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Platforms: Xbox, PS2, PC - Xbox Version Reviewed.
After the horrors of EA’s The Godfather, Scarface: The World if Yours is cause for a sigh of relief. Provided they can accept the game’s opening premise – that Al Pacino’s coke-addled gangster, Tony Montana, escaped the bloodbath that ends the film – fans of the movie will be relatively pleased with the way Radical Entertainment has handled the license. Like its inspiration, this is a sharply written, stylish, testosterone-fuelled piece of work, filled with memorable, fantastically foul mouthed dialogue and coming just as close to glorifying a life of crime. And if it is derivative of GTA – and it is – then there’s at least a sense that it’s simply returning the complement; where would Vice City have been without the De Palma film, after all.
What’s more, there has always been the possibility that Scarface could be more than just another GTA clone. Vivendi Universal did the right thing securing Pacino’s likeness; Tony Montana makes a far more interesting lead character than The Godfather’s slot-in-the-story nameless hood, and as a man of action, not words, it’s not too ridiculous a conceit to put him right at the heart of the game. There’s plenty of Hollywood talent involved here too, with David McKenna, (the writer of Blow and American History X) writing the script, and big names from James Woods to Robert Loggia, Elliot Gould, Cheech Marin, Michael York and (erm) Ricky Gervais delivering the lines. And Radical Entertainment even has form in the open world game – Hulk: Ultimate Destruction was a superb and very different take on the genre, and showed that Radical could create a world you wanted to explore and play with.
But in retrospect, Vivendi Universal’s decision to restrict Scarface to the current generation of consoles is a smart one. Put it next to GTA and GTA Vice City and for the most part it holds up reasonably well, but you can’t help feeling that it doesn’t just feel dated, but a little bit tired to boot.
Note that I didn’t say ‘looks’ dated, because the problem isn’t one of visuals or technology: Scarface actually looks pretty good. The style – clean lines, over bright sunshine – is reminiscent of Vice City, but it’s more a sensible evolution than a straight revamp. The character models, particularly Tony Montana, are superb, and their animation is full of character; it must have taken ages to get Pacino’s cocky, little-guy swagger from the film right.
Nor are the game mechanics broken. From the opening sequence, it’s clear that this is a more combat-oriented take on the GTA genre, and Radical has forged a third-person shooting system to make that work. You can use the right stick to aim manually, pull in and out of cover or engage an auto-aim, and it all works much more fluidly than the Godfather’s similar system. Best of all, Scarface implements a sort of rage meter – aptly named ‘Balls’ – which, when filled, allows you to go on the rampage, switching to first-person, auto-targeting each enemy in turn and boosting your health as each and every last cock-a-roach bites the dust. Need to give your balls a boost? Easy, targeting specific body parts does the job, as does taunting your foes from a fine repertoire of choice four-letter epithets. It all comes together exceptionally well. In GTA combat made you groan like an unpleasant chore you hoped you could push through quickly, but here, it’s at the heart of all that’s best about the game.
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