Review: Scarface (PS2)


Scarface
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Radical Entertainment/Vivendi Games
Publisher: Sierra
Release Date: 10/10/06

I don’t know where the motivation to do this has come from, but a lot of developers seem to be interested in dipping into older movies lately for the purposes of making video games. Because, you know, there just aren’t ENOUGH bad licensed games, and developers are having a problem keeping up, I guess. We’ve already seen The Warriors, The Godfather, Jaws, and The Thing released as console and PC titles, and Reservoir Dogs coming soon, we’re being inundated with games based on older movies. Now, some of these (The Godfather, The Warriors) are pretty solid experiences, some (The Thing) are mediocre-ish to bad, and some (Jaws: Unleashed) are kick-in-the-twig-and-berries painful, but that’s par for the course.

Which brings us to Scarface. The movie itself is regarded as something of a classic, and many revere it as a tale of how one man can build a life for himself with nothing more than his own hard work, only to lose it all because of his own stupidity. Because of its nature as a violent flick, of course, it seems it would lend itself to a good video game (drug themes notwithstanding), and lo and behold, one has been provided to us. Based in the GTA mold, Scarface seems as though it’s a good idea: it’d basically be GTA: Vice City done right. The question is, is it? Let’s take a look.


1. STORY


The story of Scarface the game picks up at the end of the story of Scarface the movie. We get a scene of Tony’s mansion being overrun by thugs, Tony grabbing his assault rifle, the old “SAY HELLO TO MY LITTLE FRIEND”, and then off we go. The game itself plays “fan fiction” with the story, as it deviates from the ending of the movie… if you’ve never seen the movie, it won’t matter because you won’t know how the movie ended (and I’m not about to tell you because unlike certain other reviewers, I RESPECT YOUR RIGHT TO NO SPOILERS), but if you have, you might be upset. Of course, if you’re a fan of the movie, you most likely know this, and probably don’t care much, but it needs to be said.

Anyway, after his mansion is raided and torn apart, Tony realizes he was being stupid, and rededicates himself to his ultimate goal: the world (chico) and everything in it. This is a fairly reasonable setup for the game, but unfortunately, the game is unable to do very much with it. Or, perhaps I shouldn’t say unable so much as unwilling; there are plenty of opportunities for the game to provide legitimate characterization and development, but it simply fails to provide this anywhere near as well as it should, which ends up leaving the experience somewhat bland. For example, Tony gets off the yayo (coke) in the beginning of the game, as he realizes it was what ruined him last time, but we never really deal with this to any sort of satisfactory degree… it’s touched upon, but never really explored. Indeed, that can be said about most of the game; interesting concepts are touched upon, but not explored in any sort of satisfactory degree, leaving the whole experience underdeveloped and bland as a result. GTA: Vice City was more or less an homage/ripoff of Scarface, and the fact that it tells a better and more engaging story than the game that’s actually based off of Scarface itself is kind of depressing. It’s not the worst story in existence or anything, but it’s kind of bland and disappointing, especially considering the subject it’s based on.

Story Rating: 4/10


2. GRAPHICS


Well, Tony Montana looks like Tony Montana, which is good. Many of the characters who are important to the story also look solid, which is also good. And the opening cinematic (cut from scenes from the movie, but still) is cut together REALLY well, and works very nicely to help establish the mood of the game. On the other hand, most of the in-game characters have “penguin hand” (one thumb, one index finger, three other fingers that are stuck together), which looks really stupid at this point. The game environments are fully reminiscent of GTA environments; they’re wide-open and look decent, but lack any sort of real life to them, so as to allow for no loading times. GTA, however, had at least some sense of style between its three different titles; Scarface has none, leaving the world looking flat and devoid of reason to exist. The draw-in distance tends to be acceptable enough, but you can still see it as you play, and there will be situations where vehicles and/or people will simply pop into view for no reason. It’s not the best looking game on the PS2 (far from it), but it’s okay enough at what it does to get by, and at this point, we’ve come to accept a lack of distinct detail in GTA titles, as there are a significant lack of loading times. This doesn’t look quite as good as most GTA titles, mind you, but it still looks okay enough.

Graphics Rating: 5/10


3. SOUND

From a quality standpoint, Scarface sounds pretty reasonable. The voice actor who takes over for Al Pacino as Mr. Montana sounds absolutely spot-on in most respects, though there are a few occasions where the game seems to sample lines from the movie instead of letting the voice actor take over instead. The rest of the voice actors are all generally competent, though seeing some of the names that pop up in the introduction of the game might confuse you a little (Vida Guerra? Really? TINY LISTER? Is he a “good” actor in any sort of sense of the word?). None of the voice acting is outright offensive, though, so it all comes together reasonably well.

The game music offers a very wide variety of artists to listen to, from the Fat Boys to Ministry to Suicidal Tendencies, so there will definitely be something here you’ll want to listen to. While variety is a good thing, however, the music is, in many cases, at odds with the time period; Scarface came out in the late 70’s, and most of the music in the game wasn’t even conceived of at that point, let alone available for consumption. So, aurally, the music is good, but stylistically, it’s out of place. And as far as the sound effects go, they’re absolutely spot-on; gunfire is loud and piercing, and genuinely sells the effect that the game is going for (kill everyone that opposes you) nicely, and the various other in-game effects are all well done and well produced. In short, Scarface sounds really good… it might not sound wholly appropriate most of the time, but it DOES sound nice, and that more than makes up for the stylistic issues.

Sound Rating: 8/10


4. CONTROL/GAMEPLAY


If you’ve played a GTA game in the past, you know the score here: you’re given a fairly large city to play around in, and you’re tasked to drive around the city, performing various tasks within it as needed to accomplish your goals. The actual physical gameplay itself is responsive enough to make the game enjoyable to a certain extent, thankfully. Driving around the city is simple, and feels like you’d expect, and the various different vehicles feel somewhat unique in their driving physics, which is good. Combat also works well enough; you can simply lock on to enemies at the press of a button, and move the right stick around to target different parts of their anatomy before firing (like their head, or, say, their right testicle… yes, really). Hand-to-hand is equally simple: press a button to lump up on enemies, or press a different button if you want to push them and knock them over. Indeed, the actual physical controls are quite solid, and are the best thing about the gameplay, as they’re generally pretty responsive.

There are two minor novelties to the gameplay, as well, that make it not just the same old thing you’ve been playing. The first is the “Balls” meter, which is basically sort of a power-up meter: by doing ballsy things (shooting people in more difficult to hit parts of the anatomy, dodging in and out of traffic, telling off gang members, taunting murdered foes, etc), you accumulate “Balls”. When your Balls are maxed out, you can enter into a rage (a Blind Rage, technically), which switches combat over to a first-person view, allows you to auto lock-on to enemies, makes you invincible, and refills your life for every enemy you kill. It’s not a major innovation or anything, but it does its job well. The other novelty is how you negotiate, which is handled via a Mario Golf-esque circular bar. You hold the button down in an attempt to fill the bar as needed, then release when it is where you think you want it. Getting the timing down isn’t terribly complex, but it’s really an all-or-nothing sort of proposition; if you miss the best result, many times you hit the ABSOLUTE WORST one, so you find that aiming for the best results are absolutely crucial. It adds some tension to otherwise normal activities, but it’s nothing special.

Overall, the physical makeup of the gameplay is fine, and the new novelties are, overall, decent. Sadly, the rest of the gameplay experience isn’t so interesting in comparison. Most of this is due to the mechanics the game employs to make the Scarface experience different from a normal GTA title. Now, it’s great, for instance, having all sorts of henchmen at your beck and call. It’s great having personalized cars that come complete with ammo and guns in the trunk. Having your own mansion is damn cool. Owning a boat is cool. None of this is of issue.


But one of the major entertainment elements of a GTA title is taking your weapons and going apeshit in the middle of the city. This is not really an option in Scarface. You CAN whack gang members and cops, yes, but by and large, that’s all you can do. Not only that, but the entire police dynamic is broken; basically, you create a bar around your map as you commit notably illegal acts, and when it fills, the cops are looking for you. This bar turns red as you dick around with the cops, and when it turns completely red, you’re f*cked. You might be able to give the cops a merry chase for a bit, but there’s no way to escape from the cops at this point, and you’re only delaying the inevitable. This is compounded by the fact that, frankly, you spend most of your time pissing off the cops in the middle of performing missions, and while in, say, GTA or Saints Row, this didn’t immediately guarantee your failure, if you piss off the cops in Scarface, you might as well forget it, because if you stay around the area to complete the mission, you’ll most likely get busted. It’s a realistic concept, but as we’ve discussed before, realistic ideas do NOT equate to fun ideas.

The dirty money system needs work, too. Basically, as you accumulate money, it dumps into your “dirty money” pool; this money is yours, but it is unlaundered. You have to take this money to the bank and launder it (for a fee), whereupon it becomes “clean money”. The difference is simple: if Tony dies, gets arrested, pisses off a cop, etc, you lose ALL of your dirty money (as well as any drugs you’re carrying). This is, to put it simply, a touch harsh, though a bit more understandable than the police dynamic; in theory, you should be depositing dirty cash ASAP whenever possible, so I’m more understanding of this. That said, it’s still kind of a lame mechanic, and takes some serious getting used to.

Beyond that, though, the major problem of Scarface is that it’s just not very fun. GTA games tend to have all sorts of extra things that can be done to amuse the player, but apparently the people developing Scarface only paid attention to the more basic mission structures. All you really ever do with the game is sell drugs, kill people, escort people (while killing people), and travel between these activities (a LOT). There isn’t any real variety to the missions, and while I doubt Tony would spend his time delivering pizza or driving hookers around, that’s not the point. The point is, eventually, the things the game asks of you (especially all of the driving around) get boring, and Scarface offers no way to alleviate that boredom. And when you get bored of a game, well, that’s really something of a problem, seeing as how the game is expected to entertain you and all.

To wrap the negative all up neatly: the physical world design is generally very sparse and lacks all of the cool layout elements of its predecessors, leaving you to just travel across miles of empty road for no purpose. It’s also difficult to get to most locations by following a straight line, as there tends to not be a straight line you can follow to get there except across water. Collision detection can be a bitch at times too; while attempting to complete one mission (which took multiple attempts), in the process of taking a turn, I got stuck ON a trash can and couldn’t move the van I was driving, thus necessitating a restart of the mission.

All told, the gameplay in Scarface is functionally sound, but stylistically deficient. It does many things very well, but it also changes things that didn’t need changing, and not always for the better. It plays about as well as any GTA game out there, but many of the various gameplay elements are unfriendly for the wrong reasons. Gameplay is fun for the first few hours, then becomes boring the longer you play. It’s not that Scarface plays badly so much as it is that it’s not very fun to play, which is an entirely different problem that ends up being just as bad, but for entirely different reasons.

Control/Gameplay Rating: 5/10


5. REPLAYABILITY

In most GTA titles, one could say that there are plenty of reasons to return to the game, as you can pretty much do whatever as you see fit. In Scarface, this isn’t so much the case. There’s a dearth of things to do outside of the various missions, and because of the wonky way the police are designed, half of the things you would do in GTA aren’t possible to do in Scarface unless you want to spend your time running from the cops or dying. Pimping your mansion is amusing for about five minutes, then becomes silly and uninteresting. There’s ultimately not too much to really bring you back to the game, and what little does exist, you’ve seen elsewhere, only better. Unless you’re a diehard Scarface fan, you most likely won’t feel the need to play this more than once (if at all).

Replayability Rating: 2/10


6. BALANCE

Scarface is balanced well enough, though the disagreeable police design and the ability to lose all of your money and drugs in seconds end up making the game far more difficult than they need to be. Losing your cash and drugs upon death, I can understand… but losing them on a botched negotiation spin? That seems suspect. Otherwise, the game is reasonable enough in its difficulty; some missions can be a bit of a pain to complete, but for the most part, it’s on par in challenge with other GTA-esque titles, and veterans of those games shouldn’t have too much trouble getting through Scarface intact.

Balance Rating: 6/10


7. ORIGINALITY

It’s a GTA ripoff based off of a nearly three decade old movie. If that doesn’t tell you something, nothing will. The Balls mechanic is amusing and mildly different, as is the negotiation meter (though that feels like Mario Golf, basically), but these really aren’t enough to carry the rest of the game on their back, and the rest of the game feels so much like GTA that I’m surprised Rockstar hasn’t already filed the legal papers. You could pick up each and every last GTA ripoff on Earth, put them on the wall, throw a dart at them, blindfolded, and find a more original game than Scarface.

Originality Rating: 2/10


8. ADDICTIVENESS

On one hand, hearing Tony blurt out profane one-liners like a touretes patient will probably keep you playing for a while, and the gameplay is amusing enough at first to keep the game interesting. But the longer you play, the more you begin to realize that there’s really nothing else to do but shoot people, sell drugs, and protect people while shooting other people. There’s nothing interesting or exciting to do with the game beyond the first few hours, and once you realize that, the only reason you’ll bring yourself back to it is to see how it ends, and in some cases you might not even be able to get that far.

Addictiveness Rating: 4/10


9. APPEAL FACTOR

Like GTA games? Like Scarface? Then this would absolutely appeal to you. Scarface has become something of a film icon, and the GTA franchise has become godlike in its popularity in the past few years, so I don’t think it’s at all unreasonable to say that this would appeal to a substantial amount of people. That’s not to say that they should BUY it, mind you, but the conceptual appeal of playing as Tony Montana is understandable, and fans would definitely be interested in seeing where the game takes the idea, so this is more than likely to sell to a lot of people.

Appeal Rating: 8/10


10. MISCELLANEOUS


When Tony said he wanted what was coming to him, I don’t think he meant this.

What we’re presented here is a poor man’s GTA… it plays well enough, looks okay, sounds decent, and is an overall average experience. But spotty collision detection in some instances, a complete lack of anything interesting to do, a lack of variety, and the fact that most of us have already played one of the many other games that are doing this exact same thing (GTA, The Godfather, Saints Row) all come together to make Scarface a wasted effort. Most of the experience is bland and boring, and what you haven’t seen before in other games will be beaten into the ground in THIS game to the point where you’ll never want to see it ever again.

Scarface does nothing exciting or interesting. It does very little new, and what it does new isn’t so great as to matter. It’s not a hateful experience, and it won’t drive you to despair, but there’s no reason to play or own it. If this is the legacy of Tony Montana, I imagine he’d be very upset. I know I would be.

Miscellaneous Rating: 1/10

The Scores:
Story: 4/10
Graphics: 5/10
Sound: 8/10
Control/Gameplay: 5/10
Replayability: 2/10
Balance: 6/10
Originality: 2/10
Addictiveness: 4/10
Appeal: 8/10
Miscellaneous: 1/10

Overall Score: 4.5/10
Final Score: 4.5 (POOR).

Short Attention Span Summary
As the game says, “The World is Yours”. But if this is the world they mean, I don’t think Tony would really want it, so I don’t know why you’re supposed to. A bland story, mediocre visuals, uninteresting gameplay, and a complete lack of reason to play through the game, let alone come back to it, all conspire to make Scarface one of the more boring games I’ve played in years. It’s not that it’s bad so much as it is stereotypical and uninteresting, but in the world of video games, one might as well be synonymous with the other. Only the most diehard Scarface or GTA fans will find something to enjoy here.