While big studios like 2K and EA are finally starting to explore the world of browser-based games aimed at a hardcore audience, they're still playing catch-up to indie studios like Kabam. And Kabam is fighting to make sure catching up won't be easy. The studio announced a partnership with Paramount today to bring The Godfather to the free-to-play gaming space with The Godfather: Five Families. Unlike Farmville, Mafia Wars, or other casual Facebook games, you're not just tending to buildings, then waiting for other players to help you out by sending you items to expand your mini-empire; The Godfather plays out more like a real-time strategy game. You'll team up with other players in real-time, creating your own crime syndicate and working together to take down rival families.

While I briefly saw a working build of the game, I didn't get to see much actual action. But it looks like gameplay will be an extension of what Kabam learned Global Warfare: once again, you have a rock-paper-scissor combat mechanic, with a wide array of different soldiers to summon and level up -- from basic brainless Thugs to sharp-dressed Professionals. You're still farming resources and controlling sections of a map, but this time you're doing it in 1930s New York, complete with familiar landmarks like the Empire State Building.

But the most immediately striking thing about the game is the art direction, which you can check out yourself in the screenshots below. Set in the period preceding the events of the film, this Facebook game captures a look that we'd be happy with on an downloadable XBLA or PSN title.

The full game isn't available yet, but registration to jump into the beta has begun over at Kabam.com. The game should be up for testing in the next couple weeks, so if you're eager to rise up to Don of a Prohibition Era crime family, you'll get the chance to try soon.

This article originally appeared on GamePro.com as The Godfather Returns in this Surprisingly Hardcore Facebook Game