Scarface: The World is Yours
The Wii really is turning out to be the popular girl at the party. There is literally a line of games queuing up to try their luck at taming the wild beauty of Nintendo's creation. Unfortunately, the majority of these would be suitors come fresh from conquests on other consoles, hoping that a simple change of clothes and spray of cologne will be enough to win her over.
This week, Scarface steps up to the plate and shows us what its got. It's not the first game to bring a Grand Theft Auto-like experience to the Wii. The often forgotten Godfather: Blackhand Edition did a great job of this earlier in the year. Each of the titles that fall into the modern open action genre, such as Driver, Saints Row, Just Cause, The Getaway and even Grand Theft itself, excel in certain areas whilst missing the mark in others. We are all holding our breath for the next GTA instalment that promises to finally deliver an experience that has the goods in all the right areas; environments, transportation, controls, missions, storyline, social interaction and delivering a distinctive experience.
Taking an average PS2 release from last year is not the obvious place to start when you want to deliver a quality game. This is made more difficult by the fact that the original game felt it necessary to re-write its original narrative to make space for the main character. So, Tony gains a second chance in the game and rather than his spectacular bullet infested demise from the film, he escapes by the skin of his teeth losing his empire and status. All very handy for the game, as it then hands you the task of regaining all that was lost; we have the technology we can rebuild him. The game then plays out as you attempt to recover this lost ground. It's your every day riches-to-rags-to-riches kind of story.
In terms of delivering a distinctive experience, Scarface has the advantage of being a from-film conversion. Unfortunately it is unable to capitalise on the tone and style of its celluloid counterpart to the same degree that The Godfather has done so successfully. There has been a general lack of careful treatment of the source material that must have come at such a cost. From the aforementioned abandonment of the film's story arc to the loose (swear-fest of a) caricature of Tony's character, there seems to have been an opportunity missed. His journey from refugee to drug lord is completely lost in the game where he is on a much less emotionally taxing gore-fest; gunning and chain-sawing his way back to supremacy.
The game opens, after some training in both the control and ethical disposition of Tony, providing you with the city of Miami to explore. To keep this from becoming too overwhelming you will operate in particular quadrants of the city at a time. You progress in each of these areas by going medieval on the ass of the local thugs. Along the way you can set-up and acquire businesses that can then be used as fronts to various illegal operations, handy I'm sure you'll agree. This introduces the need to complete particular tasks before you can acquire the business. Before long it becomes obvious that these missions are one of the main tenets of the game. In the main they work pretty well, although from time to time the sheer absurdity of the task in hand makes them a little laughable, and not very gangster-esque.
In addition to the directed progress of business ownership, there is the more open ended attributes of gaining money and reputation. These two currencies are often the gate keepers that stop you from taking on the harder, and more interesting missions, and proceeding with the game. Eventually, you get enough reputation and money to start to build your drug supply businesses. You can scale things up with warehouses and a network of suppliers. Money is measured in two ways; dirty money from drug selling and clean money that has been laundered. Once you deposit your money in the bank, which also saves your progress, you can get them to launder it for you.
As you would expect the game looks about the same as it did on the PS2. This is no bad thing, and Radical Entertainment has certainly proved that this sort of game is easily possible on the Wii. The frame-rate stays pretty solid, although due to hardware constraints this is lacking the higher resolution option included in the original Xbox edition.
Not quite so confident however are the developer's choices when it comes to controls. The nunchuck is used to move around whilst the Wiimote is used to point the camera and aim. Whilst the combination of aiming and camera movement on the Wiimote saves all important buttons for other actions, it means that you need to keep it pointing at the screen the whole time. This obviously isn't a big deal when sat at a desk in a development environment, but out in the wild of our living rooms it soon becomes something of a chore to keep your hand at that angle the entire game. Apart from this there are some nice touches, such as pressing down on the D-pad to reverse the direction you are facing. The nail in the coffin however, is that there is no real advantage of the controls over the PS2 dual-shock implementation. The use of gestures and motions is also quite limited. I was impressed by the implementation of a wide variety of gesture commands in The Godfather: Blackhand Edition. It gave the player a great connection to the action, and actually made you feel a bit uncomfortable during some of the more visceral killings.
As with the majority of these Grand Theft Auto style games, what is lacking in creativity and design is made up for in violence. Scarface is no exception and you will find yourself shooting, hitting and chain-sawing a variety of soon-to-be-cadavers left right and centre. Whilst I'm not adverse to the odd bit of overstated blood and gore, this all gets a bit arbitrary in Scarface. There is an odd juxtaposition in the training level where you are told Tony will not kill anyone who hasn't wronged him first. I wasn't sure if this sort of retributive violence was supposed to be more acceptable, either way before long he is indeed gunning down people for the merest hint of them being in his way.
Scarface is a great technical achievement on the Wii. It looks the part and provides all the required controls via the Wiimote and nunchuck. However, it doesn't seem able to do what all great games in this genre need to do, it never becomes more than the sum of its parts. Maybe this is down to a lack of imagination and development of the environments and characters. Maybe it is simply that the original premise is not compelling enough to create the level of emotional involvement needed. Whatever the cause, this game leaves us feeling that it could have been so much more. And, whenever that happens in a game of this genre you can't help but turn your thoughts to the upcoming granddaddy of sandbox open world play, Grand Theft Auto, and hope the next release makes good on this and all the other broken promises.