Scarface: The World Is Yours Review
As one of the most influential films in history, Scarface has its fair share of loyal followers. In fact, as time goes on, it seems as if the movie only gathers more fans from later generations of moviegoers. And when you look at the basic theme of the film, one can only think it would translate beautifully to video games; drugs, power, violence, greed, and a true city of vice in the early ‘80s. The Cuban crime wave of that time brought a whole new edge to the country (one we could've done without, but whatever) and cast Miami in a very different light. What better setting for a game, really?
It certainly sounds like Scarface: The World Is Yours would be primed for a Grand Theft Auto template, and that's exactly what we see with the visuals. Very reminiscent of Rockstar's now-legendary GTA series, the graphics have that unrefined yet appealing and consistent palette. Sure, it looks a bit dated, but so did all the GTA games. However, there is some improvement in overall collision detection and detailing, as bullets and vehicles collide with bodies and objects in a much more realistic manner. Pieces of the car snap off and go flying, and up-close design and detail is actually quite good, which means the city appears even more alive. The draw distance is mediocre at best, but all in all, the graphics are about what we'd expect. Nothing spectacular, but certainly passable and even quite solid.
The sound in a game like this is more subjective than normal, simply because the setting requires a realistic depiction of early-‘80s music. If you're not a fan of that stuff, you likely won't enjoy any of the soundtrack, but if you do, you're in for a real treat. There is a great deal of licensed music from that time period, and best of all, from the movie soundtrack itself. Furthermore, instead of radio stations in vehicles, the soundtrack runs through the entire game, regardless of what you're doing. Just set it to shuffle and switch with the Select button, or pick your favorites from the great selection in the menu. The effects include some great voice acting, but the tracks and effects don't gel well together. Everything else works nicely, though, and the sound is definitely one of the best aspects of Scarface.
The game kicks off with a brief tutorial to get you accustomed to the controls - all pretty straightforward, although we didn't like being forced to choose either both normal x and y-axes or both inverted - and then really strikes a high note with the intro. Prior to the game, you get a full preview trailer of the actual movie (it appears to be the original trailer), and then you get a fantastic montage after completing the first mission: survive the massive firefight at the end of the movie. The whole point of the game is to examine what might happen if Tony Montana had managed to get out of that mess alive, and how he might rebuild the empire.
That's exactly the kind of thing we wanted to see; although fans probably wanted to play through something they'd recognize (ala the actual film's storyline), this adds something fresh to the Scarface theme. You're tossed out into the cold cruel world, mostly penniless and a wanted man, and the first step is reacquiring the mansion from some corrupt Vice officers. Unfortunately, this is where things take a turn for the worse, simply because the developers choose to abandon almost any semblance of realism for a more streamlined GTA-ish style. It's not a glaring flaw, but it infects the majority of the game, which leaves the player going, "um...okay."
For example, after the authorities swarmed the bashed and bloodied mansion and its grounds, obviously seizing it and more than likely beginning a massive Montana search, you'd think it'd be difficult to operate. You'd think it'd take more than a mere $10,000 to retrieve your mansion from two corrupt Vice cops, and you'd think you'd have to bribe a whole lot more higher-ups to stay off your back for a while. But really, all you have to do is reestablish some crucial connections, make a few easy cocaine moves on the street, and work your way back, with only limited hindrances from the law. Normally, this wouldn't be a bother, but despite the good setting, it seemed more fantasy than anything else.
The controls are another problem. They're just not as stable as GTA; both the character movement and driving mechanics are slightly inferior to any GTA title, and the targeting system isn't much better. However, the latter is accessible to those who don't consider themselves hardcore gamers, and unlike GTA, you can use walls for cover like Metal Gear Solid. And even though many battles don't always offer the opportunity to shoot around walls, it's a nice option to have, and both the reloading and weapon usage is well constructed and properly depicted.
But getting back to suspending our belief for a second, there are two other nifty features in the game that are entirely fantastical but still awfully useful. The first is Tony's "Blind Rage" ability: when hurt, this gauge builds - you can also build it faster by taunting your enemies - and when it maxes out, you can go into a Blind Rage. When Tony is in this adrenaline-charged haze, the screen switches to first-person for a while, and he's invincible. Also, for any foes he dispatches in that Rage, he actually gets extra health, so it's an immensely helpful ability, however unrealistic it may be. The other feature is just plain comical-Tony can "fast-talk" cops by simply putting away his firearm and letting an officer question him. An image of a circle pops up, and the circle fills over a short span of time. If you can time it so you stop the filling circle right before it completes one rotation (not even remotely difficult), you succeed and get off scot-free. This same format is used for pulling off street deals as well, but at least that makes a bit more sense. With this fast-talking thing, you could literally shoot up a dozen innocents, then merely time a circular gauge correctly and bam!...it's like nothing happened. But speaking of shooting on the streets of the city, there is one particularly curious aspect of your freedom...
Tony will not shoot women or children. You can try, but the game won't let you. If you aim at a woman and go to pull the trigger, nothing happens and he says something like, "I'm no vermin," or, "I'd shoot myself before I did that." If you recall the film, you'll remember Tony refusing to kill a woman and child in a car (which ultimately caused his downfall), so perhaps this little limitation is paying homage to that character's moral limitations. Granted, he didn't have many, but clearly, that was one of them, and it's faithfully recreated in the game. This is definitely a plus, and something we absolutely needed to mention. Bravo on that one, Radical Entertainment.
Another excellent facet of this game is the inclusion of employees in your empire; you can hire drivers and other workers to either assist you directly or carry out a variety of errands. This greatly increases the depth and strategy, thereby allowing for a more immersive feel and a more fulfilling experience. And lastly, by only being allowed to carry a certain number of items and weaponry at once, you really have to plan in advance before undertaking certain missions. When progressing through the game, however, this heavy dose of reality conflicts heavily with the speed and ease with which you accomplish your goals.
Scarface: The World Is Yours is a fun game, in all honesty, and it's even better for big fans. It's just too bad the control didn't live up to expectations, and the game proceeds in a mostly unbelievable manner. The city is large and teeming with life, sporting more vivacity and liveliness than any GTA populace, but not enough of it is utilized. You do get to visit blood banks to refill your health, drop off acquired funds at the bank, purchase all kinds of goodies, and basically be the man around town, but it all feels somewhat stripped down and clunky. Ironically enough, despite all the frills, they all seem disjointed and even superfluous, which essentially means the individual pieces are better than the whole.
When it comes to fanservice, though, Radical and Vivendi have produced a winner in every sense of the word. They do a good job placing you in the Scarface atmosphere, and Tony Montana is as big a badass as ever. With all that music, with all that attitude, and with all that charisma and panache, it can't help but hook every avid fan of the movie. And clearly, that's what it has done. It's just not polished enough for us to give it a hearty thumbs-up for all gamers, that's all.
12/28/2006 Ben Dutka