Change The Channel – The Sopranos: Road To Respect

In our Change The Channel series, we explore the history of video games that are based on TV shows, one game at a time. This week, Shaun Eddleston takes a look at 2006’s The Sopranos: Road To Respect for the PlayStation 2…

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On January 10th 1999, HBO premiered a brand new television series that centered around the life of a fictional Italian American mobster (played by James Gandolfini), as he tried to balance his personal life and his criminal organisation. It received critical acclaim across the board, even being hailed as the best television series of all time by TV Guide.

Yes, The Sopranos was a cultural phenomenon, changing the landscape of television in the new millennium, and not only cemented HBO as producers of critically acclaimed and commercially successful television, but showed that serial TV could match up quality-wise to feature-length movies, theater and literature.

It was a big deal, so in 2006, HBO made the decision to capitalise even further on the success of the show by teaming up with THQ and Seven Studios to create a video game exclusively for the PlayStation 2, based on the show itself. With a whole new generation of games consoles on the horizon, you’d expect a big game this far into the most popular platform’s lifecycle to look great, play great and generally just be, you know, great.

The Sopranos: Road To Respect was released in November 2006, and it was far from great. That’s where we’ll begin on part 8 of our “Change The Channel” series…

As stated in an interview with David Chase, the show’s creator, the game has pretty much nothing to do with the actual tv series, so it is set between seasons 5 and 6 of the show. Players take control of Joey LaRocca, a new face in New Jersey and the illegitimate son of Sal ‘Big Pussy’ Bonpensiero. Joey’s down on his luck, and starts out as a simple petty thief on the streets of Jersey. However, one day he’s stopped in front of Satriale’s by Tony Soprano, who recognises the trouble that Joey’s getting into and the pathetic state of affairs that he’s in. Instead of pummeling Joey, Tony gives him a job working for Paulie Walnuts as a new enforcer for the family, which would allow him to potentially become a made man if he pays his dues and follows instructions.

For fans of the show, this new character raises a whole bunch of confusion. Why is Tony Soprano being so out of character by being friendly and giving Joey a break? Why is the “illegitimate son” thing constantly being swept under the rug? This may be down to the fact that out of the whole cast of the tv series, there’s only a handful in the game, so it limits things somewhat.

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The game is slightly different to the wave of mobster games that were released at the time (and we’ll be covering most of them at some point, so watch this space…). Instead of allowing players to freely roam around the city in the style of Grand Theft Auto, Road To Respect follows a more linear, story driven experience.

This restriction to a small, closed-off world is a major drawback. Any money that you earn from missions is almost completely useless as a result, as he only things that you can spend it on are in a game of poker (which just changes your amount of money), or spending it at Paulie’s table, with the reward of behind-the-scenes clips of the voice cast recording their lines and concept art. It all adds up to something completely underwhelming.

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The combat system in Road To Respect is simple, but doesn’t progress in any way. Considering how many fights you will get into during the course of the story, this means that things will start to feel immensely repetitive very quickly. Most of the game’s missions will involve you beating someone up, so the poor collision detection and endless supply of nameless thugs become difficult to ignore.

Gun combat is also a big part of Road To Respect, but pulling out a firearm and wasting someone comes at a price. Using your gun in a public place affects Tony’s respect for you, and should that respect fall too low, he’ll have you killed (though it’s incredibly difficult to let it drop past 95%, so no matter what you do, you’re safe from getting whacked). Having to think about when to shoot instead of mindlessly taking everyone down in a hail of bullets is actually a  blessing in disguise, as the shooting mechanics are somehow even worse than the melee feature.

You can forget about the ability to move the crosshairs, as it automatically locks onto an enemy’s chest. Ducking and covering? Forget about those features too, as you’ll be walking towards hostile enemies in plain sight the entire time.

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If there’s anything positive to salvage from this poor excuse of a Sopranos experience, then it’s the fact that the featured characters from the show are all voiced by their respective actors. Hearing James Gandolfini’s voice goes a long way in helping you ignore the iffy graphics, and adds some authenticity to the game.

Ignoring the graphics is an almost impossible task though, as the sheer amount of glitches and generally crappy visuals that Road To Respect throws at you is incredible. Juddering character models miraculously picking up objects from many metres away, looping death animations and just complete blackouts on the screen (no, not like THAT one). A game that was released this late on for the PlayStation 2 should not look this terrible, but Road To Respect sure does.

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Overall, The Sopranos: Road To Respect is a massively disappointing experience. The combat is mind numbingly repetitive, the graphics glitch out constantly and the missions are unbelievably bland and uninspired. The game constantly feels like the developers rushed to get it released, and it suffers as a result of this. Having the original cast contributing their voices to the project is a plus, but having those voices attached to some terrible character models ruins the immersion somewhat. Instead of the dramatic blend of family, therapy and crime that makes the TV show so critically acclaimed, the video game focuses almost entirely on the mafia side of things, with a whole lotta mindless violence to boot.

Do yourself a favour, watch all six seasons of The Sopranos (even if you’ve already watched it all before!), but avoid The Sopranos: Road To Respect like the plague.

Have you played The Sopranos: Road To Respect? Let us know in the comments below or send a tweet our way!

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