When EA first announced that it was to produce a videogame based on The Godfather, one of the most famous pictures and recognizable franchises in film history, fans of the movie and gamers alike wouldn't be blamed for expressing a little concern. After all, the number of poor games based on movie licenses far outnumbers those which have been unforgettable experiences. However, fans of The Godfather will be pleased to hear that the game based on the film hasn't trodden down the same path as disasters such as Enter The Matrix; but isn't quite up there with consensual videogame classics such as the Nintendo 64's GoldenEye.
The Godfather: The Game places you not in the shoes of someone who didn't play a prominent role in the screen adaptation of the story, but of an individual nevertheless involved there and there about... an extra of sorts - the guy who's name appears for a split second in the credits as something like 'Shouting Man 6.' In doing this, EA give you the opportunity to start by personalising a model similarly to the way you might do in any 'create a player' modes in other games. Once the grooming and clothes styling is out the way, the real meat and potatoes of the game begin. The story unfolds with our protagonist witnessing the gunning down of his beloved father in the middle of the street. Three years later at the film's famous wedding scene, you are offered work for the Don by Luca Brasi, hopeful that you are on a path to discover those responsible for your father's death.
The game's setting is a faithfully reconstructed 1940s New York, structured in ode to the free-roaming plains of the successful Grand Theft Auto series, meaning that you are free to wander around at will, assaulting civilians, hijacking cars and generally being a bit of a tear away. That's all well and good, but if you want to get anywhere you'll have to work your way up the Mafia ladder by completing set objectives, the first consisting of bullying businesses for protection money. Nearly every shopkeeper is initially reluctant to accept your kind offer for this violent form of insurance. As everyone knows though, gentle persuasion is obviously the way to resolve such disputes, so as you gleefully smash up the surroundings (or the person themselves), an onscreen bar rises to indicate when your victim might be willing to concede to your demands. You are paid weekly for such 'good' deeds.
As you progress, missions begin to vary from bank heists to drive-by shootings and dangerous mob hits. Many missions are based on some of the most identifiable moments from the film, such as racing the injured Don to hospital or the mystery of the 'horse head' incident. As killing is a central theme in the series, it naturally occurs in the game's tasks too. Combat consists of two separate spheres. The first is bare knuckle scraps in which punch, kicks and deadly holds are the order of the hour. The other involves popping a cap or two into many a badass crony target. Beating enemies to a pulp is ever-satisfying, while the gun fighting elements, a little fiddly at first, is soon a skilful necessity to your success. That given, the enemy AI is passable for the most part, (they duck for cover, attract the attention of their comrades, etc.), but can sometimes be found standing around inanely, just waiting for you to grab them from behind and end their life by snapping their neck or blowing their brains out with a shotgun - y'know, something pleasant like that.
A word on the driving section now, which is one of the most disappointing aspects of the game - every vehicle is cursed with a control deficiency which sees them twitching at the lightest touch of the left or right button, like they're organisms with involuntary muscle spasms instead of solid, manmade machines. It all just looks a bit odd as you jolt like a Wacky Racer between the city's otherwise smoothly flowing traffic.
EA are not often a company to fail in the looks department, and neither have they on this occasion. Each of the game's main characters looks just like they do in the film, all suited and booted in a coat of detailed textures and subtle facial features and expressions. To top it off, they are instantly recognizable thanks to voicing by the original cast of the film. It makes a nice change to hear some top rate voice acting in a game for once, that's for sure. The city too is a convincing replica of the stage it has set out to re-create, with a decent draw distance, lots of people milling about and nice little touches like flurries of litter scurrying about in the wind. Playing the game does fill the player's mind with a strange sense of deja vu, though more often than not it is not because of spotting a nod to a location in the film, but because so many settings are reused. For example, the number of banks, bakers and butchers that look identical throughout the game feels like a bit like a non-linear form of the Scooby Doo chase backgrounds, repeating infinitely.
Like a lot of games based on films, The Godfather has an already-bedded storyline basis to become an absolutely amazing videogame. Sadly, too, it suffers from a few irritating (though mostly forgivable) niggles that stop it from ever being as critically acclaimed as its filmic counterpart. These aside, The Godfather: The Game does the series proud, providing an immersive and gratifying gaming experience based on its big brother of a motion picture, which is more than can be said for the incredibly bad The Incredibles or the frosty reception given to Ice Age 2, at any rate.