Few GTA 'inspired' titles deserve to get away with borrowing ideas wholesale as much as Scarface. How so? Well, for a start Rockstar's multi gazillion-selling Vice City was virtually a homage to the Al Pacino movie, while the seminal GTA III featured almost the entire movie soundtrack. In an 'Indiana Jones borrowing from Tomb Raider' display of justifiable mindshare payback, Tony Montana is spraying an M16 in the direction of Tommy Vercetti, if you will.
On display behind closed doors during E3, Vivendi-Universal gave us the first glimpse of the first playable version of Radical Entertainment's interpretation of the 1983 Brian De Palma/Oliver Stone classic. Running us through 10 minutes of (fairly chaotic) third-person shooting and driving, it's clear that Radical is trying to up the ante on GTA in every way it can think of.
Having realised that merely enacting the events of the movie wouldn't give the player much in the way of freedom (and, of course, result in Montana's demise), Radical decided to go about things in a different way. The game actually kicks off right at the end of the movie, in the legendary mansion shoot-out, where a high-as-a-kite Montana decides to take on Sosa's army of hitmen on his own. Of course, the real ending would have made the videogame experience somewhat predictable but Radical started to mull over what would have happened to Tony if he'd have survived. As Radical's Cam Weber said: "We explored just about every possible option, and this one just resonated with everybody. I think starting with the mansion shootout was just something that everyone loved - it's like a big epic opening to the game."
With this frenzy of rage kicking off proceedings, the player is thrust straight into the game's slightly unhinged combat dynamics. Not content to just have the odd bloody spurt to depict death to keep players amused, Radical favours the gorefest style pioneered in gib-laden titles like Soldier Of Fortune, with the player able to target numerous zones of the body to devastating effect. Armed with his M16, Montana gets to shoot and sever every limb for good measure, with his 'Rage Meter' filling up as he goes.
"For fans of the movie, you'll remember that Tony has this crazy temper that every once in a while gets set off. You hear the organ music play, you see a camera cut to the intensity in his eyes, and he just suddenly snaps. He loses it; he completely loses control and does some really violent things. You build up your meter through doing skilled gameplay, and you'll be rewarded by building this up," explains Weber.
Cone you take a joke?
"When it gets to the maximum it'll be available to use as Blind Rage, so when you walk into a room that has multiple enemies you can use it strategically," he nods. "It's basically like a Smart Bomb feature, but you need to control it. Tony loads up his weapon, he just starts screaming; imagine you've got an M16 and Tony's barking out, screaming at everybody, out of control, waving his gun left and right, you've kind of got this cone of destruction, and you're directing it around the room, and you've got about six or seven seconds to take out everyone you can in the time you have before he snaps out of this rage." As far as the on-foot combat goes, Scarface is evidently far more in-your-face than GTA ever was, looking more like the Rampage modes taken to the next level. "He's just in this zone that no one else can get to but him where he just feels like he can conquer the world and he's invincible, so we really wanted create a mode that brought that through," adds Weber.
Rather like the hit and miss Starsky & Hutch game from a couple of years back, in-car combat is also a key component of the combat, with Tony not only able to take out his enemies in front of him, but behind as well, with the viewpoint spinning around to give the player the best view of the proceedings. Although we weren't given an opportunity to find out how controllable this fact was, it looked perfectly playable. In addition, for those of you that like to mix up your insane vehicle combat a whole plethora of cars and boats will be available - but don't expect San Andreas levels of choice; no jetpacks or planes here.
Visually the general style and feel of Scarface is very much in keeping with Vice City, albeit with a sharper, more realistic look. The likeness of Pacino, in particular, has been lavished with appropriate care and attention, and other key movie characters are expect to make an appearance as you rebuild Montana's career and fight back against Sosa's empire. "The game's going to be absolutely authentic in every way. We've got a great celebrity voice cast; a lot of people wanted to be involved in this game, so we've got some great voice actors, great content. The die hard fans will be happy with what we have, I can tell you that." There's still no absolute confirmation of Pacino's involvement beyond lending his likeness to the project, but from what we've heard so far, the stand in's doing a decent job anyway.
In terms of the gameplay, there was little on show that gave us a real sense of how the game is structured, but Weber was on hand to explain the setting: "It's a big open world, where we've got Miami, some open ocean and then we've got a fictional chain of islands loosely based on the Bahamas, and we also have Bolivia as a satellite location - that's where Sosa's located."
In terms of where you go from the Mansion shoot-out, Weber reveals that Montana will "escape into the night" and skulk off into exile for three months before returning to Miami to discover all of his old territories have been taken over by his old competitors. "Tony vows to get his revenge on Sosa, and in the process he also vows to rebuild his empire and take back what he's lost, so there's a very powerful emotional connection of Tony wanting to get back what he had before."
Weber also talks of "really cool island-to-island play," with players getting to play the drug smuggler. "It's really focused on the cocaine business in the early eighties," he states. "You're going out into the islands in the Bahamas, you're negotiating with suppliers, you're sending transport through, you're fighting with the DEA, you're building a cocaine business, and it's really specific to the movie and specific to the character, and I think it's going to be a really authentic, really specific, compelling experience for people."
"Who put this thing together?"
"As you actually go through the game you're going to be building up a drug empire in Miami. We call it Drug Wars. It's a feature where you're going back and forth between suppliers and dealers. You're making dirty cash, you're laundering it at banks, you're using your clean cash to buy different assets, you're upgrading store fronts, doing missions to earn those store fronts, getting guys working for you. You're also progressing onto warehouses, storehouses in Miami in each territory where you're going out to the islands, dealing with the big suppliers, sending shipments into Miami and making tons of cash off those store houses," adds Weber.
In what amounts to drug-based empire building, Weber goes onto explain that this forms the basis of the openworld gameplay that lets you grow your business how you want to. "If you want to start in Little Havana, build from there. If you want to go to the downtown area, North Beach, or South Beach, there are different areas of Miami and you can build it how you want to build it, and make the money how you want to build it. The key is, as you build it, as you make money, you're going to be buying stuff with it, you're going to be upgrading your mansion, buying different cars, buying different weapons, buying different suits for Tony, and as you buy that stuff you build reputation, and reputation is really the gate that unlocks the next story mission. You can't just do the story missions one after the other all the way to the end; you have to actually earn the story mission; you have to build your empire up."
As Weber concludes, you have to be patient before The World Is Yours: "You can't go and take out Sosa's entire organisation in one swoop when you're just the little guy trying to build your organisation up," he says. "You have to earn it, you have to build through and get to that stage before you can take on Sosa. You got these really deep cinematic combat missions against Sosa that go on through the game, and in between you're going out and building your empire throughout the world and playing tons of ancillary missions along the way."
Scarface: The World Is Yours is due for a 2006 release on PS2, Xbox and PC, with a next-generation Xbox 360 version also on the cards. Look out for our first impressions of Radical Entertainment's take on the classic movie in the coming months.