ve pushed the PlayStation 2 hardware about as far as it will go. The game actually takes up 4 GB of space, which is the capacity of a PS2 disc,” said Perry.

The visual detail that was put into character models and animation is also something worth noting. It’s clear that the developers spent countless hours making a truly cinematic experience. Every cut-scene I watched was done with fantastic lighting, camera angles, and a mood that you’d expect from The Godfather. The cut-scenes were, interestingly enough, all done in real-time. There weren’t any pre-rendered scenes to speak of. This was done so the MobFace system would work and gamers would see their characters put right into the events that unfold in the traditional storyline, alongside perfect recreations of Don Vito, Michael, Sonny, Luca, and other memorable characters.

While actually playing The Game, I noticed that the visuals are still better than most games of this type on current-gen consoles. The elements I must mention, the factors that truly blew me away, were the particle effects. I really don’t think a current-gen game has ever captured the detail that The Game offers in full stride. Papers blow across the road as you cruise down Broadway; lights and sparks explode out of a lamp post as you careen into it, dodging police that crash into a parked car and explode into a simply fantastic display of smoke and fire. If that were not enough, the frame rate remains steady throughout the entire experience and do not forget, all of this is done without distracting loading screens.

The sound of The Game is also extremely well-crafted. Interestingly enough, Al Pacino was not interested in working with Paramount or EA Redwood and therefore his likeness and voice is not used at all throughout the game. Fortunately, other actors, like Robert Duvall and James Caan, were thrilled. Even in their old age, they devoted their time to EA Redwood and their on-screen characters are extremely authentic. Sadly, Marlin Brando passed away before his voice was able to be captured for the cinematics found in The Game, but his sound-alike is uncanny and his likeness was captured perfectly. Outside of the cinematics, the sound effects were done pretty well and the beautiful explosions I mentioned earlier definitely leave a ring in your ear when they boom through the speakers.

I have not yet mentioned the PC version of The Game, but I actually got a chance to play that as well, and share several minutes speaking with the PC version’s producer, Rawson Stovall. Though the core gameplay mechanics and storyline remain the same, Stovall wants to urge PC gamers that they are getting an optimized version of The Game this month.

“Some things that we’ve done differently with the PC version is increase the visual resolution. In addition to the high-res graphics we added shadow and reflective effects as well as a farther viewing distance and twice the amount of population in the world,” Stovall said. “It helps to define the PC game as something extra for PC gamers. It was important for me, and this was going to be different, better, not just an Xbox port. If you have a three-gig system, you can do better than just an Xbox port and we tried to acknowledge that.”

The reflections and shadows certainly look nice in the game, but the viewing distance and increased resolution were the most noticeable changes. It is pretty easy to say that the PC version looked much better than the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions. The PlayStation 2 version, as I mentioned earlier, absolutely crams the PS2’s limits and it has its fair share of jaggies and a much shorter viewing distance. The Xbox version cleaned this up and offered a farther viewing distance, but it also looked a little darker than both versions.

EA Redwood’s Godfather: The Game team has spent two and a half years devoting every bit of their attention to the film and the novel. They have studied up on 1930’s and 1940’s history and art, they have managed to score a good percentage of the actors for voice-overs, they have created uncanny likenesses, and crafted entirely new gameplay concepts in order to create a fantastic experience for Godfather fans and gamers to enjoy. “I remember watching the Sonny-Carlo fight scene about 25 times in a row and putting the film on my iPod,” said Olsen. “We had the film streaming non-stop in every office; it’s probably safe to say that the team can quote every line in the movie,” Rosen said with a grin.

There is so much to do in The Game, and come March 21st, everyone will finally have the chance to get their feet wet and join the family. I am telling you, from first-hand experience, that I was thoroughly impressed with what I played. Though this is not a review of The Game, I would like to highly recommend it to all open-world, action, and of course, Godfather fans. It is not a perfect video game, but it is a great experience that captures the fun element in video games while offering a ridiculously large amount of depth and The Godfather’s storyline to boot.

Written by Cliff

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