When the dust settles on Electronic Arts' Godfather videogame, it will be remembered for being way too short, far too easy, too damned repetitive and far too in awe of Grand Theft Auto to be held up as anything other than a rather lightweight copycat offering.
For some time now, the hope was that EA was going to make a game that paid tribute to the Mario Puzo novel and the Francis Ford Copolla films. With unprecedented contributions from actors including the late Marlon Brando, James Caan and Robert Duval, there looked every chance that EA might actually pull this one off.
Looking back, the promising pre-release chat spoke of how it was a game that would stay true to the story, where morals counted, where you "feel the consequences of your decisions", where the game world has a "memory". Despite all the movie tie-in let-downs over the years, we wanted to believe it. When EA put the game back five months, it looked even more likely that the company was serious about its ambitions.
We hate reminding people of old quotes, but EA's David De Martini confidently stated back in February 2005 that The Godfather game would be more about "moment to moment on-foot gameplay than on a whole bunch of stealing of cars and driving around" where there would be "10 to 20 per cent driving", where the ultimate aim was to be the Godfather of Godfathers, and where they "didn't want the police to just be this generic force that just went to five stars".
If that had been the case, the game could have been so much better. EA knew what it had to do, but the fact is it didn't even come close to realising most of these lofty ambitions, and we're left reflecting on another glorious missed opportunity.
First of all, the game's main story mode is simply way too short. Although 25 missions might sound reasonable, the first quarter are exceptionally brief and straighforward tutorial escapades that run you through the basic melee combat, extortion, shooting and driving mechanics. With that under your belt, you'll blitz the rest in five or six hours, leaving you with little more than a big clean-up operation that's only a challenge because of the sheer volume of tasks to complete.
The Godfather's also just far too easy to ever truly get under your skin. There are several reasons for the distinct lack of challenge, but it's all down to the way the game tries to address some of the criticisms of GTA. For a start, failing on a multi-stage mission doesn't force you to go right back to the beginning, but merely the last checkpoint. Secondly, the game's largely excellent combat system makes it an absolute breeze to cap enemies by allowing you to auto-lock-on to any threat, and easily pop out from behind cover. On top of that, the enemies are pretty suicidal, and to make matters even easier, there are enough health pick-ups to make up for any damage you do incur. In short, the game does a pretty grand job of eliminating frustration, but by doing so it allows the player to romp through the entire meat of it in less than half the time of any normal game, or about a tenth of the time it took us to finish San Andreas' hundred-odd story missions.
If the missions were hugely memorable, we wouldn't mind the brief stay of the story mode, but by and large they follow a fairly familiar routine that generally involves capping a posse of anonymous goons, followed by the main man you're after and then getting the hell out alive.
The progress you make certainly makes your rise to the Corleone Don fairly swift, and as a result you'll enjoy being able to increase your stats in one of five main areas (health, shooting, fighting, street smart, and speed), but you'll never feel a significant benefit even when you're pushing level 50.
Once you've got the main story mode cleared, the game tempts you with the prospect of so much more to come. It coaxes you into believing that something magical awaits players who want to 'own the map' and becoming the Don of NYC, then utterly fails to deliver. The map certainly gives you the impression that there's loads to do, as do the game stats that claim you've only cleared 30 per cent.
For a start, there's all those extortions to pull off (83 of them), rackets to uncover (56 in total), warehouses to take down (eight), hubs to infiltrate (four) and eventually the ultra-heavily guarded compounds (again, four - representing each of the main rival families).
But, coming back to the point about repetition, doing all of these tasks takes iron will and persistence - not because they're tricky, or in any way annoying, but just because you literally have to do the exact same thing over and over and over and over and over and over... 15 hours on, you'll be Don of New York, but you'll wonder why on Earth you went to all that effort. There's no payback, no awesome sense of completion, just a map with nothing more to do, and some stats to look back on. Hrmph.
The extortions are the most pointless of the micro tasks, and also the most tedious. To start with these are quite fun because your influence isn't that great. When you intitially walk into your average New York flower shop, bakery, restaurant, club or hotel and demand protection money, it isn't likely to be met with a positive response. This actually sets up some of the game's most intruiging set-pieces for a while, with the player forced to think how to change their mind. Do you, for example, grab hold of them and smash their head against the cash register until they give in? Smack them about a bit, or maybe see what else might change their mind? Being able to dangle them over ledges, strangle them a bit, force them through plate glass windows or put their head in an oven is all very Punisher-eque, and a lot of fun for a while.
But after a while, your influence and levels of respect grow to such an extent that they agree immediately, rendering the whole process utterly futile, but completely necessary if you want to be the elusive Don of New York.
Tied in with these extortions are the rackets. Most of the time these are hidden in another part of the same building where the extortions take place, and only become accessible if you've sucessfully pulled off the task at hand. A quick visit through the back door/basement/upstairs club normally reveals a host of goons that you have to take down before you finally get to the man you need to buy out. But as much as each one of these feels like a mini-mission to begin with, it also becomes apparent that as long as you get your respect levels up and keep Vendetta relations peaceful, you can skip all these encounters and run up to the guy you need to buy out. After 50-odd of these, you'll be questioning your own sanity.