Reviewed: October 12, 2006
Released: October 10, 2006
“Say hello to my little friend”; famous last words spoken by one of cinema’s most enduring and colorful characters back in 1983 and the first words you will hear in the 2006 videogame sequel, Scarface: The World is Yours.
“Now hold on just a minute,” you ask. “Didn’t Tony Montana die at the end of that movie?” Well, yes he did, but it only takes two small words to change history and open up all sorts of new possibilities. "What if". What if Tony didn’t die in that massive assault on his mansion? What if he escaped and what if he got really pissed off and is coming back to retake Miami by extreme force. Well, you might just have yourself a video game.
Scarface debuted in 1983 and pretty much flopped at the box office. It wasn’t until the movie released on video that word of mouth turned this sleeper flick into mega-hit, and who would have guessed that 20 years later when the special anniversary edition release, two million copies would fly off the shelves in one week making it the number one selling live action DVD of all time. Tony is indeed very much alive, in the hearts of his fans and as the lead character of Radical’s new action title available for console, PC and even the PSP.
It takes some “balls” to tamper with a cult classic like Scarface, but Radical was determined to make this the most authentic true-to-movie experience you could have, despite taking a few liberties with the ending of the film. David McKenna (Blow, American History X) crafted a Hollywood quality script that not only blends this new alternate reality with the original movie, but also brings all of the established characters, and a few new ones, to life with fantastic dialogue and attitude.
Scarface might look like your classic, open-ended, large-scale crime game. With numerous GTA games and more recently, The Godfather, there is certainly ample material for comparison, but Scarface takes a fresh approach to the formula by asking the player one simple question, “What would Tony do?” then rewarding you for playing in that mindset. Those who have seen the movie will know that despite being a ruthless kingpin, Tony lives by a strict code of ethics. He won’t kill innocent people and he “won’t fuck over anybody who didn’t have it coming”.
Scarface is a game of unparalleled scale. The entire city of Miami is recreated with stunning detail and accuracy, including all the surrounding areas like South Beach and even the various interlinking waterways that are fully explorable by various watercraft or even by swimming. The game is so massive in fact, that it takes two sets of opening credits to kick it off, one for the stars and one for the music credits.
After the custom chainsaw THX logo has quieted down and you are picking up all the stuff that has shaken off the walls, the game kicks off with a killer opening movie montage that basically recaps the entire original film in about three minutes. The heavy metal music gets faster and faster and the clips start flying by and the names of more actors than I care to count are materializing out of swirls of cocaine then blowing away. It’s awesome!
The opening menu puts you in Tony’s impressive study; you know the one with the large desk and banks of video surveillance monitors and a gun rank that would make Charlton Heston envious. Tony rushes to the gun rack and pulls out that famous assault rifle and the action kicks off with a BANG! “Say hello to my little friend.”
For those who have never played an action game like this before, you might want to check out the tutorial. It offers some useful hints for playing the game as well as a few new innovations like the advanced targeting system and the new Balls and Rage meters. Interestingly enough, the training level takes place in Castro's Cuban prison camp that Tony must escape from. This is mentioned in the film but never seen. You can access the tutorial from the main menu or if you die during the opening level, which also serves as in-game training.
In keeping with the design premise that focuses on playing as (and like) Tony Montana, the designers have incorporated a Balls system, so everything cool that you do is rewarded with balls that slowly fill a circular meter. Once filled, you can unleash this as a Rage event where the screen turns red and you switch to first-person and auto-target anybody in sight. Each kill fuels your health gauge, and the entire experience is quite simply, explosive, regardless of how many times you end up doing it throughout the game.
Scarface offers countless things to do and infinite ways to do them. Obviously, gunplay is at the core of the design and Radical has done a few interesting things with it. You are free to aim and shoot in a manual targeting mode, simply by lining up the crosshairs and squeezing off a few rounds. Manual shots, especially headshots score much more towards your Balls meter. Once an enemy is down you can even taunt their corpse for additional balls.
Driving is another core element of Scarface and there are dozens of cars to drive ranging from the random civilian traffic on the street to a host of exotic rides you can purchase with your drug money. Jacking cars is just as easy as it is in those other games, but the cops have a much greater awareness in Scarface, so it’s best to stick with cars you actually own. To that end, one of the first people you can “hire” is a driver. Just call him using your handy satellite phone interface and he will deliver your requested car right to your location, anywhere in the city and even ride along shotgun on your next mission. And if you have hired the arms dealer he’ll even load up the trunk with all your available weapons.
This leads into another interesting element of gameplay. Tony can’t carry his entire arsenal with him at all times, so you will need to use some strategy in picking which weapons to take into certain situations. Of course, you can always return to your vehicle and switch out weapons as needed, which is certainly more convenient than having to go all the way home or to a gun shop.
Another major element of gameplay is the Intimidation meter, which is used for everything from dealing drugs, negotiating interest rates, fast-talking your way out of a potential arrest, and even intimidating people. The meter is basically that old-style circular meter that anyone who has ever played computer golf with instantly recogniz. You press and hold the button to start the arc and release within the designated “success zone”. This zone changes sizes based on what you are doing, but the closer you can get to a full meter, the more bonuses (and balls) you get for that situation.
Miami is a huge place and while you were off recovering from the mansion battle Sosa has divided the city up into turfs and handed them out to the rival gangs, many of which you’ll remember from the movie. You’ll now need to go in and take back these turfs, acquire businesses to generate income, and protect those business from being taken back from you. The entire process reminded me very much of EA’s The Godfather, only with a little more pizzazz.
There are four gangs at work in Miami and these all influence the economic and social atmosphere with complex systems like Gang Heat that determines their aggressiveness towards you and Gang Nests that represent clusters of enemies that need to be cleared out. Clear out these nests to slowly take back the city. Gang Heat also influences everyone else’s attitude towards you including drug dealers and especially the cops.
Drug dealing is another core element of Scarface. You’ll start off with small dealers and small quantities, but eventually you’ll own and operate a cocaine factory in the islands and start moving massive quantities into the city and storing it in warehouses located in your acquired turf.
Money is what makes the world go round, or at least Tony’s world and there is a fairly complex monetary system in place. First off, any money you make is considered “dirty money” and subject to confiscation if you are apprehended by the police. To protect your cash, you will want to launder that money through your local banker, for a nominal fee of course, but this fee can be negotiated using the Intimidation meter. Once money is in the bank you cannot lose it. And if times get tough, you can always head to the local Sperm Bank and convert your balls into cash.
Once you start raking in the cash by the tens of millions you will want to splurge a bit and live the life of a real drug lord. Scarface offers a huge selection of “Exotics” ranging from cars, clothing, and furniture, to some really off-the-wall items like King Tut’s Sarcophagus, The Liberty Bell, and the Apollo Space Capsule. I mean, what else are you going to buy when you have a spare 20-30 million lying around doing nothing?
Your cash, completed missions, and number of exotics all fuel your reputation, which in turn gauges your success in the game, almost like experience levels in an RPG. As your reputation rises more options will become available to you. You can buy businesses, which in turn offer their own perks. Buying the limo company gets you a free limo upon request, and buying the record company gets you new music in your soundtrack list.
There are eight levels of rep in the game, and it’s very interesting to see how the general population and story-driven characters all start to slowly change their attitude about you. You’ll get a lot of verbally disrespectful people at the beginning and there will be some fights when you jack a car, but later in the game people will just offer you their car keys.
We’ve already covered Tony’s moral code, so what happens when you are asked to do something unsavory? Well, you hire somebody else to do it. Tony can hire a driver, an enforcer, and even an assassin, none of which are obligated to follow Tony’s code of ethics. Once purchased, you can swap to these characters as the need arises.
Obviously, you lose the mansion in the opening level, but you’ll quickly be able to purchase it back from the corrupt DEA agents at which time you can start repairing and redecorating using the “Pimp Your Mansion” option from the menu. Here, you can place all of those exotic items you have been buying and your mansion will slowly evolve into something totally unique unlike any other person who is playing the same game. There are also various themes you can choose from to change the overall tone of the mansion.
Another cool feature that exploits Tony’s love for the ladies are the Femme Fatales, five gorgeous (and dangerous) women you will meet up with over the course of the game. These women are unlocked as your reputation increases and once you are able to “attract” them they will come to live your mansion granting you additional rep and gameplay bonuses.
Aside from all these core activities you can also engage in all sorts of other time consuming diversions like gambling or participating in various street races around town. Just make sure you are driving an exotic car because nothing you can jack off the street can compete in these races – and that tip comes right from the programmer who created the races. Exotic vehicles also offer more armor to protect Tony in the numerous car combat sequences. You have full 360-degree combat capability while driving cars and boats.
Miami is not the only thing that is impressive in scope and scale. The city is populated with thousands of NPC’s and you can engage in up to 250 unique conversations (they are actually counted and rewarded with balls as you complete them), some up to eight lines of dialogue deep. It becomes quickly addictive to just start running around the streets looking for interesting people to talk to, and these conversations are not random. They are tied to specific characters based on their look and what they might be doing at the time you talk to them.
You might talk to a pimp about his career choice, or proposition the hot women lying around the pool sunning themselves. You can chat about tantric sex with one girl or get a jock to switch from steroids to coke so his junk doesn’t shrivel up. And even when you don’t hit on one of the 250 unique conversations, the game does a fantastic job of mixing and matching the various dialogue lines to create something original and always hilarious.
There is so much to see and do in Scarface that you might never actually complete the game. Sure you can finish the story and max your rep and purchase all the items, but in a living breathing game world like this, it would be impossible to see and do everything that is dynamically possible. Plus, there are all sorts of hidden things the programmer have snuck in like a shark that will eat you if you swim too far out to sea or a special “Rockford” kudo when you pull off a reverse-180.
Anyone who has seen the movie will vouch for the over-the-top violence and casual dropping of the F-bomb about every other sentence. This has been flawlessly recreated within the game insuring an ESRB rating of Mature, and parents should take note. Blood is shed at every stage of the game, and the language and sexual references are woven seamlessly into casual conversations. “What’s that on your face?” to which Tony responds, “Your wife’s pussy” is just one early example. Tapping the taunt/talk button after a kill with unleash a stream of profanity that fuels your balls meter and if you tap that same button when nobody is around Tony will turn into a drug lord with Tourette Syndrome.
Even the interface is Mature, with the added ability to individually target left and right testicles, dismember and decapitate enemies and watch them grasp at a stump spouting blood like a Vegas fountain, and even the Mission Fail screen that proudly proclaims, "YOU FUCKED UP". Make no mistake, with all the language, violence, and sexual references, Scarface is targeted for adults and has the potential to be the most controversial game ever made.
Admittedly, I have become quite the graphics whore as of late. I spend most of my console time on the 360 these days so it was definitely a trip back in time when I started to play Scarface on the Xbox, but the game looks good…really good for the system you are playing it on. First and foremost, the game supports 720p, which really takes this game up a notch from a lot of the competition on the same system. This really helps clean up the jaggies and makes the textures pop.
Interestingly enough, the cutscenes are all created with game engine graphics and looks noticeably better than when you are actually in control of the game. Character animation is excellent whether you are checking out the dancing babes at the poolside bar or analyzing the mo-capped swagger of the guy they got to imitate Al Pacino.
Cars look fantastic, each with their style and performance, and each with their own deformable models that depict various levels of damage ranging from a bent fender to a gratifying explosion when you have punished the car beyond repair. There is a nice physics engine at work here that definitely favors fun over realism, offering that same twitch control driving that GTA veterans have come to expect.
The watercraft in the game look just as good and offering their own unique handling challenges as you must learn to work with a very realistic wave physics system that keeps the ocean and waterways in constant motion. This is even more apparent when you are swimming.
Equally impressive, there are no load screens when going from outdoors to indoor environments. Saints Row players have come to expect this as the norm, but to have streaming level loads of this caliber on a last-gen system is unheard of and totally impressive. It also keeps you immersed in the game at all times. The same can be said for the satellite phone menu that serves as your gateway to gameplay options for soundtrack and saving your game as well as options for Tony to make within the game like calling for help or purchasing new exotics.
The city map is quite massive and there is the now-expected GPS system in place that allows you to designate your destination on the map then have the game plot your course with a series of “turn here” arrows while you drive. It works quite well and I never got terribly lost – and the more you drive around Miami and learn its complicated network of roads and alleys, you’ll start to plot your own routes and discover sneaky shortcuts.
Miami comes alive with an accelerated night and day cycle as well as authentic Florida weather, which translates to “it’s rains five times a day for only a few minutes”. All of this dynamically changing atmosphere keeps the game fresh, even after you find yourself driving around the same city for 40-50 hours. There are also some missions and events that can only happen at night.
There weren’t any I-Pods or MP3 players back in Tony’s day, so your music interface takes on the classic appeal of a cassette player. This gives you access to a massive library of vintage 80’s tracks as well as carefully selected modern hits that fit with the overall theme of the game. And by putting the music with the character, you can listen to it in and out of the cars and choose what you want to hear when you want to hear it. You are no longer at the mercy of a radio station DJ.
You can pick from an assortment of genres to create your own mix-tapes (play lists) and purchase new music or just buy the record company to own it all. Rock, hip-hop, jazz, classical, country, and classic 80’s is all available, or if you want the totally authentic experience, simply switch on the actual Moroder score from the movie and retake Miami.
When it comes to the voice acting it would probably be easier to list who’s NOT in this game. The open movie montage has cast members blurring by so fast but here are a few key players. Richard Roundtree, Steven Bauer, Robert Davi, Jason Mewes, Jillian Barberie, Cheech Marin, Tommy Chong, Wilder Valderrama, Jay Mohr, Michael Rapaport, James Woods, Michael York, and a totally amazing and convincing performance from André Sogliuzzo as Tony Montana. And that’s only about half of the cast.
All of these professionals turn in readings that bring this game experience to life unlike anything else in the genre, even when you can’t quite identify the star power behind the game character. This is Hollywood meets game design in its purist form, and if there are any awards for ensemble cast performance this game goes straight to the nomination list.
Sound effects are as equally as impressive. The movie is currently being re-released in a new Platinum edition with each and every sound effect remastered and reinserted into the film. I can only assume this same treatment was applied to the game because Scarface is powerful. Guns sound amazing and there are multiple levels of environmental effects going in when you are outside. Head into a club and you will hear dance music as well as multiple layers of conversation. Walk along the beach and hear the seagulls and waves lapping onto shore.
The entire sound package was mixed at Skywalker sound by Academy Award-winning sound designer, Randy Thom and optimized for THX so you can be sure this game is going to provide you with a totally cinematic experience worthy of the film releasing alongside it.
No matter how hard you try to rush the experience, Scarface is going to take upwards of 20-30 hours just to finish the story, and that’s if use a walkthrough or cheat codes. Playing the game as intended will easily take 40-50 hours of dedicated gameplay just to finish the story, and at least another 20 hours to get a 100% completion, which offers its own outstanding reward. I haven’t even done it yet, but I know what it is and I will keep plugging away toward that lofty goal.
Considering you have to restore your rep, acquire one million balls points, seduce all five femme fatales back to the mansion, acquire and hold all the turfs and businesses that go along with them, and purchase every exotic item in the game, Tony has his work cut out for him. You can check your progress in the stats screen at any time, but plan on a month or more of solid gaming to take back the world and everything in it. “The World is Yours” is the perfect tagline to sum up the unlimited gameplay potential that Scarface offers.
I am truly amazed at the range of scores Scarface: The World is Yours has been getting. I’m guessing the low scores are coming from people who are either rushing through the game or have no prior knowledge of Tony Montana and the movie that inspired the game. Admittedly, those who have seen and enjoyed the movie are certainly the target audience, but Radical has done a great job in making this game accessible to anyone who loves these action-style crime games.
And while Scarface does share a lot of similarities with other games in the genre, there are plenty of new and original concepts at work that truly set this game apart from the competition. No other game I can recall has ever challenged me to think and play from the mindset of an established, albeit fictional character. That alone is worth checking out.
Scarface has been in the works for more than three years now and the end results are nothing short of spectacular given the systems it is releasing for. Once you get past the dated (yet polished) graphics, you can settle in for an epic tale of revenge that just oozes with cinematic style in every element of the game. Ultimately, you’ll come to love Scarface as much as the designers and voice actors who have worked so hard to bring it to you.