Man, I was obsessed with Scarface as a teenager. It’s still one of my favorite crime movies today, but back when I first watched it, I went crazy over Tony Montana. If I knew what fanfiction was back then, I’d probably have written Scarface fics. Hell, I might even have written the story for Scarface: The World Is Yours.
This 2006 game by Canadian developer Radical Entertainment acts as a sequel to the movie. Here, Tony barely makes it out of the final battle alive. He retreats into obscurity while plotting his vengeance, only to return to a Miami that is very different from the one he left behind. Old allies have abandoned him and rival gangs took over his vast domain. He’ll have to build it all up again from scratch if he’s too stand any chance of overthrowing Sosa.
Comparisons to Grand Theft Auto are inevitable. Scarface is yet another open-world crime sandbox where, like in San Andreas, you compete for control of city districts. Actually, Scarface feels like a blend of GTA, The Godfather, and a bit of Mafia. With some novel ideas of its own to try and tie it all together.
As a sandbox game, Scarface nails the freeroam appeal for me. Miami makes for a fantastic setting to explore, thanks to the wonderful layout of its map. It’s full of landmarks and shortcuts, as well as streets that are just fun to race around on. The selection of cars is also great, so some of the best fun I had in Scarface was speeding around the city in luxurious sportscars. This is also helped by the wonderful selection of music on the game’s radio, which spans many different genres and popular artists.
Though the game is a crime sandbox, there isn’t really much crime you can do. Tony will refuse to hurt civilians, to the point that they can effortlessly recover from even the most devastating traffic accidents or explosions. Your mayhem is limited exclusively to fellow criminals, who you’ll only find in preset bases hidden around the map. The only crime you can do is dealing drugs, which loses its appeal quickly.
Unlike GTA, there really isn’t any way to cause serious mayhem. In fact, if you do antagonize the police, you’ll be thrust into an unwinnable scenario that likely kills you in 2 seconds tops. You are a crime lord, not a common crook. As it turns out, however, being at the top is kinda boring.
The game uses a mission-based structure. With few exceptions, all of these will end in a firefight of some sorts. GTA could feel gimmicky at times, but at least made an effort to make story missions feel memorable. Here it’s shootout after shootout, with the only meaningful activities between them being dealing drugs or clearing out rival gangs. And fighting gangs is just more shootouts.
This becomes an issue, because gunfights in Scarface are outright horrible. Weapons feel alright to use by themselves, but the game pulls you in two directions at once. On the one hand, it wants you to be reckless. Tony builds up rage by executing enemies point blank and taunting his enemies. You can wield chainsaws or entire machine guns, which are hardly subtle weapons. However, your health pool is too small to make that kind of playstyle viable. I am not kidding when I saw that, late-game, enemies can instant-kill you with a single well-placed shot. Shots they will land more often than you’d expect.
There is a cover system, but it only works sort-of. You can stick Tony to walls, but the game is picky about which walls actually allow this. Even if you do find a comfy spot, bullets can still hit you fairly easily while shooting back has just become a lot harder. Not to mention, many missions, especially the optional gang hide-outs, will spawn enemies all around. You can’t take strategic cover when the game will just deep strike a dude with a shotgun right on top of you.
These firefights are only part of the game’s overarching problem: it won’t let you have fun nor feel accomplished. Every activity is designed to be a bother, every bit of progress arduous.
For example, even if you deal with the respawning enemies and steep odds of clearing bases, there is still the police to content with. Rather than GTA‘s star system, Scarface has a meter build up that draws more and more police attention. If it fills up, or you fire a gun with police nearby, you’ll be prompted to start fleeing. There is no way to win here. You either abandon whatever task you were on and go through the several steps needed to retry it later, or you try to finish up and run out of time to escape the police.
The police will come after you, even if you are just defending yourself. If you get attacked by gangs or they assault one of your businesses, fighting back puts YOU in police crosshairs. And losing a business in this game is incredibly painful.
Trying to invest in ways to fix these problems is meaningless. If you buy the fastest cars available, you’ll find police and mission NPCs still rubberband to and from you. You can’t outrun a cop car, even on an empty highway. Or how about those businesses? You can invest extensively in defending them, only to find all of your defenses evaporate when it’s actually attacked. I have literally never seen my AI guards kill a single enemy. They just barely buy you enough time to race over there yourself, after which it costs a fortune to get everything repaired and replaced. Maybe even more than you actually make from that business.
You gain reputation for everything you do and leveling up your reputation unlocks the next batch of story missions. This seemed like a good way to encourage players into doing side-activities, except these don’t nearly affect reputation enough. Doing every mission, optional objective, and clearing out every gang may only fill your reputation meter up about halfway. For everything else, you need to spend money on the catalogue.
You’ll have to pile millions into buying decorations, cars, and other tat, for no other purpose than to farm reputation. Millions that are very hard to come by. A drug deal on the streets or winning a big race will give you a few thousands. One of the game’s repeatable missions will, at late-game, give maybe 200,000 if you’re super lucky. The only real money makers are gang hide-outs—which are finite—and driving around to collect profits from your businesses.
That last one may sound tempting, but you need to do multiple repeatable missions before you’re allowed to do one of these runs. During a collection run gangs will try to blow up your car and businesses get attacked left and right, sometimes from so far away that you literally won’t be able to make it in time. And remember, if you defend your business, the police will still come after you! Die, lose the car, or be arrested, and you lose all that money and all the time you sank into collecting it. It’s a nightmare every time, but you’ll have to grind it out for hours to get the necessary funds.
Remember, you need to do this, just so you can bribe the game into letting you continue the story. A story that isn’t even that spectacular, outside of a select few moments.
Most of the plot feels static and low on stakes. Tony just waltzes back into Miami, gets his mansion back within the first hour, and starts taking the fight to established gangs with little to no retribution. You sometimes get angry voice calls from your rivals, but they don’t actually fight back in any way. They’re literally just sitting around, waiting for you to storm in and kill them.
Most missions are tied to the businesses you can buy up, leaving few for the actual main story. This makes the overall plot feel uneventful, and provides Tony with little opportunity for growth. His only shining moment comes in a side-mission, where he feels faint upon returning to the Sun Ray Hotel. The game does have some comedic moments and lots of silly dialogue. It feels out-of-tone with the movie, but at times works well as a parody of Scarface instead. I am just not sure if that’s what they were aiming for here.
I guess the overarching question is: what could you really expect of a game adaptation of a then 23-year-old movie. I do admire that the game tries to distance itself from GTA with its own spins on the open-world formula. Its execution is just too deeply flawed. So much of the game is a slog to play through, with constant annoyances at every turn. I felt disheartened with how slowly I was progressing and contemplated dropping the game numerous times, especially whenever I hit another big paywall.
What few appeals the game has are soured by hours of grinding and combat that feels deeply unfair. Just revisit GTA for the umpteenth time instead.