It’s the 90s. The Gulf War, Panama invasion and LA riots dominate the headlines of tube TVs. While recession and war grip the nation, the atmosphere of warm Friday nights are still filled with fluorescent lights and the popcorn ceiling of the strip mall’s video rental store.
Yet, for the unfortunate gamers who arrived late on those Friday nights to pick their weekend game, they are meet with the empty stock of the latest “Final Fantasy” and “NBA Jam” iterations, the off-brand (and likely expired) popcorn and snack offerings and the plastic waste rotting in the corners of the shelves (bleached blue in the sunny sections of the store) consisting of none other than licensed movie games.
Licensed video games have truly been a staple of the industry since its inception. Even in the 80s, days of the NES and Sega Genesis, licensed titles polluted the rental store shelves after being rushed into stores in a matter of months in order to coincide with their film, releasing even if the movie itself is canceled, like 2006’s “ SpyHunter: Nowhere to Run.”
This continued into the 2000s and the 2010s, only dying as a practice towards the later 2010 generation of games, becoming more of an exception than commonality due to ballooning development costs.
Yet, there was a tiny window of time in the early 2000s, toward the end of the PlayStation 2 era, where it seemed everything was being adapted into a game, no matter its age. Even weirder, they were actually quite good.
Rockstar’s “The Warriors” provided a brutal and cathartic experience full of gang war carnage, Activision’s “Spider-Man 2” was a licensed game that grew into a cult classic and system seller, EA was pushing the successful 007 license with the Sean Connery-era “From Russia with Love” 40 years late and Bioware would turn out “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic,” a real contender for the greatest game of all time.
Clearly, a gold rush of licensed success was driving the dying PS2 in its final days. Amidst this, one of the most bizarre choices for an open world GTA clone came from EA in the form of “The Godfather” in 2006.
“The Godfather,” 1972 mob drama by Francis Ford Coppola, was by then, as it is now, viewed as the greatest film of all time among cinema snobs, if not the runner up. Winner of several AAcademy Awards, it was a slow and attention-demanding tale of a mob family falling apart amidst a succession crisis. With bits of violence spread across its near three-hour run time, few would call it an action movie.
So, who’s idea was it to create a GTA-style video game based on it? Better question, who’s idea was it to create an incredibly fun and violent GTA-style video game based on it?
Redwood Shores (later Visceral Games) took on the task of adapting the game for PS2 and Xbox systems and did a fantastic job of using the atmosphere and aesthetics of this 1940s mafia world as an excuse for territorial gang wars akin to “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas,” yet far more fleshed out and engaging, putting the player in charge of taking over rackets and ordering hitmen to enforce their rule over New York. An enhanced port, the “Don’s Edition,” would be released later for PS3 as the definitive version.
In the game, you’ll play a hired gun acting as an extra in the original movie’s plot, completing missions and assisting in the background of the actual plot unfolding. There is a mild storyline of the (deeply customizable) thug seeking revenge over his father’s death, but the main plot of Vito Corleone’s demise and the power struggle surrounding it is center stage.
The main gameplay loop has your player taking over shops and coercing protection rackets, grabbing shop owners and creatively using the environment to smash them into their pastry counter, hiring goons to smash their stock while they watch, even shoving them in a pizza oven.
It gives no care for the sophisticated mob mannerisms of the Corleone family and embraces all the clichés of tommy gun gangsters and runs with it, having a hilarious time doing so.
Massive gang wars will erupt in the streets, bribed cops can be sent to destroy rival gangs and car bombs can knock back everyone in the block in a loud, descriptive blaze. Gunplay is straightforward, very similar to the other Al Pacino starring GTA-style movie game released in 2006, “Scarface: The World Is Yours.”
The only issue that warrants condemnation is the awful implementation of SIXAXIS motion controls for the PS3 version, with several mechanics required for the combat that can’t be turned off. SIXAXIS was annoying to use in 2007, as it is even worse now in trying to relay the systems backlog.
Overall, “The Godfather” is a bizarre spawn of a forgotten time, yet it’s that 2000s magic of cathartic violence, deep progression and player engagement in the action that makes it an offer you truly cannot refuse.
“The Godfather: The Don’s Edition” is available on PlayStation 3.