Scarface: The World Is Yours
Gin and Tonic. Chilli, cheese and nachos. Male and female. Films and games. Some things naturally go together. Others can only be be found through experience, and the latter combination is one of them. It’s difficult to say with certainty the last time a game of a film has ever had much of an affect on the gaming scene, and those that do (in a positive way) are usually a blip in an otherwise rather stagnant genre. Scarface is blip.
Basing a game on one of the most iconic films in recent decades is certainly asking for trouble, but Radical Entertainment have managed to capture the essence of Tony Montana and his tough-talking ways effectively. And this basically entails four key items: cocaine; cash; guns; and lots and lots of swearing. Seriously, this game has so much swearing that you’ll become desensitised within minutes, and that’s within the short tutorial of basic controls.
The real game begins before the film ends; standing on the balcony with an M16 rifle, you take control of Montana the moment his mansion’s foyer fills with drug-lord Sosa’s assassination team. And so begins the parallel universe of what could have happened if Montana had got out and away. Point the Wii remote reticle over a grunt, lock on, make slight adjustments in which appendage to shoot, and spew-forth the empty shells. Combined with strafe-movement controls and quick-n-easy target-switching, Scarface shows that precision-aiming shoot-em-ups can be as much a staple of the Wii’s diet as a load of mini-games and the like (although camera control in a little sketchy). Further still, in-vehicle shooting has never been more joyful because of the point-and-shoot nature that the remote affords.
Although having escaped the onslaught and lost the mansion, Montana is not one to give up and vows to take revenge upon Sosa, as well as rebuild the wealth and command that he once had, through drug buying-and-selling and running errands in order to climb back up the criminal ladder. ‘Fronts’ (high street shops fronting general nefarious drug-related goings-on) are there for the taking after you’ve completed the required task, which usually involves killing lots of people but sometimes involve driving and making/picking-up drops. And more shooting. Some are mixed with ‘protect the VIP’ task, which of course requires you shoot people before they shoot the VIP dead. So, there’s quite a bit of shooting. Luckily the control scheme works. For every front that you buy and groups of gangs that you gun down, your grip on the district (there are four in total, each quite small in comparison to what is seen in recent 3D sandbox games) becomes that little bit tighter until you ‘own’ the district and can move onto the next one.
This rather linear game progression is loosened by the opportunities to digress and make a bit of money on the side. In fact, you’ll be looking to complete these just to get those few extra dollars for the vast number of ‘exotic’ goods available to purchase. Running parallel to the main business of rebuilding your empire are chances to buy/steal cocaine that can then be sold on the streets. Your grams-to-dollar rates vary depending on your status among the gang community; the more hated you are, the less you get. This dirty money needs to be laundered for safe keeping (as dirty money and cocaine can be lost when killed or caught by the cops), and banks are dotted around to provide that service for a percentage cut.
All of these negotiations are controlled via a press-hold-and-release mechanic of filling up a bar and stopping within a predetermined band for the most beneficial outcome. It may seem simple but it does provide a sense of tension, even though it’s difficult not to get the best result. In the aftermath of a bloodbath and having sheathed your weapon, you can smart-talk your way out with the cops via the same mechanic – it’s a little ridiculous but allows the game to flow without you having to lose everything that you’d only just obtained on the task. And if worst comes to worst (and you would have had to of seriously ‘****ed up’, as the game puts it), finally, a game where you can drive away and lose the tailing police without the need of changing the appearance of your car. It’s become a proper triumph of (arcadey driving) gaming skill over the necessity to remember the location of every spraypaint shop on the map. (Also helping is the fact that you can’t kill innocent people with weapons, so cross-fire is completely eliminated by Montana letting go of the trigger. See, he does have some morality.)
The heavy-handed nature of Scarface brings along aspects of Respectability and ‘Balls’. The more jobs do and more exotic goods you purchase, the more your respect increases and opens up even more exotic items. Surpassing an amount of respectability levels you up, increasing your stamina and weapons availability. The Balls meter can be filled through taunting, shooting and general outlandishness, to a point where you can enter Rage mode. For a short time, Montana becomes invincible, has unlimited ammo and gains health for every kill. Used properly, this feature can get you out of tricky situations. One of the oddest, and sadly amusing, methods in gaining Balls was to verbally abuse/banter with the ladies. Some of the lines that come out of Montana are filthy yet absolute classics, and it’s hard not to raise a smile when you hear the words “I was just doing you a favour telling you you had shit on your face” ending a conversation. It shouldn’t be funny but you just can’t help yourself.
Scarface is certainly a worthy romp around, if not to wallow oneself in the shoes of Tony Montana but to actually play a decent 3D sandbox game on the Wii. Other games on other platforms will surpass Scarface in different areas but collectively it is a very competent game (let down by the number of short loading screens required for story cutscenes when starting a task). It certainly isn’t pushing the Wii by any means, turning back the time when ‘that other bad-natured game’ turned 3D for the first time with cartoon-like graphics. But like they say; you don’t buy the Wii for spectacular fireworks (although that would be nice), you buy the Wii for the reinvention and innovation that developers have a longing for.
Games based on films rely on the latter to provide the former with content. Key scenes contribute to make short, recognisable, action-packed sessions of gameplay. Scarface only does this once, right at the beginning, and even then it doesn’t pan out like the film. It’s the premise of the film that the game builds upon, making an already competent game into a recognisable one. Saying that an otherwise generic game has been saved by a recognisable license isn’t absolute or, at very least, as clear-cut as that. Sure, the basics are shared among other similar games, but the new elements that Scarface brings to the table provide the breath of fresh air needed to invigorate a genre that was repeating itself a little too much. Being able to apply a world that has already dug itself into the minds of many thousands of Al Pacino fans is something that shouldn’t be passed up on, and then giving those extra little things to be that Tony Montana with thousands of wasteful dollars is a joy. It’s a world that shouldn’t be wasted. It’s a world that should be taken. It’s your world, Tony.