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The Player 

by Marty Demarest & r & & r & The Godfather: The Game, Rated Mature, PS2, Xbox, PC, 1 out of 5 Stars & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & believe in America and in the artistic power of capitalism. Filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola established his professional reputation, a movie empire and the careers of his family -- Sofia alone is worth it -- on the long-term success of The Godfather. The film has survived decades of controversy, chopped-up TV broadcasts, tasteless parodies, and worst of all, critical adoration. I didn't think a videogame version of The Godfather could hurt.

The film is a relatively talky affair, with only a few operatic interludes of violence. Much of the day-to-day extortion and whacking happens off-screen. Videogames, however, with their ceaseless action, are the perfect medium for on-screen whacking and extorting. This leads me out of the film and onto the streets. Moments after invoking the cool Mafia mood of the movie, The Godfather: The Game shatters it by making me hijack vintage cars and head across a drab, flat New York City to "push a button on a guy."

My favorite form of button-pushing is strangulation. It works well against the game's phenomenally unintelligent gangsters. Seeing me without a weapon in my hands, my enemies put away their pistols and shotguns and start grappling with me. Once I have them in my grip, I simply ram my thumbs down onto the controller buttons. The plastic creaks and bends like cartilage over an Adam's apple. If the game system's vibration function is turned on, I can feel my victim's quivering pulse beneath my thumbs until he collapses. It's satisfyingly quiet compared to beating his head against a nearby wall.

I could also push buttons all day by scaring nice digital Jewish girls. I just break the cash registers at their restaurants, and then take cuts off their incomes. Often their businesses front back-room operations such as shipping rackets or gambling dens. If I go in with my Tommy gun blazing, I can usually walk out with a new line of income for the Corleones. Of course I keep a little. I need to keep myself in new suits and seedy apartments.

When I'm not playing Mafia Monopoly, I'm pushing buttons behind the scenes -- scenes from the movie. Remember that horse head in the bed? Well, I helped get it there. I had to sneak past a lazy maid and a paranoid butler to do it. And remember the gun that was hidden behind the toilet -- the gun that Michael shot Sollozzo with? I put it there. But perhaps my worst crime was watching entire scenes from The Godfather re-created and regurgitated by one of the most unattractive game engines ever devised.

THE GOOD: Videogames may be the only believable way for Robert Duvall to get his hair back. He's a welcome presence, since James Caan sounds like he's smoked his charisma away, and none of the other voice-actors betray a shred of talent.

THE BAD: The car-crashy mayhem ruins whatever Mafia mood isn't already ruined by the blurry, beige-looking city. New York, according to The Godfather: The Game, is a tangled corridor of bland buildings. Sidewalks are populated with loitering pedestrians made up of three men, two suits, and one voice. Enemy mobsters display even less variety.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The Game shows The Godfather no respect.

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