According to the ever popular Internet Movie Database The Godfather by Francis Ford Coppola is the best movie of all time—debatable I guess, but a very good movie nevertheless that spawned an entire sub-genre of epic Mafia dramas. It is the blueprint for all following tales of immigration and integration, the pursuit of happiness, morale and honour, filth and fury, us versus them, inside versus outside, the family versus the rest of the world. It shows us what happens when traditional values are confronted with a yet unknown, liberal society; that the urge to uphold these values can turn someone into a criminal. And most of all, it is the story of one man's decline (or rise, if you like) from an innocent bystander to a feared powermonger ruling his own with an iron fist.
The Godfather is also a very brutal movie, as the Mafia is a very brutal business concept. But the violence is never self-satisfactory or exploitive. It is an important part of a narrative pattern that serves the story. There is no joy to be found witnessing the strangling of Luca Brasi or the brutal shooting of Sonny Corleone, just sheer terror. What makes these murders even more disturbing is the fact that they, while being unnecessarily inhumane acts in the line of business these men work in, are absolutely plausible, if not inevitably necessary. While being ethically wrong, the shooting of Sollozzo was the right thing to do for Michael Corleone, business-wise.
On the other hand, The Godfather according to Electronic Arts is a different story. The premise of the game is quite clever; instead of letting the player take the role of one of the movie's characters, he is asked to create one of the soldiers of the Corleone family, witnessing the plot through the eyes of a supporting cast member. Accordingly the missions in story mode are mostly filling in more or less meaningful blanks from the movie. While this part of the game is rather small (only spanning 15 missions and roughly 3 hours of play time) the largest portion of the game consists of doing voluntary side-missions like extorting businesses, taking over illegal rackets and executing contract hits.
During these particular parts of the game, the city blurred around me while I was rushing from one side mission to the next with no time to worry. Pedestrians? Parked cars? Newsstands? Mere obstacles to avoid if possible. If not… who cares? Since the missions themselves are all identical, every shop looks exactly the same. All I did was break necks, shoot rivals, threaten shop owners, and drive off again, The Godfather put me in a Zen-like state of ultraviolence. Or was it more like a coma? After a while it didn't matter anyway. Where other games, especially the Grand Theft Auto (GTA) series give their users the impression of an independent world they inhabit, The Godfather offers them a playground for violence only. The player is a parasite, New York is the host. A city built for my sadism and power fantasies to feed on. Don't get me wrong— that's not necessarily a bad thing. It was good while it lasted, but after a while I really started craving a little normality in all this insanity. Riding a cab maybe, or just walking down Broadway without getting shot at.
Another problem in this context is that the game does not exactly give one a hard time committing all these crimes. When someone playing GTA decides to go into the infamous "hooker shooting mode" which made the game so very popular with the media, he can be sure that he'll have the cops on his ass faster then he can say "ESRB." In The Godfather all my encounters with the law were scripted events during missions. And while I was collecting a fair amount of police badges (equivalent to GTAs police stars), they didn't exactly lead to any confrontation with officers of the law. Maybe they were there to remind me that technically it is not very nice to go on a killing spree in downtown New York.
All this is not a question of morals. After all The Godfather is just a game, not real life. It is a question of credibility. The narration of the game is a narrow one-way street, a never ending flow of atrocities committed to become the Don of New York City. It is not a downward spiral, a fatal, self- destructive journey into hell, but a plain old success story. For a videogame, that's usually enough. For a videogame which is an adaptation of a movie which explicitly deals with all the aforementioned topics and questions, it is not. Were it just another faceless GTA free-roaming clone I'd say EA did a pretty good job, despite a few minor shortcomings. But as it is, The Godfather has a hard time living up to the standard set by its license.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Playstation 2 version of the game.
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