The business end
Scarface also tasks you with earning money in order to buy each of the four territory's four fronts before you can eventually conquer the mental warehouse missions at the finale. To earn the required dough involves repeatedly engaging with the rather bland 'business' missions. Good old Felix gives you a relatively perfunctory task to perform in your nearby location, such as a quick killing spree, or to rough someone up and bring a package/car/random item back to a checkpoint, and in return you pocket a wad of cash. Simple. Other than that, you can also gain easy money by dabbling in coke. First you get Felix to tell you where the dealer is, and then once you've found him you engage in a simple negotiation mini game that involves trying to fill a circular meter to get the best deal. Once you've sealed the deal, you can then try and get the best price for your wares by repeating the process, with failure either resulting in a lower price, or the gang turning on you and attacking en masse. Problematically, death also strips away any cash you haven't yet banked, so death is a slightly bigger punishment in Scarface than perhaps any other game of this ilk if you've decided not to launder your dirty cash at a bank and, therefore, not saved the game for a while.
Elsewhere you can also earn some extra dough by engaging in some fairly superfluous checkpoint racing (against, er, the clock), and you can tediously take out the scores of individual gangs on the map one by one, but the game is much stronger when it's dishing out memorable missions than filler side quests. And although the game gives the illusion of sandbox freedom by allowing you to drive around all four areas and do the various 'business' missions at your leisure, you're still constrained by the overtly linear front structure - so if you're stuck on one of those, or need to increase your reputation first there's not a huge amount of substance else you can busy yourself with other than to keep plugging away with dealing coke or doing throwaway random missions. Great.
With progress, though, comes money, and with money comes the ability to really begin to unlock the hundreds of extras in the game. Admittedly, most of these are rather pointless 'Exotics' such as furniture to pimp your mansion with (dear God), or the even more pointless unique collectables, or 'investments' that give you greater reputation points. Far more useful exotics are the cars you can buy, and the driver you can buy to deliver them to you at any point in the game (very useful). Similarly, you can also acquire boats, a float plane and limo (to transport you between key locations in the game). The longer you play, the easier it becomes to click your fingers and get what you want, which is nice.
Technically speaking, as a so-called current gen game, it's hardly surprising to feel like it's creaking around the edges a bit. Looking very much like a polished version of Vice City with a more traditional character art style, it's a return to fade-in and pop-up, but nothing remotely wince-inducing. In fact, the less legal European Xbox contingent can boast sharp 720p visuals on their version, with far crisper character and scenery detail than the otherwise identical PS2 version. But even though Scarface boasts great looks, nice particle effects, detailed scenery and some decent day/night variation and weather effects, it's important not to judge it too harshly if you've gotten used to the 360. The frame rate's not brilliant and in fact at times it chugs quite a bit when the action gets crazy - at least that's the case in 720p, otherwise you're ok. If you haven't made the leap to next gen, then it'll look just fine - though you might have a few issues with Tony's curious animation style. At least he can't jump.
Of course, as we alluded to in the opening paragraphs, the audio will be immediately familiar to anyone who's spent any time with GTA 3 (which statistically is quite likely) thanks to the use of the original Scarface soundtrack that Rockstar plundered way back in 2001 to superb effect. Hearing Debbie Harry's Rush Rush, alongside all those synth-laden Giorgio Moroder cheese monsters will be nostalgic not only for the Scarface veterans, but old gaming hands too. It feels like you're buzzing around Vice City to the sounds of Liberty City. It's almost too odd an experience to really deal with for the first hour or so, but then it all starts to work - especially when the dozens of other tracks make an appearance. And while we're talking about the audio work, a special mention to Radical for going to the extra effort of getting THX certification. If you've got the surround kit (and an Xbox in particular) you'll really benefit from how good the game sounds, from the weapon sounds to the music ambience balancing to the incidental snatches of conversation which bring the area to life. Given the extensive delays this game has suffered, it's great to see it's been polished in many areas.
But as many good words as we have to say about Scarface, it is still only ever a fun, solid competent Grand Theft Also-ran and never a classic. The main story missions carry the game throughout (with the odd exception), the driving feels just the right side of exaggerated but the incessant repetition of many of the business missions feels like yet another argument for why unnecessary padding in openworld games doesn't always make for a more compelling experience - especially when (as is the case here) they're mandatory in order to even make basic progress. Also the absence of any multiplayer component feels a bit backward in this day and age. Scarface is certainly several notches above the derivative insult we expected it would be, and those who can bear to wait another year for the next GTA will be well served by its faithfulness to the popular formula. Groundbreaking it isn't, but fun it is. A seven, then.
7 / 10