We weren’t surprised in the slightest to learn that EA’s Redwood Studios houses the development teams for both ‘The Sims’ and ‘The Godfather II,’ because there’s something very “Sim-like” about EA’s latest game in the Godfather franchise. The foundations laid down by ‘The Godfather’ are still here, with the main objective being to swell your power in the criminal underworld by gaining control of local businesses and illegal rackets through violence and extortion. The pace of the game has softened, however. Things have taken a step back somewhat, and now your ability to succeed is dictated by how well you manage your resources just as much as your use of sheer brutality and firepower. A significant proportion of time is now spent flicking through the menus, organizing your crime family, upgrading their skills and using the new 3D map to plot your next move – a host of new features that advance the series from the repetitive gun-play of the original.
There are also some visual clues that ‘The Sims’ influence has rubbed off on the design of the character models, who saunter around the city streets, chins out straight and arms by their sides, while others dance in the night-spots with the same robotic grace of their Sims brethren. The new style of the Godfather II has taken us a little bit by surprise and as a visual spectacle it rarely impresses, whereas the newfangled gameplay has also taken us a little time to get used to. But, despite being seriously underwhelmed by some of the animation, A.I., and a few technical aspects of the game, the new multi-layered gameplay does manage to draw you right into its murky world of violence and corruption and, for the most part, we’ve had a fairly good time building our criminal empire.
If you can forgive the fact that The Godfather II isn’t a patch in terms of open-world map design and presentation of the Grand Theft Auto series (a benchmark for judging this type of game), and you can get past the initial frustration of using the convoluted ‘Don’s View’ 3D map (you’ll spend a lot of time staring at this planning your strategy), Godfather II does have an addictive element that undoubtedly comes from our inherent greed for earning money and power. Seeing your daily income rise to astronomical proportions and your crime family and stature in the city grow as you make your mark on the city can be extremely satisfying – there’s a sense of achievement gleaned from knowing that its your hard work that has paid you significant dividends.
The big difference in terms of storyline, which in this case affects the game as a whole, is that in Godfather II you’re no longer a rookie looking to make it big in the criminal underworld. You play a guy named Dominic who is asked by Michael Corleone to take control of New York’s crime organization. It’s a familiar tale of crime, corruption, contract killings and families fighting for their share of the American dream, told in a dark and moody style that mimics the Francis Ford Coppola trilogy, with highly polished cut-scenes and some excellent voice acting that complements the well-penned script. Being in charge is a big responsibility which begins when you start out at the Corleone stronghold where you recruit your first “made man.” The recruitment mechanic works well, allowing you to hire men off the street or from your own businesses and throughout the game you can have them by your side throughout missions or send them off to do your dirty work.
You can control up to three “made-men” at any point in the game. Deciding who joins your family is one of the first tasks that occupies your time on the streets of New York, Miami and Havana. Each potential recruit has a specific skill, be it as a safe-cracker, medic, arsonist or a bruiser, and each has a set of attributes that you can upgrade for a price, such as improving their handgun accuracy or the time it takes for them to recover from injury. You also have to manage their movements by choosing whether you want them hanging around with you, or perhaps sending them off to bomb a business or defend one of your existing rackets. It’s a decent feature that frees up your time so you can get on with other tasks, especially if you’ve had your fill of gun-play, and it adds a degree of strategy to the gameplay as you pick and choose the right mix of characters for the job at hand. If you do decide to have your crew by your side when things kick off you can order them to move to a particular area by pointing in the appropriate direction and clicking a face button. Occasionally, they run around like headless chickens and don’t understand why they should take cover, as do some of the enemies, but the majority of the time the squad mechanic works well and they follow your orders and react to the action around them.
The main bulk of the gameplay involves racketeering and taking out the other crime families in the city. Crime families own a number of rackets that are part of a crime ring and by commanding your family to do the dirty work or heading down there to get your hands dirty it’s your job to take over all of the rackets in that particular ring. Generally, taking over a racket constitutes three stages: make your way to the property, kill the bosses goons by gunning them down or using your fists, and then intimidate the boss until he hands over his business by slapping him around, torturing him or smashing up his business. The combat scheme will be instantly familiar if you played the first game and it has been refined here to ensure that gunplay feels smoother. Disappointingly though, like the first game, there’s some poor examples of enemy behavior and even some instances of where citizens get in your way – one lady decided it was a good idea to do the "running man" in the entrance doorway of a building we were trying to takeover. Furthermore, gun-fights can be fairly chaotic and rarely require good marksmanship. We found ourselves on most occasions throwing Molotovs in the general area of enemies and erratically spraying anyone in a 360 degree radius with a sub-machine gun. Still, that’s fun as well.
Hand-to-hand combat fairs much better and the use of the Sixaxis controller gives the PS3 version an edge over other versions of the game. You can slap your opponent around, grab them around the neck and then dish out some punishment with a swift head-butt or knee to the groin, but you can also utilize the Sixaxis controller’s motion-sensitive functionality by flicking it forward to throw someone over a ledge or jolting it sideways to smash them into walls. It’s a satisfying combat system which is complemented by some entertaining executions and the gratifyingly brutal intimidation system. In order to take over a business you have to pressurize the boss by working out his weakness and then exploiting it. This could be by taking a golf club to his property and smashing it up, cracking him around with a baseball bat or something a bit more serious, like pressing his head against a hot grill, putting a shotgun in their mouth or breaking his arm. A bar in the top right hand corner of the screen measures his stress levels and you need to be careful not to go over the top or he won’t cooperate. Despite of all of the other new features in Godfather II trying to catch your eye, it’s the hand-to-hand combat system and the intimidation of bosses where we got our main kicks.
‘Don’s View’ is the one of the new features that does warrant its inclusion. ‘Don’s View’ is where you can coordinate your attack on rackets and defense of your businesses, upgrade your crime family and view information and stats on ever outstanding objective, as well as keep on eye on your businesses, which often come under attack. It took us a while to really see its value as we got stuck into the action, rather than fiddle about in the menu. Although there is room for improvement — a way-point system that actually guides you to the location would have been welcome — it does allow you to keep a close eye on your finances and track down corrupt officials, while also giving you the opportunity to take your foot of the pedal and let your family do the dirty work if things get too hectic. Favors, assassination missions, hiring guards to protect your property and bribing corrupt cops are all part of the cause and you can view it all in the comprehensive ‘Don’s View’ menu.
We’ve enjoyed our time with Godfather II to a certain extent, but can’t help but feel it could have been much better. Graphically or technically it doesn’t push the PS3, yet we’ve still had fun building our crime empire, torturing business owners and chaotically pumping anyone who stands in our way full of lead. We’ve yet to experience the multiplayer mode, so don’t know how that fairs, but we’re relatively impressed with the new strategic element to the gameplay and the squad mechanic, which essentially means that you can play Godfather II in two different ways, from in the menu or out there on the streets in the thick of it. Still, when all is said and done, we’re looking forward to Mafia II.