If there's anything surprising about EA's stab at a Godfather game, it's that the company waited so long to take it. After several years of Mafia-themed role-playing games, the public is already familiar with the plot: Assume the role of antihero protagonist on the rise in a multi-city criminal organization. However, The Godfather has the advantage over its competitors, thanks to multiple levels of intrigue based on the family drama written by Mario Puzo and conjured on the screen by Francis Ford Coppola. Voice acting by James Caan and Robert Duvall and the original theme music by Nino Rota add a grim authenticity to the narrative.

While the game uses an almost identical engine to that of the Grand Theft Auto series, there's a benefit to this, in that players can skip over the beginning gameplay learning curve and be drawn directly into the action.

From a third-player perspective, you navigate a well-rendered version of 1950s New York, where you play as a young Italian bravo taken into the family by the benevolent Don. Each quest is clearly related to the well-known story, and you acclimate into the role of the main character quickly. Amassing wealth, gaining respect and representing the Corleone family on the street are your main goals.

A particularly strong and entertaining feature of this game is its extensive character creation. I spent a few diverting hours tweaking the details of my character's facial structure, hairstyle and wardrobe. As you accrue capital after completing family business, the purchase of a more expensive and fashionable wardrobe helps you gain prestige and experience faster and raise your character's statistics. Hey, it pays to look good!

Hard-core fans will enjoy participating in famous events from the movies, and even some challenging quests that were referred to but never shown. For example, early in the game you are sent to teach respect to the two guys who rough up the undertaker's daughter; later, you take a plane ride to California to talk sense into the movie producer Woltz. Remember the infamous horse-head scene? Ever wonder how they got it into his bed? Join the family and find out.

Tired of being the Mafia's errand boy? That's OK. The environment of this nonlinear game is well-detailed, making it fun to just walk around the simulated city levels: Brooklyn, New Jersey, Hell's Kitchen and Little Italy are all featured locales. When you get bored with that, steal a car and take a joy ride across the Brooklyn Bridge to visit with family prostitutes. Or just whip out a pistol in public and enjoy the horrified screams of the population.

Strength of plot, a detailed environment and a familiar interface make this godfather of all Mafia games addictive. Loyal fans and those new to the family will enjoy a quick-paced trip up the ladder of a criminal hierarchy, with all the violence, sex and drama that involves. Rated M for mature; definitely not for children.

The Godfather, The Game for XBox
Electronic Arts

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