‘Wait, HBO has an Interactive Entertainment division?’ I exclaimed out loud – to no one in particular – as The Sopranos game booted up. I honestly went into this with zero expectations, mainly because I didn’t know how to feel. Watching the bonus materials from the game before playing it was also a mistake. That ended up making me expect more than I would have otherwise. Let’s be realistic – I knew this wasn’t a hidden gem. Hundreds of people have played this game before I got around to it, and there’s barely a positive review out there. However, I still held on to this thin sliver of hope. Would my love of the show see me through? Would hearing the original cast go ‘Marone!’ make a difference? Maybe those bad reviews came from people who hadn’t religiously seen Tony drive his car home at the start of every episode?
With a ton of uncertainty, I waited anxiously. Post-exclamation at the HBO logo, I landed on the main menu, where the first thing I heard was the theme song. How bad could it be if they chose the series theme for the main menu music? A picture of Tony Soprano glared back at me as I selected the new game option. This game seemed like a digital shrine to The Sopranos, a die-hard fan’s fever dream: which is exactly what I had come for.
Fight, fight, fight
Just to be clear – if you do go to the trouble of downloading the .iso off a sketchy website, installing PCSX2 and booting this up (or buying a copy from eBay if you own a PS2) – it’s not the video game equivalent of the show. Sure, much of the main cast provided their voices for the game (James Gandolfini won the VGX Award for Best Supporting Male Performance for his voice acting in Road to Respect) so you know that performances aren’t going to be an issue. So, what is the problem?
At its core, Road to Respect is a beat-em-up. A large part of the game has you brawling with people – from dock workers to drunks at a bar – and the easiest thing you can do in this game is get into a fight. You can unleash a barrage of moves on your opponents and there’s a good variety of them (some have ridiculous names – ‘Sneaky Rat B*stard’ or ‘A**hole Tax’ deserve special mention). In that, this game is enjoyable if vintage brawlers are your thing. However, if you’ve come to the game from the show (as most people probably did) and expect the same quality of writing and attention to detail that you grew used to over the course of 6 seasons, you’re not exactly going to be satisfied.
So, what’s good about The Sopranos game?
One thing I did enjoy was the dialogue choices. You get to choose one of three approaches (Tough, Neutral, Smooth) when interacting with NPCs. The first of those usually ends up getting you in a fight; I relied heavily upon the remaining two to progress through the main story as fast as I could. Throughout the linear storyline, you progress through a variety of levels, from the Bada Bing to a party at a penthouse to the docks. The ‘loot’ scattered across these locations – which could be anything from sunglasses to cocaine – is the closest thing resembling collectibles. You can spend this money by donating it to Paulie Walnuts and earning the respect of the crew in turn. Acting rashly (such as using a gun in public) would make you lose respect; keeping this up would ultimately result in you getting whacked.
Thankfully, there are no revisions made to the show’s storylines; the events there are practically left untouched. If you are in the mood for an old-school button mashing PS2 game, then go for it. If, like me, you’d rather play a Sopranos game that feels like an extended episode – complete with walking into therapy sessions, steering a disintegrating family, dealing with insubordinate Family members (yes, the mob) and tons of tender, heartbreaking moments – welcome to the club. We’re all waiting for the Sopranos game that will probably never come. And maybe it’s better that way.
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