Godfather II Review - May 20th 2009

What a film Godfather Part II was. Despite in theory being a really strong licence with mass-appeal and success soaked-in-blood all over the feature-sheet, EA have come up with an innovative game that won’t remind too many players of the film. Keeping the first game’s cinematic feel in mind though, does this contrast represent too much of a shift for a waning franchise?

Coppola’s inspired and iconic films with the fantastic writing of Mario Puzo are, on first glance, perfect game-fodder. If you were sitting on your jewel-encrusted throne at EA and wondering what licence to pinch from the blistered hands of your competitors, The Godfather would surely rank pretty highly. Rather than drooling over the films and spitting all over videogame publisher behemoths however, we should first set out the basics. In Godfather II, you essentially get two games in one. Readers with a slice of scepticism may suggest that this is likely to be detrimental to the overall package, but this is not wholly the case.

First and foremost you have the nuts and bolts action gameplay. This is essentially lifted straight out of the first game. You can create your own character but play as Dominic, newly appointed Don following the death of Aldo Trapani. You may remember from the first game – essentially your character in the original. First impressions are great. The opening tutorial takes place in Cuba, where all hell is literally breaking loose and threatening to turn a bunch of hardened Sicilians into terrified civilians. This stage, visually very impressive, is designed to ease you into the controls, story and characters, and does a great job of it. Upon your escape you are thrown into seriously shark-infested waters with the responsibility of starting your own family to take over first New York, then Miami and sporadically Cuba. The New York section is pretty tame and you are guided through (though not always clearly) the basics of the game. Miami is larger and a good deal more difficult.

The story is serviceable, but not exactly brimming with Godfather-esque moments.

The structure of the series is based around an open-world setting. You can hijack cars, beat up pedestrians, enter buildings and wreak havoc on the streets in a manner similar, but not tiresomely so, to GTA or Saints Row. It has its own unique feel, a very weighty one, which leaves you feeling that actions have consequences, but still giving a thrill when you hop in one of the sixties’ vehicles (the fast ones at least). As Don, it is your responsibility to take control of the city, grab it by the neck and strangle every last penny out of its businesses to keep your family running and everyone else in your pocket. To do this at first is a simple task. Brute force methods where walking in and shooting up a joint will get the owner of a business to his knees and begging for your protection are the basic way to take over an establishment. The game uses the ‘Blackhand’ control mechanics from the first game, whereby different actions are mapped to the right stick and triggers so you can grab, push, strangle and punch people to get your own way. Each has their own weak-spot, and as you progress through the game it becomes more and more crucial to get as much out of them as possible, but harder and harder to do so without causing them to fight back or end up as a bloody mess on the parquet floor. It’s a little clumsy, but is unlike any other game on the market (save the original, of course) and so can still be commended as a decent feature worthy of piquing the interest of potential purchasers.

Taking over all the businesses in a crime ring opens up more benefits to your family, such as body armour and ammo belts. Other gangs in the city also get such benefits, and keeping the armour off them and piled up in the storeroom of your compound is crucial as the game’s difficulty peaks. You don’t have to go about this on your own however, with a buddy system allowing you to handpick AI team-mates to accompany you around the mean streets of Godfather II’s locales. They specialise in fields such as Demolitions, Lockpicking and Engineering, allowing feats such as bombing businesses and rigging cars to explode, gaining entry to secret locations and bank vaults, and disabling power to areas so no backup can be called, respectively. You can upgrade your family, promote and dismiss (kill off) members, include multiple abilities for certain people, as well as customising their appearance, stats and weapons, and while this all feels very unnecessary early on, having a strong family is as crucial in the game as it is in the films come the midpoint.

The interiors in Godfather II are the graphical highlight.

Like in THQ and Volition’s Saints Row, rival gangs can push you back and take business over, as well as hitting them with demolitions experts to temporarily break a link in your crime-ring (something you can do to your rivals too) and remove its benefits. To prevent this you have to assign guards to defend your interests, eating up a significant portion of your daily income. You can also send members of your family to help out, with each ‘Made-Man’ (those that can also follow you around) worth countless mindless guards in combat. By the same token, enemy Made-Men can be stationed at businesses you are attempting to take over, leading to protracted and especially intense battles. Managing your guards, crime-rings and family across multiple cities is tough, but fortunately, the second half of Godfather II comes into play here: The Don’s View.

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