Today is Oscar day. I'll be staying up 'til 6 AM to see if La La Land or Moonlight gets the golden statuette (edit: turns out it was a bit of both!) but 44 years ago arguably the 'Best Film of All Time' won; The Godfather. But we're not here to talk about that. We're here to shoot some gangsters in the 1991 video game adaptation by US Gold.
I was barely into double-digits when I got this game for my humble Atari ST. I was just beginning my obsession with cinema and even then I had heard rumblings about the reverence the movie had earned. The third in the trilogy was in UK theatres yet I was not old enough to see it. But, living in a time before the ELSPA or PEGI rating systems, the game was in my sight.
I put the first disc in my machine and marvelled at the cinematic opening. The graphics were like nothing else on the system. A newspaper span into view with a headline about a 'Mob Massacre' before the year 1956 is displayed large on the screen. Then the viewpoint pans right to the New York skyline. The muted sepia tones fade into full colour before we're given a little context about the mafia. We are then taken down into the city with impressive parallax scrolling artistically giving the illusion of depth. It continues, pausing a couple of time for text until it stands to rest at the opening screen of the first level. I was in awe.
But then I began to play the damn thing. It's what could be called a 'run-n-gun' action game but in truth it's best described as 'walk-n-shoot'. In my youth I could never get past the first level. In fact only once did I get to the bit where it stops the game mid-level and asks you to insert disk 2. The images on the back of the box taunted me about what was to come, but until now I was never able to get there. I challenge anyone to get past the first level without cheating.
There's a lot to take in right from the off. Heavy traffic in the foreground obscures your surroundings while an endless supply of armed gangsters come at you from the street. Most go down with one bullet but it's incredibly difficult to hit them while simultaneously avoiding their attacks. Projectiles are as slow as molasses. I swear any well-programmed character from any other game can outrun them Matrix-style. To dodge them here, you'll need several seconds just to prepare. Some bullets can be averted by simply ducking, but those that come as you from a low angle can't be jumped over. In fact, you can't jump at all. The only way to dodge them is to switch planes and walk into the road - something that's easier said than done.
The Godfather only supports single-button joysticks for its control method. The DOS version does add an uncomfortable keyboard setup but it's just a re-mapping of the joystick with space as the fire button and the Q, A, I & O keys awkwardly set up as directions. It takes some mastery with the stick to get the nuances of the game down. For example, just pressing fire will shoot. If you're walking at the same time, your avatar will stop so that he can attack. Up and fire will shoot up towards the many men appearing from the windows, though it's probably best to ignore them. By the time your bullet gets there they'll have retreated. If you wanted to crouch and shoot, things get a little more out of the ordinary. Simply holding down and fire will not do this, instead aiming at the foreground where drive-by shooters and cheeky sniper attacks come from. To crouch and fire, you first have to duck, and then slide your joystick over to the left or right. No fire button necessary. The problem with this is that a similar action is required to step off of the sidewalk and into the road to avoid bullets. Instead of down then right you do down and right.
At the top of the screen are two bars representing health and reputation. The former is self-explanatory, but the latter could've added strategy to an otherwise simplistic game. Instead it just makes everything insanely hard. I found it nigh on impossible to hit enemies while dodging their bullets and protecting regular people at the same time. Your reputation will go down every time a civilian is caught in the crossfire. Let it reach zero and you're disowned by the family. Harsh. You won't know which is which either as all sprites, whether it be the nonchalant cops, the ladies of the night or the mothers and their babies, have a possibility to attack. You just can't shoot first in case they're not programmed that way. Not that it makes much of a difference. Chances are the pedestrians will stroll into your line of fire anyway.
If you're skilled/lucky enough to get through the level, you're taken to the first of many shooting gallery arcade stages. These sections are perhaps the best moments in the game with some well thought out areas, stunning visuals and impressive animations to boot. The joystick can control the crosshair but is incredibly slow. Thankfully the mouse is supported making for a far better experience, if you can get to it that is.
The only way to play The Godfather and have any amount of fun is to play with cheats. The Amiga version I've emulated has been patched to give some handy options before playing. The downside is that you'll need to swap around the 6 floppies every five seconds. You swap when you begin a level, when you die, halfway through a level - twice/three times if necessary. It gets quite annoying. On the other hand the DOS version, released a year earlier, has none of this. What it does have is a slight downgrade in the visuals and a major one in the audio department. Want to live long enough to see the end of a level? Enter a cheat code (google it). Both play exactly the same so it comes down to personal preference.
Once enabled, I surprisingly had a blast. I got through each level at my own pace admiring the beautiful pixel art that makes up each level. I gave myself the task of killing everyone except the civilians which was a challenge without the unfair difficulty getting in the way. The shooting gallery sequences that intercut each side-scrolling level were a lot of fun too, even if it took ages to take down the final boss.
With this in mind, I think The Godfather is actually pretty decent. With a little more testing and a release that wasn't locked to that of the movie - theatrical or otherwise - we could've had a classic. As it stands we have a title that's only playable, let alone enjoyable, when employing the sin of cheating. And given the subject matter, that's pretty apt.
To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses DOSBox to bring the PC version to modern systems and FS-UAE to emulate the Amiga version. Manual included. Tested on Windows 10.
File Size: 31 Mb. Install Size: 58 Mb. Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ
The Godfather: The Action Game is © US Gold
The Godfather (the movies) is © Paramount
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me