Seven years ago, HBO sold "The Sopranos" to TV viewers with the image of a brooding mobster who was stressed by his mother, his wife and kids and was starting to see a shrink.
So what's the hook for "The Sopranos" video game? Breaking arms.
"The player is going to be in there and cause some damage," said Brendan Docherty, a marketing coordinator for the game's publisher, THQ.
There won't, he said, be any therapy in the game.
On Tuesday, in a penthouse hotel suite two blocks from the TRL studio in New York, THQ hosted a demonstration of the company's summer games, including the newest "WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw" console game and the highly touted, futuristic war-strategy game "Supreme Commander."
In one sun-bleached corner, Docherty held an Xbox 360 controller in his hands and played through a brief demonstration of "The Sopranos: Road to Respect." The 360 version isn't slated for release until early 2007. The PlayStation 2 version launches in November, ideally close to the DVD release of the most recent season of the show, according to Docherty. And while the PS2 version is deeper into development, THQ wanted to show off the better graphics of the 360 build.
And indeed, digital Christopher Moltisanti looks like actor Michael Imperioli's Christopher. Paulie Walnuts looks like the real Paulie. Then they open their mouths.
For now, THQ has scratch voice-over in the game, place-holding the tough talk until the lines from the HBO show's actors can be swapped in their place. Docherty said the main actors recorded their voice-work last week. Tony Sirico, aka Paulie Walnuts, even thought his double sounded a lot like him.
The player's character, Joey LaRocca, is the illegitimate son of whacked Sopranos rat Big Pussy and is voiced by Christian Maelen. Docherty said Maelen was "Sopranos" TV creator David Chase's second choice to play Christopher Moltisanti on the HBO series.
Unlike "Grand Theft Auto," "The Godfather" and this fall's "Scarface" game, "The Sopranos" won't deposit players in what game designers refer to as an open world. Instead it will present a linear, story-driven action experience scored to licensed songs from the likes of Iggy Pop and Queens of the Stone Age, tracking LaRocca's rise from mob soldier to a person of influence.
Along the way, Docherty revealed, the player will be able to play high-stakes Texas Hold'Em with the key members of the family. Indulging a vice of another type, they'll be able to visit the Bada Bing — the place where Docherty started his demo — just for kicks. Acknowledging the topless dancers, he said, "We haven't finalized it with the ESRB [Entertainment Software Rating Board] yet, but we hope to keep it as close to a strip club as can be."
The demo had LaRocca getting an assignment from Paulie to knock heads at a construction site. That's where Docherty was able to demonstrate the punching and grappling systems implemented by the game's developer, Seven Studios. Attacking near an arm might allow a player to break one. Fighting near a table-saw lets players grind their enemy into a spinning blade. Got a guy near a urinal? Tap one of the controller buttons a few times to bang his head on some porcelain and flick the control stick to send him into the wall. The focus is on violence, using fists and improvised weapons like pipes or that saw. And that's what the video game "Sopranos" is all about.
For the fainter of heart, some dialogue options during the adventure allow players to utilize smooth talk instead of tough talk, though it's not clear what the consequences will be. And wanton killing sprees will be somewhat discouraged. "The Sopranos can't go out and murder people randomly," said Docherty, who explained that roughing up too many civilians will generate heat, which in turn needs to be shaken lest it get so bad that the Sopranos will eliminate one of their own — you.
Confirming earlier reports, Docherty said the characters from Tony's home life and that whole domestic aspect of "The Sopranos" lore won't be prominently featured in the game. None of the show's main female characters will be included, either.
Also missing from Tuesday's demo was Tony Soprano, but that omission is short-term. Docherty affirmed that actor James Gandolfini's famous persona will appear in the game. And how has Gandolfini gotten himself prepped for working on a game?
According to Docherty, he got himself a copy of "Grand Theft Auto."