Whatever you think of Electronic Arts, you can't argue that they make games that appeal to a large audience. The Godfather is the company's latest movie-licensed video game and it's received the usual treatment from those who believe EA contribute nothing good to the industry, with some reactions being a tad over the top. It seems that in the eyes of some, certain movies shouldn't be tarnished with the EA brush, but fears over the game's quality have been largely unwarranted. While the video game isn't a classic in the sense the movie was, it's a more than acceptable take on the story, with gameplay that just happens to borrow quite liberally from a certain Rockstar franchise.
Taking ideas from the movie and the novel, the game follows your original character as he moves through the ranks of the Corleone family. While not a scene for scene copy of the movie, key moments are featured and built into missions, with a fair amount of artistic license being used to flesh out the game. While die-hard fans may see this as tinkering, there's really very little to complain about in regard to how EA has handled the story and the license.
Gameplay is a pretty even mix between third-person action and driving, with the odd bit of stealth, racketeering, harassment and bribery added for good measure. Right from the start you're thrown in the deep end, but the opening sections are also used to help you become familiar with the control scheme and a number of the major characters. Gun combat is pretty standard stuff, with the usual targeting system, manual aim and cover systems that are seen in the majority of action titles. Still, it's handled well, with the control scheme being incredibly intuitive, at least on consoles.
Hand-to-hand combat, however, is an area where The Godfather tries something a little different. Instead of pressing buttons to punch and kick, the analogue sticks are used in combination with other buttons, making for a system that feels a little like Fight Night's Total Punch Control system, except a lot simpler. It certainly feels clumsy at first, but actually allows you to perform moves (grabs, throws, strangulations etc) that aren't usually seen in games of this type.
Action missions are generally a lot of fun, with the classic guns you acquire during the game, not to mention the more powerful special weapons you'll get hold of, being a joy to fire. The game actually feels far more alive during action sequences, with gunfire setting the screen alight. Enemy AI is adequate, but don't expect to come across tactical combat master minds, and the camera causes a few problems now and again, particularly in stealth missions.
If I were pitting this against the GTA series (which is probably what most people will do), The Godfather might just be winning in the action stakes, mainly down to a superior control scheme, but the GTA series has this beaten hands down when it comes to driving. Cars from the 1940s clearly weren't as diverse or as powerful as they are today, so creating genuinely thrilling chase sections was clearly always going to be a problem for the Godfather team. It's not that the end result isn't fun; it's just that it pales in comparison to a number of other free-roaming games.
Your car (and those of the police and enemies) seems to move at a considerably faster pace than the civilian traffic, even if you happen to have hijacked a clapped out truck, but the sense of danger and speed just isn't there. There's nothing wrong with the driving model and driving from location to location is never a hassle, but in the big action sequences there's just a tiny sense of disappointment. It can be forgiven due to the era the game is set, but speed junkies might want to bear this in mind before splashing the cash.
If you're a PC gamer and considering picking this up, then be warned: the control scheme is very console oriented, with the PC controls feeling rather clumsy with a mouse and keyboard. It's not unplayable, but it's far from ideal. When you take into account the less than stunning visuals for a modern PC title, the console versions are your best bet if you want an enjoyable Godfather experience.
As with any good free-roaming gangster adventure, there's more to the game than just the main missions. Secondary missions, handed out by certain characters, are there to be completed and there's a business to run too, with rackets to be taken over, cuts to be brokered and police to bribe. Trying to get people to come over to your way of thinking is actually a neat little mini-game of sorts, with the noble art of violent persuasion being used to push people as far as they're willing to go before cracking. You won't find the diversity of side-missions and activities that you'll see in San Andreas, but there's always plenty to do other than working through the main story.
In yet another nod to the GTA games, you save your game in a safe house and pick up new missions by using the phone there. This causes the same problems as seen in those games, with lengthy drives often required before you can save your progress. As you gain access to more safe houses this becomes less of a problem, but an instant save after completing a mission would have been good. Missions themselves feature checkpoints, which is a nice touch, meaning that failure on stage three of a three-part mission won't result in a complete restart. You won't be too troubled by the game's difficulty, but the checkpoint system will come in handy on a number of occasions.
The Grand Theft Auto series has proven that cutting-edge 3D visuals aren't that easy when there's a whole city to render, and The Godfather falls into pretty much the same category. Judged by screenshots the game isn't all that pretty, with a general drabness and emptiness to the game. In motion the 1940's city setting is pretty impressive, despite the general roughness of it all, and a huge effort has gone into modelling the main characters, making them instantly recognisable to fans of the movie. The frame rate bogs down a little in both console versions, but even so, everything comes together to create a game that looks better than it really has any right to.
Audio is uniformly excellent, with a fitting score and brilliant voice work by all the key actors, bar Al Pacino who didn't lend his voice to Michael Corleone. As with all video games, conversations seem a little stilted at times, with the certain natural flow of real-life dialogue not quite being present, but the whole package is still up there with the best. As long as you come to the game not expecting the usual selection of music EA includes in the majority of its titles, you'll have very little to complain about.
While it's so easy to compare The Godfather to the multi-million selling GTA series, the game actually feels considerably different, and in many ways offers a better gameplay experience. It just doesn't have the scope to match Rockstar's efforts though, and the driving sections aren't thrilling enough to get the pulse really racing. Some technical problems blight an otherwise impressive looking game, and only those with a true hatred of EA could really complain about how the license has been handled. The Godfather is a solid and often entertaining free-roaming action title that might just surprise a few people.