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Crime Time 

Game On

Francis Ford Coppola might want to toss a horse head into someone's bed, but the "Godfather" game isn't half-bad.

That's not to say that this ambitious videogame based on the classic film series will win over the director. Coppola was whining about it long before the title even shipped. And this "Godfather" likely won't score any Academy Awards or win any gaming awards. The premise is goofy, the action plodding and the basic game play surprisingly simple.

Still, as a grand experiment with the ambitious reach of, say, Don Corleone, this "Godfather" bears some surveillance.

The game, or perhaps more accurately the story, starts out with an act of gangland violence. Someone blows up your bakery, grabs your wife, and then comes after you in a back alley with a baseball bat and, eventually, a Tommy gun. The life of a gangster, we are reminded, is stylish, brutish and short. This opening salvo also introduces us to a reasonable facsimile of Marlon Brando as the Godfather, an illusion that gets a boost from voice performances provided by the actor before his death.

Flash forward a few years and the narrative places the player in the role of the murdered mobster's son. The Godfather answers a plea to take you under his wing, and the fun begins. Your training missions include learning how to beat the stuffing out of people, shoot a gun, drive a car, and shake down the local businesses.

If you're thinking "Grand Theft Goodfellas" then you've pretty much got the concept. This game borrows the oft-imitated "Grand Theft Auto" sandbox game-play while adding a few features and importing some classic cinematic mythology.

And the trouble starts here. The sweeping, Shakespearean setting of "The Godfather" might make for a good film. Hoisted into a game, however, the bleak, windy streets of Little Italy circa 1950 just don't fire the imagination the way they should. A snub-nosed .38 or a classic Roadster might add to the authenticity. But it's well known that when you sit on the other end of a joystick, a plasma rifle and a Ferrari provide more thrills.

What's left over is the story. And that's a shame. The acting and character animations, and even the tale itself provide some real drama. The game's developers have shown a respect for the material that Coppola could not have imagined when he ranted about the use of his film property as the basis for some interactive entertainment. Then again, maybe the salty old director was right. While the story of power-hungry, bloodthirsty gangsters makes for an epic tale, the idea of actually living the life of one of these guys just doesn't seem like much fun.

After you've busted up a dozen or so bakeries, barbers and butcher shops, your life of crime turns into a life of grind. As the wise guys say, "It's just business." Turns out, that's true. That's why business simulations remain a peculiar sideline to the videogame main show.

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David Thomas


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