Pulling Triggers, Not Strings
Mario Puzo’s world of The Godfather seems to be one that’s ripe for any medium to exploit. The dark, seedy underworld and its shady dealings, the importance of family and loyalty, the constant intrigue and deception, the cerebral, almost regal way in which a Don shepherds his flock, it all mixes to produce great books and even better films.
There’s also a lot of potential to create a fantastic video game. Unfortunately, The Godfather II from EA doesn’t capitalize on this potential. Don’t get me wrong; this is a fun game that most mature gamers will enjoy. Subtle tweaks and additions have even made it a better experience than the flawed yet engaging original, and the mixture of action and strategy elements is an addictive combination that provides for a good deal of entertainment. Where The Godfather II disappoints is in its inability to truly capture the essence of the intellectual property. This leads to a game that feels a bit shallow; unable to forge its own identity. Its generic, open-world character leaves the game open to comparison to Grand Theft Auto, a series with which it simply can’t compete. Nevertheless, it is a solid title that I had a lot of fun with; I just see the potential for a whole lot more!
If you’ve played the first game, expect much of the same from Godfather II. This goes not only for gameplay but for presentation as well. In fact, the game seems to be running on an un-tweaked engine. In other words, it looks like a high-quality PS2 title or a very early next-gen offering. The only exception to this is that of explosions – fires and bombs look amazingly realistic and powerful. While character models are accurate – with the glaring exception of Michael Corleone – lips never seem to sync up just right, the animations are often stiff, and subtle bits including texture-less hair and plastic-looking ears make them all seem like Ken dolls. Moreover, there is an obscene amount of pop-in in both the background and foreground. Fortunately, the 60s era and the unique cities come to life via a good amount of attention to detail. Bucking the downward trend, music and voice acting are significantly better than the visual presentation. The remixed Godfather theme, era-appropriate radio stations, and believable dialog between the characters make the aural aspects of this title quite pleasing. I was especially surprised at just how well each of the characters were voiced.
In terms of gameplay, The Godfather II is equal parts action and strategy. As such, players will spend a lot of time roughing up racketeers with their fists and laying siege to rival families’ holdings and compounds with explosives and firearms. However, as the Don, players will also have to settle back, analyze their territory, hire muscle to keep their crime rings running smoothly, and juggle the responsibilities of expanding and cultivating an empire spread across multiple locations. The mix of getting your hands dirty with your thugs and allocating resources from afar is a delightful combo players will enjoy.
On the action side, players will have a host of upgradeable weaponry and underlings with which to do battle. The third-person shooting mechanic is well-implemented. In fact, the sticky yet adjustable auto-aim makes dealing out death very easy indeed; many won’t find the game particularly challenging in that regard. Returning to the game are the brutal Black Hand controls of the original that allow you to use the shoulder buttons and analog sticks, so that bashing people’s heads in and choking the life out of marks is oddly satisfying. The new combo controls for melee combat are much more manageable this time around and also do an effective job of replicating a beat down. On the whole, getting down and dirty with the troops is well-executed, though perhaps too easy for the intended demographic.
The strategy portions of the title are facilitated by the touted Don’s View interface. This glorified map gives you a snapshot of your empire at any time. From this menu, players are able check daily profit and loss statements from their holdings, hire new troops, allocate existing resources, target new business, protect their empire, set waypoints, etc. Pretty much everything you need to do as a Don is at your fingertips. I found this interface to be very manageable – an invaluable resource that made executing strategy a snap.
As you progress through the game, you’ll accrue cash from your rackets, crime rings, bank robbing, and hits that will make it possible to upgrade your army. Improving your soldiers’ skills as fighters, intimidators, and gunmen makes them more effective at administering the will of the family. Because every crew member has a specific specialty (arsonist, safecracker, enforcer, etc.), their list of upgradeable skills will vary. If one proves to be particularly useful, you can promote that soldier to Capo or even under-boss, giving them additional specialties, making them more important to you. These made men are essential to the efficient administration of your family’s empire. Placing one of these men at key holdings will make sure they are never lost to attack, and bringing them along during raids will give you an edge in firefights.
In addition to an upgradeable goon squad, new weapons and perks become available as you progress through the game. Better weapons are simply found laying around key enemy compounds – pick them up and they’ll become useable for all licensed family members. Perks are obtained by establishing crime rings. Crime rings are hard-won, as you’ll have to essentially create a monopoly by controlling every racket associated with a specific type of illicit business (prostitution, drug running, smuggling, chop shops, and more). Once you control that industry in a city, you’ll get bonuses to income and even access to special perks (bullet-proof vests, brass knuckles, armored cars, etc.). Of course, the same is true for your enemies – if they own all the prostitution rackets in town, they’ll brawl with brass knuckles, causing more damage during hand-to-hand combat. While brass knuckles are easily circumvented with firepower, going up against a crew with bullet-proof vests can be quite dangerous indeed. In order to get rid of the pesky body armor, players simply need to take out one of the rackets to disrupt the crime ring – this is where arsonists and demolitions experts come in handy. Why struggle besieging well-armed guards when you can simply blow up the building? Doing so will eliminate their access to the perk, making it easier to take over rather than take out their other businesses, eventually establishing your family as the head of the crime ring.
This same strategy can also be applied to taking over another family’s influence. In order to weaken them, players will have to put out hits on their made men. Executing Capos and under-bosses will have the other family running scared. Of course, taking out these baddies is not simply as easy as putting a bullet in their noggin. You may have to throw them off a building, strangle them, or run them over with a car to be sure the other family gets the message. Finding out these goombas’ whereabouts and their kill condition is simply a matter of doing favors for people around town. In exchange, these contacts will give you information essential to taking out rival made men permanently.
The favor system is further expanded by enforcing the will of more influential figures. Rather than just roughing up a dead beat boyfriend or rubbing out a problematic mother-in-law, you’ll actually hobnob with leaders and officials. Doing so will give you more influence and allow you to cal in favors at anytime. This will help get your army out of jail more quickly, instantly revive fallen comrades, and even get your business rebuilt after a bombing.
Trying to shoehorn everything you can do into this review is futile (for even more in-depth information, check out our interview with the game’s Senior Producer Joel Wade). Suffice it to say, there is lot that can be done in The Godfather II. I really enjoyed upgrading and managing my crew, organizing my holdings in New York, Miami, and Cuba, and battling it out at enemy compounds. The mix of action and strategy made going through the game an entertaining romp. Unfortunately, it didn’t do enough to engage me at a deeper level. All of my actions felt rather superficial and outside of the scope of The Godfather IP. For starters, the idea of family is totally lost in this game. Really what you’re controlling is little more than a gang of thugs – there are no connections to the community, there is no prestige involved, and there are no blood relations. Family and community should be defining portions of the game. Instead, players will simply mow over fellow neighbors with their cars as if they were playing Saints Row. What’s more, running drugs, a very sore spot in the movies, never seems to be a problem for the Corleones in this game. Also, the Don actually puts himself in danger. While I realize Sonny was a hands-on leader, he also didn’t last very long. Players should have simply been able to issue orders to their minions and then take control of the battles by possessing those characters rather than getting the Don in the mix. This may all seem trivial to many gamers but, for me, it makes the game woefully ordinary and indistinguishable from other open-world offerings.
The fact is, GTA does an amazing job of providing players with an open-world that’s full of things to do in a way no other franchise can touch. In that game, you really can shape your experience anyway you see fit. Saints Row does away with that title’s sophistication and gets right down to brass tacks – thug-life with a capital 2. Both these games have defined themselves, endearing them to their intended audiences. However, The Godfather II never does so. As such, it feels like a knock off of GTA rather than a unique and worthy competing franchise. It should have tried to distinguish itself by being more concentrated on the strategy of being the one that pulls the strings. Why do I have to drive from place to place, plastering my flock as I go? Let’s have a little restraint Dominick… What are you; a moron? If it is the Cosa Nostra (Our Thing), why are all of the dealings so out in the open; so brutish and dirty? Truly, all the mechanics seem to be in place to make the game great – the Don’s View interface is exactly what the title needs. However, it just gets bogged down in low-brow, flavorless gameplay that, while fun, never allows it achieve the iconic status the world of The Godfather deserves. In other words, I want to manipulate the political system with bribery and fear, setting up my own city-state as the prince of a horribly influential crime organization. I want to be a corrupt noble, not a petty thug!
Wrapping up the package is the multiplayer features. Players will have several modes of competitive play with which to do their worst. Bombing rival strongholds and putting hits out on Internet friends would be just a standard competitive affair if it weren’t for the intermingling of the single-player with the multiplayer. For example, players will actually be able to play in multiplayer games as their own soldiers. That means all of the upgraded skills and familiar specialties of that enforcer will be at your disposal. Also, unlocking licenses for improving weapons abilities can be achieved through playing online – in essence improving your single-player experience by cruising online. This also holds true for money: Don Control actually lets you wager campaign funds against other Dons online. If you win, you’ll bring home the spoils. Lose, and you could be imperiling your empire. While the multiplayer experience is not nearly as engaging as that found in CoD4 or Halo 3, it manages to outshine that found in GTA IV.
The Godfather II is a solid effort from EA Redwood Shores, but it doesn’t truly live up to its potential. When all is said and done, it is a good game that players will both enjoy and find tedious. Hopefully, the franchise will progress with a third iteration, as sticking to a more complex, strategic-based formula would do wonders for the series. As it stands now, you’ll have fun but wish for a whole lot more!
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.7 Graphics
While the environments, 60s era, and character likenesses are well done, the visuals look like they belong on the PS2. 4.5 Control
The Black Hand controls are a visceral experience, shooting controls are so intuitive they’re almost too easy, and the new Don’s View interface is just what the game needed. 4.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The musical theme is solid and the dialog is very well voiced! 3.8 Play Value
There is an awful lot to do in this game. The problem is, between the original game and GTA, it feels like you’ve done it all before. The incorporation of elements from multiplayer into single-player and vice versa was a nice touch. 3.9 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.