This game was announced shortly after the release of Grand Theft Auto III in the early 2000's. As is usually the case for such a highly anticipated game, the wait was painfully long.
Delay after agonising delay followed as the game was tweaked and tinkered with, and after three delays and almost 5 years we finally got a copy on the shelves in 2006!
Developed by Electronic Arts - one of the gaming industry goliaths - the game was always going to be decent quality, and fans weren't disappointed. We were treated to a very GTA like 'free roaming' action game set in New York, taking in five different boroughs, each with its own ruling Mob family.
A new(ish) game engine was developed for the game (ok, it was actually a further developed version of an existing code), and I'm pleased to say it's an engine still being used now in games like Dead Space on the next-generation consoles like the X-Box 360 and PS3.
Tied in with this game engine were some unique controls and a superb facial design program called 'MobFace', which allowed players to create a detailed character to play the game as!
Unfortunately since they didn't manage to hit the retailers until 2006 (scheduled 2 years earlier!), the graphics weren't quite cutting edge, but with all elements combined this was still a state-of-the-art game.
Usually with games based on a famous TV show or movie we either follow the story already set out, taking charge of the lead character, or play a totally unrelated character in a totally unrelated story under a familiar title. The former works well, although we know the twists and turns so it drains a bit of fun out of the game. The latter usually falls flat!
Interestingly, the Godfather manages to juggle the two. We play a new character never mentioned in the novels or movies names Aldo Trapani. A cut scene shows us watching Aldo's father murdered by the Barzini crime family in 1936 while our character is still a child. Aldo is comforted by Don Corleone, who promises he will have the opportunity for revenge when he comes of age. A decade passes and we jump straight in where the 1970's movies start - 1945 at Don Corleones daughters wedding. As he is unable to refuse any request on this day, our hero asks the Don for a position in his family as a foot-soldier, with a view to working his way up and avenging his father.
This begins the story mode, and after a few short missions as training we are let loose in the city.
This being a free-roam, the choice is now yours! Complete story mode and become an underboss, or take side missions, weaken and destroy rival gangs and families and take over businesses across New York.
The game ties in superbly well with the movies. Despite being a new character, the main themes remain consistent without re-writing history or shoehorning us in forcefully. We are written in as a 'behind the scenes' player.
For example - the famous horse head scene from the film? That's one of our missions!
The gun hidden in the restaurant bathroom for Michael Corleone? Unnamed in the film, but me again!
Back to the control system. It received plenty of plaudits, and probably for good reason, but I found it really frustrating.
The hand-to-hand combat is a set-up from Fight Night, utilising the analogue sticks. It's easy to get to grips with and comes quite naturally, but it's just so awkward when you face more than one enemy using a control system from a 1-on-1 fighting game.
The driving is the best part I feel, using just the same controls as the very familiar (to me anyway) Grand Theft Auto games. Trouble is, this is set in the 1940's so a quick set of wheels is a hard thing to find! We're generally plodding along between destinations in a slow moving barge with wheels.
The aim and shoot is good system, but takes a lot of getting used to. One button to aim and another to fire - simple enough, but free-aim is needed to target specific areas of the body for a quick take-down and it's quite complex.
The visuals are pretty good, with facial rendering top notch. It had to be really, as the characters are all well known faces from the movies and cheap low-res graphics would defeat the point of getting the original actors in to lend voices. However, the city itself is horrible. A lot of the buildings are recycled meaning that the city doesn't really come alive. There are odd landmarks, but it's nowhere near as memorable as Liberty City (GTA) for example. Also, get a bit of speed up in one of the quicker motors and there is a lot of blur with graphics becoming blocky and roads/buildings not loading fast enough.
As mentioned above (aww, ruined my surprise!), the game developers hired the original actors where possible to voice the game characters. The only real disappointment was that Al Pacino had already tied his image to the Scarface game released the same year and was unable to voice Michael Corleone.
The game traded on having Marlon Brando on board as Don Corleone. True to an extent, but sadly he was too ill to produce the quality they required, so a lot of the Don's voice acting was done by an impersonator.
In summary, this was a very good effort at recreating the atmosphere of the much loved movies. A great story, good visuals and superb acting make this a really worthy game to hold the Godfather title. Filling in a few blanks from the film was a clever move too!
If the control system was easier to get to grips with, I'd be rating this 5/5. Sadly, while I know lots of people who hold the game above all in this style, I don't think it's as good as the GTA's.
4 stars is still deserved, and I reckon it's a good one to pick up if you still have a Playstation 2 lying around. The game can be found under a fiver easily, but for a couple of extra pounds the limited edition version offers a few little documentaries and behind the scenes looks at making the game from both sides (programmers and actors!)