Most movies don't translate well into video games. Period.
There are many reasons: Most games fail simply because they are poorly conceived and rushed through production just to capitalize on a movie's success. Some games try to follow the movie's script too closely, which makes it completely predictable and pretty boring. Of course, if developers choose to part ways completely with the script, the player is cheated out of playing in the movie's world.
That's why it's such a pleasant surprise to play both "Reservoir Dogs," from Eidos Interactive, and "Scarface," from Sierra Entertainment. They're not perfect, but they're both fun.
"Reservoir Dogs" and "Scarface" both capture the spirit of the iconic films, and neither shy away from the colorful language that each are known for. And while both are third-person shooters that will have you blasting away in the movies' gangster worlds, you don't need to have seen the films to enjoy the games. Anyone can pick them up and play.
But the coolest thing about these games is that you get to play the star. You are Tony Montana. You are Mr. Blonde.
A whole new ending
"Scarface," which sells for $49.99 for Xbox, PS2 and the PC, breaks the mold of movie games by creating a whole new ending. The game starts near the end of the film, where drug lord Sosa's army has descended onto Tony Montana's private estate to try and assassinate him and destroy his empire. In the movie, Sosa's henchmen succeed. In the game, Montana manages to blast his way to freedom.
Alone, penniless, and with his empire in ruin, Montana vows to rebuild and to take revenge on Sosa.
The rebuilding starts small, with you relearning how to deal drugs and the finer points of intimidating people. You'll also have to reclaim your turf, now occupied by rival gangs. That requires a lot of bullets. A whole lot.
The open-world environment in "Scarface" lets you explore the town freely, and choose between the main mission that moves the game along or the side missions that regain your turf. The gameplay style – and the look of the game world — bear an uncanny resemblance to Rockstar Games' "Grand Theft Auto" series.
In comparision, "Reservoir Dogs," which sells for $29.99 for the Xbox, PS2, and PC, utilizes a "rail" system, so-called because it guides you through the levels along a predetermined path. In other words, you must complete each mission in a particular order. If this sounds limiting, it isn't. And it works perfectly with the movie's storyline.
The film is famous for (among other things) being about a six-man jewel heist where the audience sees the preparation for and the aftermath of the heist, but never the robbery itself. The game lets you play those unseen scenes, and that's why the "rail" works. Even if you've seen the movie and know that the criminals have to move seperately from Point A (the jewel heist) to Point B (the safe house), you really don't know what happens in between.
What happens in between is, as in "Scarface," a whole lot of gunplay — these are, after all, gangster movies. The characters in the film talk about shooting their way to freedom — the game enacts it.
It doesn't matter if the people you're taking out are the police or innocent bystanders, if they get in your way — you remove them. And in fact, the big difference between these two titles is this treatment of cops and civilians. "Reservoir Dogs" has no issues with collateral damage, but "Scarface" won't let you shoot innocents. And while you can kill cops in "Scarface," you'll go farther in the game if you just bribe them instead.
No matter how you choose to deal with the people in your way, the one thing you can't avoid is the bad driving sequences in both games.
They're frustratingly bad, due mostly to the weak driving controls, and they feel like an afterthought, added in because other games have them. Unfortunately you have to get through these elements to get back to the fun shooting parts.
One part both games do well is the voice acting. While Al Pacino did not reprise his role for the game version of "Scarface," the guy they picked, André Sogliuzzo, does a spot-on job. And the game designers caught the look and swagger of Montana exactly.
Michael Madsen did reprise his role for the "Reservoir Dogs" game, so his character, Mr. Blonde, looks and sounds dead on. The rest of the cast didn't, so they look a little "off-model" from the film, but it's not too distracting. The replacement actors did a good job of voicing the cast of characters, especially the guy playing Mr. Pink.
The games have some similarities other than the voice work. Both are rated Mature due to the foul language and violence. And both use meters (graphs that fill up or change color depending on the actions of your character) to help amplify the action.
"Scarface" has a so-called "balls meter" that fills up when you shoot people, and when you taunt your freshly dead enemies. When it's full, you can press a button and go into a "Blind Rage" that temporarily changes the game into a first-person shooter. Doing this not only makes you invincible, you'll actually gain health with every person you kill.
"Reservoir Dogs" has an "adrenaline meter" that fills up by both neutralizing people (in a non-lethal way) and by killing cops. When it's full you can perform special moves specific to your current character, or have a "Bullet Festival." The festival makes the game go into slow motion, and you get to watch your enemies die in a very cinematic way.
But why are these games coming out now, so many years after the release of the films ("Scarface" in 1983, "Reservoir Dogs" in 1992)? The answer: fan base. There's no guarantee that a new movie will catch on with the public, but these films have already cultivated a following.
Thankfully the game-makers have respected these fans and put out games worth checking out. They have their problems, but they're fun to play.