Lately, I’ve been playing The Godfather, from EA, based on the classic 1972 film by Francis Ford Coppola.
I’m playing it on the Xbox, and first of all, I should say that it’s not an attractive game. I realize that it’s done with the lowest common denominator, i.e., the PS2 in mind, but just the same, ugly is ugly. The character models are okay, although, with the exception of Don Corleone, not particularly recognizable, and it’s not like they’re dazzling us with the animation here or anything. The cars look plain and completely without character (which is a kind of ironic, considering that the game is set in a period when cars still had character). The interior spaces are the worst; they go beyond plain and well into the realm of barren. The Corleone mansion is an extreme example of this; the place pretty much looks like a bunch of empty cubes linked together by other rectangular objects. It’s depressing and it’s ugly, and whoever designed it should be slapped for doing such a crappy job on it.
It’s nice that they managed to get much of the original talent together for the movie (though Al Pacino declined to reprise his role); I’m certainly a sucker for anything with Robert Duvall and James Caan in it, and it’s nice that Marlon Brando had the time to record his lines before he passed away. But there’s a problem here. When the original movie was made, Caan was about 30; Duvall was about 40. Now it’s 35 years later, and when these guys talk, they don’t sound like young men. At all. Sure, they’re great actors, but that doesn’t give them the magical ability to restore their vocal cords to the condition they were in over three decades ago. And since they recycle dialogue right from the movie for certain scenes, it’s kind of jarring to have the characters’ voices go from butter to gravel. That just throws immersion all out of whack, at least for me.
Gameplaywise, it’s not a bad game; in fact, once I got past the frankly uninspiring beginning, it turned out to be pretty fun. Think GTA set in a (somewhat limited) 50s’ New York City, and you’ve pretty much got it — though The Godfather has a much tighter focus and far less in the way of inane fart jokes. It works. It’s fun.
However, I find it annoying that for all the noise EA has made about how much of a masterpiece the movie is and how much everyone loves it and respects it and how true to the story they want to be, its connection to the movie is kind of peripheral at best. Oh, sure, it follows the plotline pretty faithfully and does a pretty good job of tying its own storyline closely into the movie’s events, but as far as capturing the look and feel of Coppola’s masterpiece goes, the game fails miserably — unless my memory fails me and the movie’s main attraction is car chases and running around with Tommy guns and blowing shit up.
Not that I don’t understand why they turned it into an action game. Of course I do. And it’s worth noting that it’s not a bad game, either, especially for a licensed title. But that doesn’t mean I find their lack of innovation and courage in game design particularly appealing, or the dishonest “honoring the masterpiece” shit they sling palatable. In the end, it’s a GTA clone combined with the license of a moneymaking franchise, and it has about as much artistic ambition as you can expect from such a combination. I wasn’t really expecting anything else, but it’s still depressing that all that potential to make a game that was genuinely interesting was just flushed down the toilet.
The Corleone family of the movie is a deep and multi-faceted organization that owns judges, cops and politicians and exerts considerable influence over our society. It is capable of brutal violence, absolutely, but it’s worth noting that brutal violence is not primarily the thing that makes the Corleones so interesting and exciting. Conversely, in the game, you solve most, possibly all problems through explicit and straightforward violence. It takes more than the right to use the name and the voices and likenesses of a few familiar characters to capture what makes the movie so good, and on that front, EA fails miserably. And the sad thing is that it’s very unlikely that anyone in the company is in any way aware of this.
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