Goodfellas' use of the classic license is questionable, but we still enjoyed building up our mafia empire...
When Goodfellas from I-Play crossed my desk to review, I was pleasantly surprised. I expected to boot up a platformer or semi-overhead action title and mash the center button over and over to bash nameless thugs, with levels vaguely inspired by the classic film. I was delighted to see that the game is actually the game I personally would have made with such a classic mobster license. Goodfellas is a strategy title that puts you in the shoes of an up-and-coming thug trying to build a mob empire by intelligent money (and goon) management skills.
The five ways to earn your illegitimate funds and grow your mob empire are entirely menu-driven - you never actually control a character. The big three are stealing and selling various goods, loaning out cash with ridiculously high interest rates, and just straight-up squeezing folks out of cash for "protection" money. Every task has a corresponding level of difficulty - knocking over a shipment of cigars is a lot easier to pull off than a shipment of diamonds, for example. Once you've chosen a task you then assign it to one of your goons to carry out. Every goon has a skill level, and it's important to make sure their skill is greater than the difficulty of their task, or they'll likely be caught and rat you out to get off the hook.
The game's other two ancillary activities are gambling, and poker with the Goodfellas themselves - Paulie, Tommy, and Jimmy. I ignored both after checking them out once or twice, however. The problem with the gambling is that it's out of balance with the rest of the game. Why risk a ton of money on a horse race or boxing match when the return would be less than if I just loaned it to someone desperate at 80% interest?
The five-card draw poker game also has limited appeal. You're playing against the Goodfellas, but in name only - you never actually see any person or place from the film during poker or the rest of the game. The poker action itself is fairly lackluster. There's little/no animation, the action circles around the table too slowly, and the opponent AI isn't very bright. I never caught the AI bluffing, and I was successful basically by just going through the motions.
Like all good empire-building titles, it's the sense of escalation that makes the experience fun, and it's one aspect of Goodfellas that is nailed almost perfectly. As you (via your assigned goons) pull off more and more jobs you earn more and more respect from the Goodfellas, and your stature within the organization increases. You'll go from intimidating bank tellers to mayors to senators. You'll begin by stealing cheap gin or rusty guns and finish by knocking over deliveries of color TVs and diamonds. By the end of the game my bankroll was in the millions, even though I began with just $10,000.
The fun of building this empire was somewhat limited by the shallowness of the experience, however. You send off goons to perform these same tasks week after week, and it's just a matter of matching their skill with the difficulty of the task. It's almost more difficult to fail than to succeed. Some additional depth would have been welcome. Perhaps you could spend money to "train" your goons to up their skill, or upgrade their weaponry. Perhaps you could have opened shady businesses to launder your money through. There's a lot more that could (and has) been done with mobster sims, as unde-represented as the genre is.
Still, Goodfellas was compelling enough to keep me interested from beginning to end. The use of the license is a little shaky, and the included poker game is basically rubbish, but I still enjoyed building my mafia empire.
What's Hot: Being a mobster is sweet. Knocking over cigarette shipments FTW.
What's Not: The included poker game is rubbish. Strategic gameplay becomes shallow.