Mob Hit Misses

The Godfather game isn't personal. It's strictly business.

The Godfather: The Game Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform: PS2, Xbox, Xbox 360
Price: $39.99
ESRB Rating: M (for Mature)
Score: 7 (out of 10)
"Admit it -- Godfather 3 was the best of the - trilogy!"
"Admit it -- Godfather 3 was the best of the trilogy!"
Marlon Brando sleeps with the fishes. But before the legendary actor died, he worked one last job. Curiously, it was for a videogame.

In The Godfather: The Game, Brando attempts to relive his Oscar-winning role as Don Vito Corleone. From the raspy voice to the drooping jowls, it's Vito, all right. Too bad it's not really Brando.

When the game designers went to record the dying don at his house, he was hooked up to a noisy oxygen tank that made all but a few of his lines unintelligible. A cotton-mouthed imitator stood in for him on the rest.

Pity. Brando's demise robs the game of some creative luster, despite new performances by James Caan and Robert Duvall. Other heavies are also missing: No Pacino, no Coppola.

But even if the whole famiglia got back together, it's hard to imagine this or any game living up to the lofty standard set by its cinematic predecessor. For a game to translate that emotional heft requires new thinking -- something that Electronic Arts, a corporate behemoth that churns out dozens of safe hits each year, seems disinclined to do.

EA's latest is intended as an answer to Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto series. Duvall and Caan are terrific, but they merely re-voice much of the movie dialogue. The film's legendary characters come off as two-dimensional apparitions from a greater work -- exactly the debasement Coppola feared when he spurned EA's advances.

If only The Godfather had aped a different Rockstar game instead. The Warriors, another adaptation of a '70s film, delved deep into the backstory of its characters and unearthed mountains of new material. If EA had done the same with The Godfather, maybe we'd finally learn why Sonny Corleone is so angry. Or how fey brother Fredo became Moe Green's whipping boy in Vegas.

Still, young gamers looking for bloody kicks won't be disappointed. Like most EA products, The Godfather is slick and enjoyable in what it does offer. Like GTA, it boasts a sprawling sandbox environment, in which you can carjack any vehicle, kill any passerby, or simply raise hell.

The story is simple: The setting is New York of the 1940s, and you're a young hood sporting wingtips. Your pops used to work for the Corleones, until the rival Barzini family ventilated him. Now you're out for revenge.

As muscle for the Corleones, you'll have a slew of missions to complete and adversaries to bump off. You'll learn to shake down shopkeepers and take over illegal gambling rackets. Do well, and Don Corleone will kiss you into the inner circle.

Throughout the game, you'll be an eye-witness to the movie's most memorable scenes. Remember when the hulking Luca Brasi goes to meet with the Tattaglias? In the game, you see him garroted by a window in the back alley. How 'bout the time that finicky Hollywood producer refuses to cast Johnny Fontane in his movie? Let's just say you're the equine specialist who persuades him otherwise.

Moments like these are where the game shines. But they're far too infrequent. More often, you'll be driving the streets, looking for rival gangsters to slay, hookers to chat up, and G-men to bribe. Other games -- such as Gangsters and Mafia -- handle the Cosa Nostra waltz of strategy, diplomacy, and family with far more elegance.

No one expected that a game could rival Coppola's masterpiece. But an honest attempt would have been nice. Instead, we're left with a solid but ultimately incurious effort.

And in this business, that's an offer you can refuse.

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