Take the basic gameplay mechanics behind GTA, combine it with a hugely popular movie licence that allows for mature content on the more extreme end of the scale, and you surely have a recipe for success. If the guys working on the game happen to have had some pretty impressive results with free-roaming games in the past, all the better. Scarface: The World is Yours from Vivendi Games and Radical Entertainment is the latest attempt by a publisher to capitalise on the success of Grand Theft Auto, but does it have what it takes to match the quality of the movie?
If you haven't seen the movie and don't want it to be spoilt, don't buy the game yet, and skip the rest of this paragraph. In a move that will likely anger die-hard Scarface fans, the end of the movie has been rewritten, and Tony Montana now survives the violent attack at his mansion. He's left homeless and penniless though, and your task in the game is to return Tony to his former glory, taking Miami back and becoming the No.1 drug lord.
Starting from the bottom up, you need to get your nose into some small time deals and slowly but surely take over territory now controlled by gangs. As you complete mission after mission, your respect grows and your hold over the city becomes stronger and stronger. Respect (which seems to be the buzz word in urban free-roaming action games these days) is earned through successful missions and by looking the part, with new rides and other items available to purchase.
Missions are all accessed from the map screen, and bring up target locations which you need to drive over to (yes, car jacking is included). Sadly, there's no GPS system ala Saints Row, but the on-screen directional arrows do a decent job at getting you from place to place. Missions are as you'd expect, with a fair share of deliveries, drug dealing and killing taking up the majority of your time. Cops and gangs can get on your back if you're too visible, so it's often necessary to pay them off, but this does drain your cash, particularly early on, when money isn't so free-flowing.
Both indoor and outdoor environments play a part, but most indoor locations (such as the banks and safe houses) are used for specific purposes, such as to sell drugs, offload cash or to save the game. The experience isn't quite as seamless as it could have been, with load screens popping up from time to time (but not as you cruise the city), and the map rather annoyingly takes a number of button presses to get to, but these are minor issues that can be overlooked.
Combat is handled with a lock-on method, and you're able to aim within a locked on zone to target certain body parts. It works well enough, but ends up feeling a little like a shooting range, rather than a challenge. Free-aiming is available, but it's a little sloppy and clearly wasn't the way the game was intended to be played.
One interesting twist is Rage mode. Tony is a man with a lot of balls (not the bouncy kind), and by killing enemies and taunting them when they hit the ground, his Balls meter fills up. When full, Rage mode can be activated, which switches the game to a first-person perspective and makes you into a killing machine, mowing down enemies with ease, while also replenishing your health. Most enemies are pretty easy to handle when alone, but when you're attacked in groups the Rage mode comes into its own and can get you out of some tight spots.
Scarface's biggest problem is that it doesn't let you play like most people will want to. While GTA lets you do pretty much what you want, trying to do so in Scarface will almost always get you killed. Attack some cops, and unless you flee the scene quick smart, they'll be on you and you'll be dead. Innocent bystanders can't be shot either (unless you switch to a driver, enforcer, or assassin from your business menu), which will displease anyone wanting to run riot as Tony. It's just not as fun as it could be, and this goes for the missions as well, which rarely rise above mildly entertaining.
Radical Entertainment has been making free-roaming games for some time now, and it shows. Even on the PlayStation 2 Scarface is a great looking game, certainly matching up to San Andreas, and even surpassing it in some areas. Both console versions suffer in the frame rate department, but this seems to be par for the course in this genre, and it's no worse than what you see in the GTA games. Tony's likeness is excellent, and environment detail is about as good as we can expect from current-gen systems.
No game set in the '80s would be complete without a plethora of 80's music, and Scarface is no exception. As well as the tracks from the official Scarface soundtrack, a huge collection of classic tracks have been included. Voice work on the whole is pretty good, although a few of the actors don't quite sound right for their part. The big disappointment is that Al Pacino doesn't voice Tony in the game, but the sound-alike does a good job, and sounds pretty authentic for the most part - complete with an almost unlimited number of curses.
Scarface has what seems like a perfect recipe, with a great licence, a great developer, and GTA-style free-roaming gameplay, yet it fails to match the sum of its parts. The drug dealing aspect is really the game's only defining feature, and with the rest of the game being merely competent in all areas, the Scarface licence is left to do all the hard work. Fans of the movie will no doubt enjoy playing as Tony Montana, but playing as CJ is so much more fun.