By this point the list of TV and Film inspired videogames reads like a checklist of how to murder a decent IP. Time and time again fans of the original material are served up bland, uninspired, by-the-numbers action games that rarely evoke the atmosphere or environment of the source property. It doesn’t matter to the publisher that ‘Miami Vice: The Game’, or ‘Desperate Housewives: The Game’ have barely a thread of commonality between source material and final product. The games are shovelled out, the fans rabidly buy them, and the cycle continues. Anyone that bought ‘Reservoir Dogs: The Game’, this is all your fault.
Which brings us to The Sopranos. If the shows qualities were translated directly into a videogame we’d be expecting some superbly suspenseful plotting, excellent acting, subtle drama mixed with a good dose of action sequences, and a bucket load of references to classic Gangster movies such as the Godfather trilogy and Goodfellas. Lets face it, even the best that the videogame world can offer would barely scratch the surface on the points mentioned, but even by TV/movie adaptation standards, the Sopranos is in a category of awful that’s all its own. It’s not hard to imagine a Sopranos game being an action/adventure, with oodles of the dialogue that made the series famous, good characterisation and sparse but brutal violence. A structure similar to something like Fahrenheit then, allowing you to fully interact with the characters that you already know so well. Its no surprise however, that what we end up with is a basic brawler, with all the finesse of a sledgehammer.
I could write for hours about the contrived plot that sees you cast as the illegitimate son of Sal ‘Big Pussy’ Bompensiero, but that would be longer than the game actually takes to complete. In this day and age, for a full price game to last in the region of 3-4 hours is poor by any standards. For the most part of the game you’ll be fighting a camera that refuses to let you look up or down, and frequently gets stuck behind objects or outside the environment itself. The combat system is reduced to blindly mashing the X button, occasionally picking up an object to smash over someone’s head, or executing a number of special attacks that actually contrive to pause the action and let you input the required analogue stick movement. It’s almost as if the developer took all of the lessons from the better action games and tore them all up, determined to make things as frustrating and difficult for the player as possible.
For fans of the series the above flaws could even be forgiveable if the voice acting and the plot were a decent addition to the Sopranos canon. I have to admit; playing the game for the first half an hour will bring a smile to your face as you interact with the major characters. All of the voice actors from the TV show are on board, and the voice work is generally pretty decent, as you would expect from actors of the quality of James Gandolfini. The script however leaves a lot to be desired, and doesn’t feel like anything that would have come from the normal writers. It feels tacked on and unfinished, an entirely separate entity from the main plotline of the television show, and as such offers little incentive to see it through to the end.
So, the 3-4 hours of story gameplay is finished, what next? Well, nothing. The game allows you to unlock some concept art, along with a couple of videos of the cast, but there is no other content. The story is played out in a style that you would think would lend itself to a sandbox approach, but instead we have a series of corridors set in the various locations around New Jersey. It doesn’t help that the games visuals are rendered in a style and framerate reminiscent of a first generation PS2 game; it’s as if the last 4 years of PS2 software development advancement never happened. Even by launch game standards, this would still look decidedly average at best and horrendous at worst.
So, another bad game based on a TV show then. It’s all the more galling when you consider the games that get it right. Goldeneye and Scarface can show the way to approach this type of material, and even ’24: The Game’ was passable, with a half decent action engine tacked onto a plot that was pleasing to the fans. It can be done. Whilst gamers are happy to purchase badly developed, poorly contrived games such as this, sadly those examples will still be a rarity.