A game licence EA couldn't refuse.
You have it, you get results. A car. A house. Some guy kissing your ring (that's the jewelled one on your finger, you mucky pups). You don’t show it, you get… other stuff. Shot. Killed. A horse's head in your bed.
While Electronic Arts may own many cars, a few acres of property and probably a Don locked away somewhere, it's naturally aiming for the metaphorical currency of the former. But gamers are a tricky lot to please. And in this case, gamers who happen to be fans of Mario Puzo's and Francis Ford Coppola's epic mafia movie are going to be tougher than a hard boiled hitman. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe producing a good game isn’t as important as getting something out the door with the Godfather name on it.
But it's about respect. That's the aim here. Respect in making a decent game. Hence the release delay from this autumn to early next year. If anything, it seems EA doesn’t want to wake up with that horse in its bed as a gift from a million irate gamers. The company's probably not too keen on fish, either.
Leave the gun. Take the cannolis.
So, we went to see The Don. With an open mind. It's easy to get caught up in the apparent blasphemy of touching one of The Greatest Films Ever, although preconceptions can damage both a bad or a good game and it's a preview after all. Those assumptions are best left at the door. Respect, remember.
Which was probably a good thing. Although not playable, what EA showed of The Godfather was convincing enough to at least break a little freer of the shackles imposed on it by the inevitable similarities to Grand Theft Auto. Sure, we'll have to wait a good while before it's certain we're not just getting GTA: The Mobster Years [what, Mafia? -Ed], but things are looking very promising so far.
And to keep everyone happy (at least to a degree), the game's plot will have you in and around the film's original story, rather than affecting it directly. Your character is a small time hood trying to make it in the big world of the Corleone family, which naturally means doing jobs around town, popping goombahs (the non Super Mario kind), transporting people and product, taking over turf from rival gangs and families, hijacking businesses and, you know, killing people. As you might expect, this all crosses with the movie's plot, weaving your story within the strands of the main characters to create the big picture.
What are you, some kinda *bleep*
Some of you are probably be reading that last paragraph again and the cogs are turning. Okay okay. So the actual gameplay of what was just described sounds really close to a Grand Theft Also, in essence. But hold your horses just that little bit longer. If you imagine San Andreas as a template for urban-based sandbox gameplay, The Godfather takes that as a prototype and layers it with a few of those things you probably lamented Rockstar's game didn’t have. No, not a giant Mecha-Godzilla vehicle, and no, definitely not the fifteen hooker orgy mini-game.
What you can do is put some degree of your own personality into the main character from the start of the game - to an extent. "We're taking the technology from Tiger Woods PGA Tour into allowing you to create your own character in the game," explained on-hand creative director, Mike Perry, "as long as he fits the story purpose, of course - it has to be male and Italian-American." This may seem like a restriction, but it was quickly demonstrated the impressive range of what can be exploited in creating your personalised mobster. Hair, jawline, chin, scars, face weight, accessories... even the skin complexion is adaptable in making your avatar change from a smooth clean-cut mobster to a crater-faced goon. On top of that, your man starts off with rather dirty, run down clothes and as you progress you can upgrade his wardrobe and fashion sense to start looking like the 1950s version of Golgo 13. Professional, baby.
All these little touches you make are reflected in the game's real-time cinematics too; a nice addition to keep the consistency of the narrative while you're going about your business. Oh, sorry, did we say 'business'? We actually meant 'driving around, spotting a mark, getting out the car, slamming them against a wall, throwing them through a window, stepping on their chest as they try to get up and then shooting them. In the face.' Pfft. Pesky semantics.
You made me pop your eye out for that?!
You read that right. Oh yeah. Every single one of those actions can be played out in the game. In fact, the development team pretty much pride themselves on the fact The Godfather, like its filmic iteration, doesn’t shy away from brutality. Naturally the aim isn’t to go around slaughtering people randomly within the confines of the story – the ultimate goal is to work your way up (and thus through) the New York's five crime families. But to do that, you gotta build respect, sonny. The respect system works as a form of reputation that displays your influence in the game. The more you get, the further you go.
All of this means occasional restraint. Dead men can't sell you their business, give you their profits or help out in fights, so there's various moves that will be available to leave your target more shook up than Elvis' legs. A few punches here or there may do the trick. Slamming their head repeatedly off a shop counter too? Yeah, why not. Pushing them into a wall, desk or some oncoming traffic? Sounds like we have a winnah!
But sometimes, The Man just doesn't listen. And the only way to get respect is to let the punk disrespecting you say hello to your leeetle friend. Talking of guns, each gunshot wound is based on location damage, so you can pop someone in the leg from a distance and watch them fall before slotting another piece of lead in their head. But the trick is this: you get more respect in the game by getting your hands dirtier. Long range kills are too easy per se. But getting up close to someone, shooting them in the knees, then executing them gangland style gets the big boys noticing. As will strangling someone eye to eye – the victim's gradually faltering heart eerily represented by a throbbing in the controller. Once the pad stops ticking, your target's no longer kicking. Eww.
EA also wants to give cohesion between the interiors and exterior areas, so all this violence can spill anywhere – without loading screens but not without consequence. "It's not like the world stops outside when you go to an interior," clarifies Perry. "If you're causing havoc in the streets and go inside, things aren’t going to stop – people will come after you." Which is obviously even better when you're forced to throw those people out of a window, watch them scurry around the traffic trying to get away, while you shoot at them through said window.
This gameplay ethic also extends to the large distances travelled. Each of the game's territories have several square blocks that have a purpose rather than to fill space and loading time. Perry explains: "Instead of having you drive across vast wastelands to get to each territory with little interactivity, there are several businesses on every block."
And it's these businesses that you have to start picking apart, by intercepting supply trucks, finding and taking down rival warehouses and eventually replacing their trade with your own. If the police try to get involved with your activities, you can bribe them for good measure to ensure loyalty or hands-on help for crackdowns and general thuggery – but only if you haven’t been acting like a total psycho on the streets and your reputation/respect is of a decent level.
For justice, we must go to Don Corleone
So far so good. The Godfather is certainly promising - and not just from a conceptual level, either. The visuals stand out in numerous ways, with a great amount of authentic detail to them, painfully realistic animation and excellent fire/particle effects. Lobbing Molotovs as a local store has never looked so impressive, and you can't say you'll hear that said too often without the authorities trying to arrest you.
The development team is still cagey on the exact use of Marlon Brando's voice in the game - given it was recently said his recordings were close to unusable - but most of the cast have already lent their vocal talents, and well, it's EA. High production values is one thing you can count on.
Which just leaves the gameplay to be up to snuff. Until we get a lengthy hands-on it's still too early to say if these many cool elements can add up to more than the sum of their parts. Horse heads and all that. But if anything, given the delay in development, EA's certainly gained a little respect in the process. As for everything else? We imagine the Godfather will take care of it. Pucker up, capo.
The Godfather is coming to the PS2, Xbox, Xbox 360, PC and PSP in eary 2006 from Electronic Arts.