The Godfather Preview

It's time to make an offer you can't refuse. Electronic Arts is moving along well in their development for The Godfather, a game based on the classic Francis Ford Coppola/Mario Puzo production of the same name. The experience is looking to be an enriched, if violent, one where you work your way through the ranks of power and respect in the Corleone family. The game may have found a delay to 2006, but it looks like the wait will be certainly worth it. Take the controller and leave the cannolis.

When it comes to games based on hit film franchises, Electronic Arts seemingly pulls out all the stops. With the games based on Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films, EA employed numerous actors from the films and even had insight from Jackson himself on how he wanted the flow of the games to go, and they turned out to be an imminent success. The Harry Potter games, while by no means classic, also produced experiences similar to J.K. Rowling's books and the films. Lest we forget James Bond, who's been chronicled in both original games (007: Everything Or Nothing) and games based on classic films (the forthcoming From Russia With Love).

But The Godfather is a whole new ball game for EA. It's based on a 1971 cinematic classic by director Francis Ford Coppola, who adapted it from the written works of Mario Puzo. It's a classic in every sense of the word, revered for its sheer level of violence and yet spellbinding performances and heightened drama. To mess this up into just another game experience would leave both EA and the license distributors looking downright foolish. Fortunately, the company is looking up to task in producing what looks to be a brutal and rewarding experience which envelopes you into the classic side of New York City, circa the 1940's.

You begin the game by building your thug from the ground up. You can adjust his face, his build, and his appearance, and then put him to work. As your thug is introduced to the Corleone family, he's handed a series of tasks to be completed in order to find acceptance. This may result in a number of different missions, like shaking down a local businessman who, for some reason, hasn't paid his protection fees. Or maybe you'll just need to gun somebody for good measure and teach them respect, the Corleone way. Once you get these done, you're accepted, and you're soon given other missions. Some will be lifted straight from the film, so don't be afraid to have to sever the head off a horse. Others are being built specifically for the game, allowing you to interact with the classic characters featured in the movie in different ways.

Francis Ford Coppola, director of the film, refused cooperation with the project, thinking that it would never work. However, EA still has plenty of support that will help make this the ultimate Godfather experience for game players. Mark Winegardner, the novelist who wrote Godfather Returns, is on hand for fiction insight and story tweaking. The game will also feature several familiar faces from the film. The late Marlon Brando will be featured as Don Corleone, providing plenty of class and malice all in one package. Also starring in the game in their respective roles are James Caan and Robert Loggia, who provide facial images as well as voicework for their characters. So those familiar with the movie will see a lot of similarities, even without the director's input.

The look of 1940's New York is coming together beautifully, with neighborhoods that just reek of criminal atmosphere and yet have a flavor that is decidedly its own. Animation looks to be pretty sharp so far, even capturing little motions such as the gentle twitching of a hand after you've gunned down some poor schlep with your tommy gun. Glass shatters, cars explode, and people sometimes react badly to your actions, running away and screaming. EA has gone to work on putting together a living, breathing atmosphere, kind of like Grand Theft Auto but with larger-than-life details to blend with the look of the film.

What's really cool about The Godfather is how the actions of your one thug can really change the destiny of the family wars in New York. The Corleones must deal with the Tattaglias, the Cuneos, the Straccis and the Barzinis, all fighting for control. As you journey through your life of criminal intent, you'll find yourself making hard choices that may be positive for you in the beginning, but can immediately turn sour. Loyalties play out rather smoothly in the game, as you must stay true to your course of action or run the threat of being hunted down. The way you can control your destiny in The Godfather leaves the playing field wide open in terms of replayability, and it's amazing how it's coming together. Even threatening the wrong shopkeeper at the wrong time could result in a gigantic gun battle where you have to let loose, kill everything, and then pick up some cannolis for the family.

We won't know how The Godfather will shape up until the game is released next year, but it's already looking like a masterpiece in the making, a brooding piece of gaming that will leave you on your toes as you trounce your way towards don-hood. Unlike Prado, it doesn't look to be a heartbreaker.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.