The seminal 1970s mafia/mobster/gangster film is getting a video game makeover. It is a stark and deeply sad reminder of the state of mainstream videogaming today: find a film that everyone's seen, something brilliant, unblemished, and then turn into a videogame that does its cinematic counterpart no favours.
Now I say all this prior to the research I'm about to do into this videogame. I am, forgive the pun, jumping the gun. I know only that Electronic Arts are someway involved in this game which reminds me of every single rubbish 007 game, the gorgingly numerous Harry Potter titles and the autonomous production line that is their sports division. I’m not, for one second, saying that EA, as huge and monopolising are they are, are a scourge on the industry – indeed, many of their games that don’t involve licenses are top notch. But if there's a quick buck to be made then EA seem to be experts in milking it.
And, sadly, with the first bit of research, my fears come somewhat to fruition. The genius behind the original Godfather film, director Francis Ford Coppola, unanimously disapproves of the videogame, even going as far as saying, "I knew nothing about it. They never asked me if I thought it was a good idea." What a comforting thought to know that your faith is being placed in a development team that hasn’t even bothered to consult with the film’s director. Coppola goes on to say, "I had absolutely nothing to do with the game and I disapprove. I think it's a misuse of film."
Now his main reason, it seems, for disliking the game appears to be its rather jaunty use of violence. Anyone who has seen the Godfather knows that while it is brutal and there are murders, these moments are used like a scalpel: with acute precision. It would seem that EA's Godfather will bludgeon its gamers with gun warfare – and the rumour is they're replacing the horse's head with a thermonuclear device. Alright I made the last one up.
But let's get down to business shall we? The Godfather boasts big things in that, although the developers will never admit it, it wants to take on the Grand Theft Auto genre and win with plenty of sprawling, real-world interaction, mafia type extortion, collection and protection rackets, and, of course, some badda-bing and badda-bam – provided, no less, by some, but not all, of the original cast, including the late Marlon Brando.
The Godfather game is open-ended meaning that rather than following a linear track that sticks to the film, you, as a fledgling rookie of the Corleone outfit, will influence the path and the story your character takes through the ten years in which the game is set. – although events from the film will occasionally intervene to ensure your character's development is compatible with original Puzo storyline. Your reputation very much depends on the actions you take during the game. If, for example, you enjoy the occasional sport of terrorising the locals and beating shop keepers to within an inch of their lives then the people on the street will begin to fear and avoid you. If, however, you prefer to deal with problems quietly via the use of shallow graves in the middle of nowhere, and then spoil the locals with your charming image of public benevolence then they're more likely to warm to your presence. This intriguing idea mirrors the way in which the characters from the film lead their lives. Sonny Corleone was an aggressive impulsive who eventually got his comeuppance via a hail of bullets, where as Michael Corleone's measured but ruthless approach to his enemies earns him a feared but respected reputation, and the seat of power within the Corleone family.
You may be pleased to hear that my earlier misgivings about the Godfather being an all out, gun toting affair maybe misplaced. Perhaps it’s Coppola's lack of knowledge when it comes to how videogames work that leads him to think its too violent. Sure, the preview videos show some hefty beatings and some action sequences of heavy gunfire, but we have to remember that video games are an interactive experience and the subtleties of the film won't necessarily work in the videogame. There certainly didn't seemed to be any evidence of 'going over the top' as Coppola suggests and if the game were to follow the mild moments of action that the film displays then we may end up with another Shenmue experience of door-to-door salesman ship – that's seventh person on this road who's just run a bath! It is such a case where I believe films and videogames have to agree to disagree and for Coppola it is an uneasy compromise – or maybe he's just bitter because the developers never asked for his advice.
However, in saying all these optimistic things, I have to remind myself that I'm only able to go off what the developers and EA want me to hear. Press releases, promotional material and carefully edited videos are the only way to get information about this game, at least until E3 when playable code is promised. We're being shown the good bits which, to their credit, look promising and decidedly tasty in looks. Free-world games often have a slightly rough and ready look due to their incessant demands on system resources (GTA is a particularly grand offender in this stake), but even at this stage the Godfather looks suitably polished and slick running, even on PlayStation 2 hardware.
Even episodes from the film will be run within the game engine and they looked pretty convincing, especially when you hear the voices of James Caan and Robert Duvall coming through the airwaves – naturally Nino Rota's superb and often chilling original score plays throughout the game, too.
General gameplay appears to be slow and deliberate and while the more cinematic scenes, such as torturing shopkeepers, looked great, the more open-ended sequences such as gunfights looked a little unwieldy as if the controls might be awkward to use – I am only hypothesising at this point however.
The free-world game is a particularly difficult one to pull off. When it works we get some of the greatest games of all time, when it doesn’t we end up with the Getaway, a gangster game gone oh so very wrong. Coincidence? Surely not.