Last year, when EA announced a video game based on The Godfather, I wanted to give Sonny a fighting chance at the toll booth. I wanted to be Jimmy Caan, to step out of the car in that grandiose balls-out manner reserved for video games, toss a few Molotov cocktails, and spray my way out of the Long Island dunes with two tommy guns by my side. Rewriting cinema history is every video game’s right. Alas, this game doesn’t let you play as Sonny, or Michael, or Tom Hagen. You don’t even get to be Sally Tessio. But you still get to whack, extort, bribe, intimidate, and put a bloody horse head in someone’s bed.
Your character is a random tough who as a boy watched his pop get gunned down by Don Barzini on the streets of Little Italy. EA’s create-a-player feature lets you design the hair, body type, and facial features so you can make him look like Pacino if you want. I gave my guy a thin moustache and a dirty-blond pompadour. It was only halfway through the game that I realized my hero looked like El DeBarge. (I later used the money I got from beating up the butcher to buy myself a fedora.)
Your man works in the shadows of the movie. You’re the guy who places the gun in the back of the toilet at Luigi’s so Michael doesn’t walk out of there with just his dick in his hands. You’re the guy who offs Tessio. (Note: Abe Vigoda was still alive as of press time.) You also get to kill Paulie Gatto in the weeds outside NYC. In this version, Paulie runs away into a maze of shipping containers. When you finally off him, the game switches to a cinematic of Clemenza walking back to the car zipping up his fly. He tells you, “Leave the gun, take the cannoli,” and you’ll never feel prouder in your gaming life.
Given the rich storyscape, you wouldn’t think there’d be any need to invent new scenarios. But two hours into the game, you’re robbing banks and planting explosives. When the don gets shot buying oranges, you rush him to the hospital in a trip through NYC reminiscent of Die Hard Trilogy from the old PS. You visit one of the family’s brothels, complete with lasses in thigh-highs and garters, where your hero is prompted to “flirt” or “make a move.” “Make a move” means slapping her on the ass. You eventually interrupt Sonny as he readies for a threesome.
Your goal is to complete the tasks while shaking down local businesses for protection money, completing contract hits, and cracking safes as you work your way up to don. You can earn your money with your fists (beating a shopkeeper to near death) or through intimidation (grabbing him by the collar, leaning him over a ledge). The “Respect Meter,” which indicates your ability to get what you want without lifting a finger, is a nice nuance. Unfortunately, most people with a controller in their hands want to slap around the butcher.