In 2006, video game developer 7 Studios released a game for the PS2 based on one of the hottest properties of all time, HBO’s hit mob drama, The Sopranos. Earlier that year, The Godfather and Scarface had both become successful video games, so there’s no doubt that 7 Studios was expecting a similar reaction to their Sopranos beat ‘em up, especially since they’d gotten much of the original cast involved.
There was only one problem: The game totally sucked.
The Sopranos: Road to Respect received almost exclusively negative reviews when it debuted. To give you an idea, GameSpot wrote, “Road to Respect shoe horns the Sopranos license into a clumsy, poorly designed action game that isn’t the least bit enjoyable to play.” This sentiment was echoed by dozens of other negative reviews, my favorite of which came from the U.K.’s official PlayStation 2 Magazine, which said the game was, “Dull, short, unambitious and misguided, Road to Respect has all the appeal of Big Pussy’s body — after it got riddled with bullets.”
In the years since, the game has fared no better. On occasion, someone might bring it up on Reddit after having discovered, or rediscovered, its existence, only to have the game swiftly denounced by others. Aside from that, it’s been largely forgotten by gamers, Sopranos fans and even by some of those involved with the game.
“Unfortunately, it was so long ago, I don’t fucking have much memory of it,” Joe Gannascoli, who played Vito, tells me. He also professes amazement that James Gandolfini did the game. “That was really Jimmy?” he asks. The only thing he recalls is that the actors all did their recording sessions separately and that he probably received a copy. “I think they sent me the game, but I didn’t know what the fuck to do with it,” he says.
Vincent Pastore, who played Sal “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero, remembers even less. When I ask him if he has any memories of playing the ghost of Big Pussy in the Sopranos game, he gives a simple, one-word reply: “No.” (Yeah, you read that correctly, the game features the ghost of Big Pussy — I’ll get back to that).
But although the game was panned by critics and barely anyone remembers it, there’s at least one gamer out there who’d like to defend the honor of The Sopranos: Road to Respect: Will Evans. Evans, or Willzyyy, as he calls himself online, has more than 520,000 subscribers on his YouTube gaming channel and his videos get thousands and sometimes even millions of views, so, the dude knows games. When it comes to Road to Respect, he says that, “It’s not a masterpiece, but I feel like it’s rather underrated.”
The first thing Evans points to in an attempt to redeem the game is its voice casting. Not only did it include the actual actors who played Vito, Big Pussy and Tony Soprano, it also had the real Paulie, Silvio, Christopher and A.J. as well. This is especially impressive when you consider the fact that so many licensed games are plagued by annoying soundalike voices trying to mimic the real thing. Even the original characters in the game come off well: While Tony’s crew make up the supporting cast, you play as Joey LaRocca, an up-and-coming gangster played by an actor named Christian Maelen, who was a runner-up for the role of Christopher Moltisanti.
Evans also defends the graphics of Road to Respect, saying that, for 2006, “they were actually pretty impressive.” Though not considered breakthrough, the graphics in Road to Respect were at least on par with the graphics of a game like Scarface: The World Is Yours, which was received much more favorably. Evans was particularly impressed by one detail, telling me, “I especially liked the fact that the faces got all bloody and bruised when you fought someone.” A scene that shows this pretty perfectly is the bathroom scene in the Bada Bing! in which you’re smashing a guy’s face into a urinal as Paulie Walnuts reminds you that you still have to pick up his sandwich — it’s pretty faithful to the Sopranos feel.
The environments, too, were very well planned out. Evans says that he enjoys how the Bada Bing! was translated into a video game environment, full of details true to the show. For me, when I was watching Evans’ YouTube walkthroughs, I realized that the game was giving me a better understanding of the club’s layout than the show ever did.
Finally, Evans offers a bit of love to the game’s soundtrack, citing the Mötley Crüe and Slipknot songs as his personal favorites.
So if this game got so much right, why did everyone hate it?
Evans feels that it was mostly a matter of expectation. For one, the game followed The Godfather, Scarface and several Grand Theft Auto video games, all of which offered an open-world experience, and though Road to Respect did have some detailed environments, it wasn’t an open world. Apparently, gamers felt that unless you can go to Satriale’s and get yourself a little gabagool whenever you’re in the mood for it, there’s just no way you were going to capture the true Sopranos experience.
The storytelling, too, was a bit underwhelming. It was never going to capture the cinematic depth of the TV show, but missions like “Get Paulie a Sandwich” don’t exactly make for exciting gameplay, even if that may accurately reflect what it’s like to be a mafia errand boy. And, if you complete the game, it ends with you getting made in outright laughable fashion, with the game prompting you to press X to “Get Made.”
But, to be fair, there were also some admirable aspects about its storytelling, as the game was written to fit perfectly between Seasons Five and Six of the series. As Esquire points out, it can even be considered canon (although that becomes harder to argue when you consider that The Sopranos creator David Chase publicly denounced the game a month before its release).
Another awkward aspect of the storytelling goes back to something I mentioned earlier: the ghost of Big Pussy. You see, your character, Joey LaRocca, isn’t some random dude — he’s the illegitimate son of deceased turncoat Salvatore “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero. Tony and his crew all know this, so Joey isn’t only trying to prove himself, he’s doing so with the burden of being the son of a good-for-nothing rat on his shoulders. Throughout the game, Joey is visited by Big Pussy, similar to how Obi-Wan Kenobi visits Luke Skywalker. The only difference is that, instead of offering inspiring messages via The Force, Big Pussy appears in the Bada Bing’s men’s room mirror to tell his son, “Never wear a dead man’s watch, especially if you whacked the guy.”
Before you totally dismiss this, though, I’d like for you to consider this scene from Episode 28 of The Sopranos. In it, everyone is at Tony’s house following his mother’s funeral, and for a split second, Tony sees the ghost of Big Pussy in a mirror. If you watch closely, you can see that Tony is visibly rattled by it, and no, this wasn’t during some seafood-laden dream sequence, this is when Tony is awake!
So if Tony can see Big Pussy’s ghost within The Sopranos continuity, it’s not so crazy that Puss’ son can, too. And while he may be a fucking rat, we all love Big Pussy; thus, Pastore’s inclusion in the game is as welcome as the rest of this amazing cast, and honestly, reason alone to check out the game. Yeah, it’s hardly compelling storytelling, but it’s still interesting for Sopranos completists to see how the game developers made it fit within the context of the show. Plus, you get to beat up some people along the way and wander around the Bada Bing!.
Just, you know, manage your expectations. The Sopranos: Road to Respect might not be a great game by any definition, but it deserves a little bit of the respect its title is so desperately yearning for.