Monday, April 2, 2012

Old Guy Game Guide: The Godfather - The Don's Edition

Once in a blue moon, a video game based on another license really knocks ‘em dead.
 A game where the wine helps the mood.

Kiddies, take a hike for this one.  There will be violence and profanity.  Although from these guys, it isn't obscenity, it's an art form.

The Godfather, the Don’s Edition game for the PS3, for those of us who drive around to the Mob Hits CD collections, is (to borrow a severely overused review phrase) a game you can’t refuse.  It introduced me to the addictiveness of third person, open world gaming, and there’s no turning back now.

Like most current games, character looks are customizable, within Italian trait limitations of course.  I don’t have the genetics to make a virtual me this time, leaving the only option to construct what looks like the lost Frissora brother. (Or, for those who need a different reference because they don’t know my Grandfather’s family - Well that's their loss...in a great many ways.)
 Fah-Tee!

The on-line reviews for this game were weak, partially because it was made for older consoles and then tweaked for the next generation.  There were other problems cited, but I’ve learned in these new fancy schmancy games that there’s always some control, or camera, or repetition issues that one could bitch about. Frankly if it has an immersive setting and story, then who cares?

Marone! Did this game succeed in the immersion.


Voice acting is a joy; multiple cast members reprise roles from the film adding to the experience of reliving the story.  Robert Duvall brings a professional, clear headed tone to every scene he’s in as Tom Hagen; enhancing the realism of the moment of being invited into the family and adding weight to the suggestion to view situations as a level headed “negotiator”.
Nice rebuttal, Sonny.

The other side of the argument, suggesting a more hands on “enforcer” approach, comes with passion and drive from Sonny Corleone.  It’s nice to see James Caan is still Sonny.  There’s a couple of “making of” documentaries included on the disc of the voice recording where they showed him changing dialogue.  

“Sonny doesn’t say ‘bada-boom’ he says ‘bada-bing.’’

“You torch the place and then we’ll have a fuckin' weenie roast…’weenie roast’? No, bonfire…”

In my twisted mind, Sonny somehow survived the shooting at the causeway and had a long recovery after they faked his funeral to protect him. Once healed, Sonny changed his name to Frank Vitale and re-entered the business, until he turned evidence in the film Mickey Blue Eyes…but that’s a tale for another day.

In that same “making of”, Johnny Martino expressed delight with getting to bring back Paulie Gatto, especially since, to make the event more of a mission for the game, his role has expanded.  First he’s involved with a supply run and strike on a rival business where he’s caught making a call he shouldn’t.  Instead of simply being shot from the back seat, he runs for it and must be chased through a storage area.  Martino said, “You leave the gun, you take the cannoli, I’m running, I want to live!”
Paulie gets more story time buying the pastry, and does get to run, but it still ended the same way.
With possibly the greatest ad lib in film history.

The game even has a couple of Marlon Brando lines, but he was sick so they could only use them for when the Don is in the hospital. He still sounded like Vito
Under some covers and behind a locked door, anyway.

The rest had to be redubbed by one of the many voice actors that did a heck of a job recreating the sound of the other performers. Brando did think the technology was cool and approved his likeness.
The formal "Italian First Meeting Frowny Face"

All the film character likenesses are also very close to the original performers, except Michael.  Al Pacino has an exclusive contract with the Scarface game, therefore even in the unlockable film clips, it always fades to black before he makes an appearance. Oh well, you can’t have everything.
No, really, who are you?

Indeed, Connie Corleone is also very conspicuous by her absence. Particularly since it makes the reason for having a hard time keeping up with Sonny as he rushes to the causeway a little vague. There's some suggestion Tessio did something, but even in the baptism scenes, the places where she, and Kay should be next to the faux Micheal are filled by generic female models used as pedestrians in the game.
Maybe they filmed at the wrong church?

There are no contractual reasons for her to be missing, though.  My guess is she’s not there because the “it’s an icky girl” mentality is pretty strong in the video game set.  The female characters with the largest presence in the game are multiple ladies of the evening.  They hide a feature.
I now pause for those with minds like Sonny to say, “I’ll bet they do!”

Dispensing compliments by flirting and hitting on enough of them in the various bars and hotels around New York unlocks several extremely expensive ones who appear in high end safe houses.  If hired, they function as devastatingly powerful and heavily armed crew members to ride shotgun (or magnum, or Tommy gun or whatever).  I must have missed the deleted scenes from the film featuring gals in their underwear laying down high powered small arms fire. 
Don Frissora and his moll hit the Barzini compound... and a fountain.
(My driving skills left much to be desired.)

No interactions with the ladies, outside of conversation, take place on screen…with the one odd exception of the club singer offering an invitation to dance. 
It doesn’t take much to get a Frissora dancing.

Aside from the working girls, there’s a new, ill fated, girlfriend character.
Poor Frankie, maybe she was created by a comic book writer.

Her sole reason for existence is to be killed, angering “The Player” Trapani (the main character’s alias). 
Yeah, I got relatives who have this name too...I know, big surprise.

It also causes a rift in his friendship with her brother , Monk, the other new character that drives “The Player”’s original sub-plot. 
Never date a coworker’s sister.

The search to avenge her death leads to Bruno Tataglia, explaining his off screen demise in the film.  The only other prominent woman in the game is Mama Corleone, who stands around one room of the compound the whole time.
Get the hell out of my kitchen!

At least they made her completely indestructible. A rival mob’s members followed me home once and she survived a ridiculous amount of gunshots and a Molotov cocktail…them New York Italian’s produce some tough old broads. (Please, no one take offence at that statement…it’s a medical term a doctor used to define my Grandmother once.)

Music helps with the immersion as well. There’s a blend of instrumental themes from the movie and similar sounding tunes, which change thematically based on what’s happening, particularly when driving.  Just Travelling around sounds different than combat, or a get away, etc. 
A dramatic music moment on the Brooklyn Bridge.

A nice touch is no matter how hectic and action oriented the score is on the way there, as soon as the car pulls into the Corleone compound, the “Godfather Waltz” plays, which tends to lessen the pain of the car blowing up after a dangerous escape.
A rare day at home, with nothing on fire.

The game does a fantastic job weaving game play into the story line of the movie.  As promotions are awarded it provides an obvious situation for “leveling up”.  The currency of the game is “respect”. (I take that back, the currency of the game is currency, the experience points are respect.)  The more respect earned changes the reactions of people on the street, fellow Corleones, and enemies. Levels of heat and rivalry have similar effects on police and the other families, adding a complex social interaction throughout the story.   There’s also enough of a variety of skills (separated into enforcer and negotiator categories) to have different strengths and weaknesses, requiring different strategies on repeated plays through. 

Multiple small unlisted elements are included; some are purely for convenience, like:

All mobsters' clothing is color coded by family for ease of identification, which is needed in an older generation game, as non-main character wise guys all look identical to those of a similar power level, leading to occasional creepy gatherings.
The “CorleClone Family” 


There are others that reward for “honorable criminal” behavior such as:

After giving money to a certain number of street beggars; they begin to supply you with health upgrades. (The above mentioned unlockable “moll” feature is similar, except the trench coat wearing, grubby, bearded beggars are not wearing lingerie. At least I hope they aren’t, I try not to think about stuff like that.)   
 Hello, Sailor.

All of these items combined manage to “video gameize” the experience of the film, while adding to the proper mood. 

Another way the mood is maintained is by removing death for “The Player”. Miraculous resurrection didn’t feature very prominently in Coppola’s masterpiece, and might take one out of the experience.  Whether the injury involves being shot, stabbed, run over, or blown to smithereens, the end result is getting “iced” and waking up at the doctor’s office.
Again.

It’s nice to see the New York health care system be given such high praise.  It was also a nifty in game element to exploit. Why go through the hassle of sprinting through the complex floor plan of a drug front after setting a bomb to then fight cops and Tataglias in the getaway attempt; when waiting inside for the explosion conveniently provides teleportation…I mean ambulance transportation…to a doctor’s office many blocks away from the heat.


From start to finish, the story is connected to the movie’s environs and characters.

The game begins with a cut scene where the “The Player”s father (a courier for the Corleones) is killed by Barzini, Vito tells the kid to save his anger till he can get revenge.

Fast forward to the unseen Connie’s wedding and mother Trapani asks Vito to help her son as a favor right before Luca Brasi comes in. After the famous “May he be a masculine child,” speech, the Don sends Luca to find him and the early training missions are under Brasi’s instruction.
Mr. Brasi, I am honored and grateful you have invited me to learn from you.

Tying the game experience in to the world of the film: while Luca is showing the young “The Player” the ropes of the family business, he’s also teaching the actual player the ropes of control and game mechanics.  Following Brasi’s untimely demise (which Trapani drives him to, witnesses, avenges, and then escapes to report) others take over the dual teaching chores.
Class dismissed.

First, new tasks are learned as temporary assignments to various movie characters’ crews. Not to mention the random appearances of a chubby guy who wasn’t in the movie that appears here and there in various shops to pass along quick “how to” explanations. 
I call him “Don Expositioni”.

Once those are complete, “The Player” has moved up in the organization to become Sonny’s right hand man, and large scale assaults are learned from the master.  This is whether the negotiator or enforcer path is followed.  Tom Hagen’s a nice guy and all, but the game isn’t about meetings and courtrooms.   
You tell 'im, boss.

By the time all the necessary skills have been taught, Trapani has advanced to be one of Michael’s trusted lieutenants, and both character and player have full knowledge of how to carry out the new Don’s commands.
The family has my eternal allegiance, Don Whatsisface.

Missions form the story of the character’s life, with enough twists, turns and extras to keep the game surprising and interesting, but also hitting different high points of the film.  Some are straight from the movie, some are tangentially connected, and some are modified to give the character more of a starring role.  My favorites that I couldn’t work in to this review elsewhere:

Beating up the teenagers who attacked Bonasera’s daughter.

Taking out the guys who shot Vito, Driving Fredo behind his ambulance, and eventually having to drive the Don and Fredo in the ambulance to the hospital before it is too late.  
 Even digitally, Fredo is kinda lame.

Protecting the Don in the hospital waiting for Michael to get there.

After he does get there, when McClusky belts him, an underling cop roughs up “The Player”.
Yielding a personal payback sub plot.
Dont drink and...um...get tossed off a building, I guess.

Rescuing Tom Hagen from his kidnapping.
Pssst...tell them you love the smell of napalm in the morning.

Destroying Solozzo’s drug fronts.

Planting the gun for Michael.
Waiting for dinner and a show.

Driving Mike's getaway car to the dock for his trip to Italy.
You're welcome...whoever you are.

Even without looking like Pacino, his payback story is way cooler looking than the one for "The Player".  So cool and action packed, in fact, that I couldn’t get the camera to focus…so here are some other highlights of game coolness - Me and Rocco Lampone sneaking about the Woltz estate.
And the result of our sneakingness. 

Of course, as Sonny’s right hand, I tried to catch him as he sped away from the compound.
I may have been a bit slow on that one. 

Then I had to tail his ambushers, extract information on who hired them, and escape back to the compound to deliver the information and bad news,
and drive poor Vito to the meeting of the five families.
Don Barzini, you killed my father...prepare to die.

By the end of the game, the task of taking out Moe Green and the other heads of the five families is assigned.  The men responsible for the hits in the film are there to set up. (Clemenza in a florist, Willie Cicci in a barber shop, Rocco Lampone near a brothel, Al Neri in uniform on the courthouse steps) but it is The Player’s show (both of us).  Of course there are bonus points for using the weapons and methods from the movie. 
Told you so.

Completion of these hits assures an impressive promotion to Micheal's Underboss, and heir apparent as he prepares the move to Vegas.  
It is done...wait. I gotta earn what now?

If all the rival compounds are taken over, another beautiful cut scene shows advancement to Don, with a finall promotion to the Don of New York City once a significant percentage of the rest of the side missions are complete.

There are no pictures of these final three ceremonies.

This is not for the classic gamer refusal to reveal spoilers.  I’m not concerned about spoilers for a title that’s been out this long, especially one based on a well known film.  Even though it took a lot of effort for an old spaz like me to finish this game, I’d normally be willing to share. 

However, since the cut scenes can’t be replayed at will, I had to go through the story line a second time as fast as possible, ignoring most of the fun and nuance, to get the far too many pictures that are already here.  By skipping all the side quests, I didn’t build up nearly enough power to accomplish the required takeovers to generate the net worth needed to become an underboss, or the strength and skills needed to take out the compounds, with my limited “old spaz” skill set. More importantly, I’d already wasted more than enough time, and lost far too much sleep to get the pictures that are here.  (As I can only play after my wife and daughter are asleep... There is a family more important than the Corleones, you know.) Frankly, if that waitress at the diner didn’t give me regular instead of decaf that night, half of these images wouldn’t be here at all. 


The switch above to first person narrative was a conscious decision, as that mind set is rapidly fostered by playing.  The game is open world and when I played for real I spent the majority of time outside the regular story missions wandering all over an impressive looking 1940’s NY: doing favors, setting up protection rackets, taking over warehouses, running over pedestrians (my driving skills left much to be desired) and plain looking around.  Every time it loads, the screen lists number of hours played…I went close to three days total by the time I finished the first time through.

Have I mentioned how immersive it is?

In this open world there are a series of optional hits that further develop the story by providing interactions and events with the other families, various corrupt officials, and outside interlopers.  More allied interactions come because the hits are assigned by Willie Cicci, Al Neri, Sal Tessio, and others.  Each hit has a bonus condition (use a baseball bat, taunt them first, throw them off a building, and other fun stuff).  I missed the bonus conditions on many of the Tessio assignments due to over excitement based on the other original cast member who returned for the game.

“ABE VIGODA is talking to me!” 

It made it very hard to have to whack him later. 


Oh yeah, speaking of the hits - one of the advances bringing the game up from Playstation 2 to 3 is the controller has a motion sensor. After gripping the buttons to grab someone, violently jerking the controller around slams them into walls and furniture, or tosses them away.  Plus squeezing the front and back buttons together (in effect throttling the controller) strangles them, and the force feedback makes it vibrate with their heartbeat until it stops beating.

Did I mention this title has a “mature” rating on it? I should do that.


The game rammed home the fact that being an old guy gamer can be a hindrance. When panicked I instinctively hit buttons. Since the button actions are:
Talk,
Sprint,
Crouch
and Block;

That meant the whole melee system is controlled by the right joystick, which in turn meant I had issues.  In fist fights, I tended to do a little dance before getting knocked out.

And then I woke up in the doctor’s office, again.

It took forever to win any of the hidden prize fights. (Especially when I’d get frustrated after multiple losses and blow up the building…It takes quite a while for them to rebuild it to get a rematch.)
I gotcha one two right heah!

Another old guy observation: You know what I find really weird about new video games?   Not being able to jump whenever you want.  When did that change?  It’s frustrating being the Don of New York and getting thwarted trying to take over a rival compound by a knee high hedge.

As I said, the immersion factor trumped any issues though.  It even pushed aside my old guy “substance over style” playing mode. There are tailor shops in each borough, and by increasing wardrobe quality, respect increases.  Therefore I initially would save up cash for “maximum respect” items only, spending the rest of my dough on desperately needed ammunition.  Very quickly though, I found myself starting to think things like, “That hat doesn’t match this suit.”  This evolved into constantly trying to pick the proper attire for missions (always maintaining my signature color in some part of each outfit, of course):

Donning my pinstripe suited best for meetings with upper echelons:
All this technology creates a "made man" ceremony with the film stars...
yet you can't remove your hat when you go inside.

Dressing casual with rolled up sleeves and a loosened tie for down and dirty work in the warehouse district:
Redecoratin' is my speciality.

Cobbling together a Hollywood looking disguise for the covert mission to the Woltz stable and mansion.   
Waiting with Rocco to see a horse about a man.


They did an amazing job of creating a world that allows the experience of running and playing in the arena of the film.  While the key feature of the game leading to my enjoyment, it also caused a large amount of problems because I kept running into this kind of situation:

Marveling that I’m looking at the Genco Olive Oil sign I think, “Whoa, the oranges are rolling across the street just like the scene in the movie…
Wait, are they shooting at me?”

And then I woke up in the doctor’s office, again.

Or

In the middle of an insane chase down the West Side Highway where I am successfully avoiding and/or wrecking the black limos filled with Tommy gun armed rival family members, and police cars filled with corrupt shotgun toting officers, I go,
“Whoa, that’s the Empire State Building,”

Right before slamming into the median, and setting the car on fire – forcing me to jump out into six lanes of traffic occupied by heavily armed adversaries.
There’s gonna be quite the traffic back up.

 And then I woke up in the doctor’s office, again.


The other big problem I had was the problem I have in most games:

Generally being an idiot. 

Early in the game, a Corleone protected merchant said the drug dealer behind her bakery was scaring customers.

I walked around the block to an alley, found a member of the Stracci family, and gunned him down.  Then I went back to the merchant, who said the drug dealer behind her bakery was scaring customers.

I walked around the OTHER block and found a group of Stracci’s guarding an alley.  After several failed attempts to fight my way in, (And then I woke up in the doctor’s office, again) I tried using a very stylish four door sedan to run over the two outside the alley and THEN fought my way in.  I made it through a half dozen Stracci’s and while looking around, was shot by a member of the Tataglia clan with an objective marker over his head.

And then I woke up in the doctor’s office, again.

Recovered, I drove and fought through once more and took out the Tataglia drug dealer. When I looked behind him for any hidden goodies, I found stairs leading down to a door.  The hidden goody behind the door was the bakery basement.  This meant if I went out the back of the joint, I could have popped the dealer without repeated medical adventures, and coming precariously close to starting a mob war LOOOONG before Sonny ordered us to go to the mattresses.


I had similar troubles not understanding how “adaptive difficulty” works.  Clemenza ordered me to deliver a truck from his home, across police blockade infested Brooklyn, to the safe house.  Over and over again, I would try to drive through the cop cars, get the truck ridiculously shot up, rush the flaming vehicle to within a block of the safe house, and explode in a fiery ball.

And then I woke up in the doctor’s office, again.
These images are a reenactment of the truck delivery.
No virtual people were injured in the taking of these photographs.

However, refusing to keep a failure for Clemenza on my record, I would reload and not save the game.  One time, for no memorable reason, I jumped out of the truck before it blew.  I got distracted (by that darn immersiveness) and continued snooping around Brooklyn.  Clemenza was outside his house again, giving me the same mission. This time, however the game made it a cake walk based on my previous failure.


I do have one minor complaint, which is apparently across the board on all newer games.  The power level of the character changes at frighteningly drastic levels, making common tasks very difficult at the very beginning and ending of the story.

At the dawn of my budding underworld career, simple things like the punch from an angry shopkeeper, a stray bullet from a bank guard during a robbery I wasn’t involved in, or a poorly timed crossing of the street could lead to:

And then I woke up in the doctor’s office again.

With all the power ups, health increases, and active regeneration accumulated - near the end of the game I found myself thinking, “It would take quite a bit of effort to fight everyone in this room.  I'll stand at the center of a dynamite blast, and walk out charred but intact."
No wonder I needed so many suits.

This power shift extended beyond personal health to resources and assistance. In early levels, I found myself having to sprint rapidly from behind cover to smack a foe with a blunt object, hoping he would drop some bullets to scavenge as I couldn’t afford to feed the cost of my horrendous aim for any length of time.

By the time I reached Capo Regime and beyond, with more warehouse, hub and protection money rolling in than I could actually spend; and multiple safe houses and compounds brimming with ammunition and explosives, there were new difficulties.  Between the summonable hit squad, nearby Corleone soldiers at businesses that were already in the family, bribed or blackmailed police on our side, and the aforementioned heavily armed hookers; it became nigh impossible to take out an enemy myself before someone else did it.  Consequently, finishing up the “rap sheet” checklist that includes all the hit types was a bit troublesome.   
 People...people...Could I please shoot SOMEBODY?

I never did figure out all the nuances of one involving getting a guy run over by a car someone else is driving.  Eventually I was reduced to hanging around a side street in Hoboken, where a couple of Straccis kept respawning due to a glitch, and trying various ways to toss the poor clowns into traffic before one of my allies shot them.  (This is not a problem I remember having to deal with in Space Invaders.)

Add to all that help the massively increased power and aim of my personal weapons, and it became excessively difficult to interrogate anyone before they made Sonny’s demise look like a playground scuffle.

I must say, the power did go to my head. I started out only driving by getting into parked cars (with the “hot wiring” skill I could pretend they were owned by me or the family) to avoid building up heat and to make sure no innocents got hurt. (Not counting the ones I ran over. My driving skills REALLY left much to be desired.)  However, once I reached the level where I was running most of New York, I would hijack moving police cars and ambulances, in order to play with the siren while I tooled around Times Square or Columbus Circle.
Somehow, my cars always smoked.
(Did I mention, my driving skills left much to be desired?)


Here's an embarrassing admission:  In hurrying through the game to take the pictures for this review, I got hooked on playing again. Since I beat it the first time concentrating on the negotiator skills, I’m going the enforcer route for the next proper time through.

The big dilemma is- who should I made the character look like?

The obvious answer, to follow movie continuity, would be Frankie Five Angels.  However, between his looks, his use of “Ugatz!” and his whole “Can o’ Peas” speech, he’s practically another Frissora.  That may mean I have to pick from one of these:

Connie from Oscar:
“Do I have to boss? Every time I leave, I fall behind.”

Jelly from Analyze This?:
“That would be a very good idea, except for one little detail. 
I'm a fuckin' moron. I'm known for it.”

or
Jojo Krako from “A Piece of the Action”:
“I AIN’T NEVER BEEN ARRESTED IN MY LIFE”


Final Thoughts:

I can imagine all the standard complaints that similar titles like the Grand Theft Auto series gets for glorifying criminals. But this game is different.  While the movie already did the glorifying (and quite well I might add) these are mobsters who only kill other, worse mobsters and corrupt officials, keep drugs off the streets, and have added a wealth of valuable quotes to the English language.

Therefore this game isn’t about placing bad guys on a pedestal…

It’s really more like quality time with the family.



To replace the final cut scenes that I could not photograph,
here is my own fictional ending - complete with an image:   

After bringing a sense of honor, and humor, to the New York underworld,
Don Frissora retired and reconnected with his family. 
He gave up his past ways and from them learned to paint, make Christmas ornaments,
play the accordion or the piano, or the guitar...or solitaire.
He also learned to laugh again, that deep, fully honest, totally unrestrained,
and completely contagious Frissora laugh.
And Lived Happily Ever After.





2 comments:

Brian said...

Love that last bit at the end! This does look like a great game. As I recall, you had to do a lot of roughing up of folks to get them to do what you wanted (short of killing them). Great idea for a game and great execution of a timeless classic. Sounds like you'd agree.

Jeff McGinley said...

Many thanx! The problem early in the game is you don't know if you have to rough them up, grab them, break their stuff, or point a gun at them to make them fold...it led to a large number of accidents (especially when the "grab" button when unarmed is the same as the "shoot" button when armed.) Luckily, once you get enough respect, they're happy to join up without a fuss.