Divide and conquer New York, one city district at a time.
Everyone knows the deal by now; the Corleone mob gets knocked around a little after the assassination attempt on their Don, and the sons of the family move to extract their revenge. The Godfather is a cinema classic, but anyone who missed it on DVD probably picked up most of the plot when they console games released early this year. For the Playstation Portable version of The Godfather, EA has cut a considerable chunk from the explorative side of the original and added the new “Mob Wars” mode to replace it. The result is similar to when you neuter your pet; they simply don’t seem the same, or in this case, nearly as fun.
Unlike the console versions, starting up before any mission begins with a menu. Selecting a mission is on a menu, securing additional ammo for the next mission is in a menu, and switching over the Mob Wars is in a menu. Part of what made the console Godfather unique, or a copycat of GTA depending on how you look at it, was the ability to go anywhere and hassle whatever shop owners you chose. Now, gamers are thrown through menus. Story mode presents the “Reader’s Digest” version of the console story, absent of any driving or exploration. You get a cut scene telling the background of the mission and then you are thrown into the level. Early missions like tailing the Don’s ambulance as it heads to the hospital lose quite a bit of weight and continuity without the driving portion. All we get to do here is watch cars shoot at each other until they get to the bridge.
In place of all the driving and shopkeeper extortion is the PSP exclusive Mob Wars mode, which puts players in control of the Corleone family in their quest to conquer New York City. The game is turn-based with playing cards that activate special abilities, and each turn players can play cards, hire mobsters, and use those mobsters to expand their territory. If a mobster moves into a vacant district, players begin the Extortion mini-game to secure the racket for the family. If the district is occupied by a rival family, then players must blast through the enemy safe house to eliminate their presence in the area. Each turn ends with police raids, based on what families have attracted the most heat in the previous turns.
Mob Wars is no doubt an interesting concept. The game board is arranged and scored similarly to board games such as Risk, where owning more land grants you more power for you next turn. You even get a bonus for owning an entire continent – er, I mean, neighborhood. Strategic placement of your mobsters is also necessary because you can only move one spot per turn, and defending against a rival family’s attacks depend on your mobster presence in the area. Careful care of how you manage your money is perhaps the most crucial aspect of all as it can be taken from you in an instant with the right card. Better to spend it on weapon upgrades or additional mobsters than to let it slip into the hands of your enemy.
Players wondering “Well, if they deleted so much from the rest of the title, shouldn’t Mob Wars be awesome?” may be in for disappointment. After about six or seven raids on neighboring territories, players will begin to lose interest in the action presented to them. The extortion missions are a breeze as many shop owners will simply agree outright when your character is at least partly leveled, while raiding enemy mansions is easy with the right weapons regardless of their presence level. Even if you enjoy the game and want to beat it again, you can only conquer the city once on a given profile.
In trying to make Mob Wars a vital part of the overall package, the developers tied character stats and money totals from both modes together. This means that players can “cheat” in Story Mode by whooping on Mob Wars and visa versa. Mobsters that you move on the board are more placeholders for your Story Mode character than anything else. Even when your outsider-level thug moves to take a district, your uber-leveled character takes his place to tear the place down. Instead, things would have felt a little more authentic had the developers let the characters rank determine their statistics. Storming Brooklyn with an associate shouldn’t be possible, but it is and it cheapens the mode considerably.
Mob Wars tries to be a couple things at once here, and falls short in just about all of them. Busting up the Story Mode only serves to place players in boring mission after mission to see the same story they’ve experienced already. The Mob Wars mode fairs no better as it lacks the necessary structure and depth to make it a worthwhile strategy game. What players have left is basically shooting mission after shooting mission, which they could get with better controls in a number of games elsewhere.