Review: Leave the gun, take the controller... it is wireless after all.
Earlier this year, EA first released their Grand Theft Auto 'homage' The Godfather, based upon the legendary film of the same name, on 'current-gen' platforms to solid reviews ? nobody was willing to put it in the same class as GTA, but nobody was willing to toss it aside like so many other EA licensed products. Though one might wonder how a game could come out of a movie such as The Godfather, what with its relative lack of violence and a plot that's more about the family issues rather than the Family issues, EA pulled it off with a careful recreation that blends in what you know with a whole new story to balance things out. Though very late in coming, the Xbox 360 version expands on what was on the original cut ? in truth, The Godfather for 360 is really a Director's Cut that offers more missions, more cars, more side-quests, and plenty more chances to make money for the Family. If you've refused the offer so far, it's a solid pickup if you're looking for a GTA-styled game but don't go for the thuggery of Saints Row ? though it's questionable if veterans of PS2 or Xbox will find the all new content worth the full $60; it depends on how big a fan you are.
The Godfather's main story consists of about 25 main missions ? the 360 has 3 or 4 brand new adventures exclusive to it. Naturally the story tells a game version of the movie, just with a bit of shuffling and the concept of your character being 'that guy' who always seems to be involved in every major event. Using EA's MobFace, you can create your own mobster, though it's limited since it has to apply to one of the rules ? only Italians can really rise through the ranks of the family hierarchy, so that's all you can do. Upon creating your own guy, you begin as a lowly outsider, doing random deeds for the family, like beating the hell out of those 2 guys who beat up Amerigo's daughter while that rat Paulie orders you around. That's the sort of story crafted here ? the game puts you behind the scenes, so to speak, showing off the dirty work that the movie never did. Some things have been changed or reversed ? the infamous horse head scene becomes a mission but it takes place about halfway through the game rather than the beginning, and there's no real mention of Vito Corleone's death ? Michael just one day becomes Don without much mention.
The mission structure tends to be very ambitious, as most are split into multiple parts, but unlike some games (COUGHsaintsrowCOUGH), there's usually a checkpoint after every objective is completed, thus if you get 'iced', you can begin at the nearest point, so there's no real need to fear death. For instance, there's 2 parts to the aforementioned horse head mission ? you and Rocco have to sneak past the guards at the estate, find the horse in mention, and do that rather gruesome business (off screen, naturally). Then you get a checkpoint before a stealth-based sequence as you and Rocco have to infiltrate the house to leave Mr. Woltz the bedmate he'd likely never expect in a thousand years. Having checkpoints just make the missions much easier to swallow, especially since The Godfather isn't exactly an easy game ? when there's 10 guys shooting at you, chances are at least 1 is going to connect and likely more and thus you might die a few times before figuring out the patterns.
The combat system is an upgrade from what you might find in GTA, but it's not perfect. At first you might just have hand-to-hand combat on the docket, and that's based on a system similar to Fight Night Round 3 ? it's all done using the right thumbstick that sometimes combines with the left stick for what EA dubs Blackhand control. Using Blackhand lets you grab enemies, slam them against walls, choke them to death, toss 'em over ledges, throw them into an oven, and whatnot. There's a lot of power to be wielded using just the two sticks. When gunplay comes into the equation, the d-pad becomes your friend as it controls both weapon selection and drawing/concealing the guns. The left trigger functions as the lock on, and right trigger fires, which is pretty basic. However sometimes the lock on is a bit funky and will target a guy halfway across the screen rather than the one 10 feet away who is pumping you full of lead, and thus have to quickly release and repull the trigger to choose a target. Either that or press the left bumper to go into manual aim, which lets you aim for the various body parts if you're into more brutal killing. In short the combat works well but sometimes you might have to fight it to get exactly what you need.
By purely attacking the story missions alone, you can expect to clear The Godfather in about 10-15 hours, which actually isn't too bad. However, as this game is from the Grand Theft Auto cloth, there's much more fun to be had. When not on a mission, huge chunks of New York City are at your mercy ? Hell's Kitchen, Little Italy, Midtown, Brooklyn, and New Jersey are the five districts, all controlled by different families ? the Tattaglias are the only one with two, as they've muscled Little Italy away from the Corleones, though it's very easy to regain the territory. This open city is full of adventures of both the bloody and business end of things, and to see everything it'll take probably 30-40 hours. So that's a lot of extra content. Compared to the original cut, there's actually more stuff to do, most notably the Favor quests, where a member of the family will offer a quick quest to help them out, or in a couple cases, help yourself from the results of another favor.
However the activity that'll dominate most of your time is extorting businesses for protection money, and afterwards taking over the rackets they may or may not have behind the scenes. Each district has tons of businesses that are controlled by either the Corleones or other families, and it's your job to convince the owners to move their money over to your family and hurt the others. When you're on the low end of the totem pole, it's almost impossible to just get them to agree without any mess, so you have to 'convince' them by either beating them up or smashing the hell out of their shop. Once they reach the breaking point they'll give up and agree to pay protection money. The only downside is if it comes to violence, the rival family guards outside will probably come in and start some ish, so you have to be careful. Really extorting businesses is something that becomes easier as your respect level and position in the family rises ? you can make it more of a victory tour than a round of random violence if you wait long enough ? and even if they refuse you right away, many times the tension meter is already at their breaking point so still, no need for violence.
A new wrinkle to this extortion system is the Merchant Favors, where the business owner will happily offer to pay protection if you'll do something for them ? usually something like killing or putting a hurt on a rival. What's a bummer is there's not a whole lot of these favors ? with so many businesses, having roughly 10 quests like this just isn't a lot. With most businesses, they have rackets that are behind the main business ? a front, so to speak. Upon getting protection money, the back door will unlock and all sorts of stuff might be behind there ? smuggling, prostitution, gambling; all the usual mafia tactics. Long as you have the money, you can buy out these rackets to take full control of a business. And thus after each week (roughly), you'll get paid a sum of money that you get a pittance of ? everything else goes to the family coffers as a tribute. It's like you're getting protection money which you then pay to the Corleone's as protection money. Since if you didn't pay your tributes chances are you'd need to get some protection when the goons come for you.
If extorting business isn't fun enough, the game offers 25 assassination missions where you pull hits for family members like Sal Tessio (if you haven't done all his by the time he gets whacked as per the movie, Willie Cicci will take over), Al Neri, and Pete Clemenza. These are usually entertaining because all of them have a unique requirement that can net you extra money and respect. For instance, one hit doles out a bonus if you shove them in an oven, burning them to a crisp. Another takes place like an old-school duel, where you get the bonus if you can throw them over a ledge rather than pull out the heavy weapons and kill him ? and besides, if you do things honorably, you can walk right by the enemy goons without them touching you. The only downer to these missions is if you die, you'll respawn at the nearest clinic rather than using the checkpoint system from the main story missions. And sometimes the hit location can be a long way from the respawn point, making you drive there which isn't always much fun.
The most difficult tasks are the takeover/bombing missions, which are needed to eliminate rival families. The new additions to this set of quests are the drug racket bombings, wherein 4 different drug fronts can be attacked and blown up, since the Corleone's are quite anti-narcotics. These aren't too difficult though you've always gotta be careful because there could be Tattaglia goons hiding behind things, even obscuring the icon over them. The next step would be taking over warehouses and hubs, by fighting through the well-guarded fortresses and buying out the owner of the racket. These are very tough challenges that require all the firepower and skills you've learned, since there's goons all over the place. Thankfully a new addition is the ability to hire a crew ? though by crew the game means just 1 guy who will frequently do nothing but does take the heat off you sometimes. As you increase your family standing stronger, smarter Corleone thugs can be hired ? and they make many missions much easier. They also can be used for the penultimate quest ? the destruction of rival family compounds which pretty much remove them from the game.
In short, if you spend the full $60 on The Godfather for your Xbox 360, there's a whole lot to do that makes it worth the money ? though there perhaps isn't $20 in extra content compared to the same game you can get for Xbox. It's not all perfect, though most issues are minor. Most notably the map is a bit annoying to use, since there's no real GPS like system for navigating the confusing streets, so you have to constantly pause and check the map to see what direction you're headed in. Sure there weren't GPS tools in cars back in the 1940's, but still ? after getting used to the GPS-style navigating in Saints Row and Test Drive Unlimited, it's weird to play this game without it. Thankfully learning the city is fairly easy since it's a very grid-based city. The targeting has already been mentioned, so there's no need to repeat that. The weirdest thing is how the game progresses your career ? the main goal is to become the Don of NYC; but in order to get there you have to reach Don rank and still go around bombing compounds, taking over warehouses and doing hits. You can do all this before reaching such a rank, but if you put them off it's a bit weird to imagine the Don of a family doing any dirty work. Perhaps your character is just very hands-on.
Unfortunately while the 360 version of The Godfather is full of bonus content not seen before, it hasn't gotten a huge upgrade on the visual end. It looks nice in HD and doesn't chug, but it certainly looks like an upgraded port from the Xbox and PS2 versions. The car variety is minimal, with just a few designs, though there are a couple new ones and the speed has been increased in the sportier designs. There's not a lot of pedestrian variety either ? just a lot more of them walking the streets. And most of the buildings are repetitive textures making most areas look way too similar ? even the businesses have similar insides and back door designs. On the other hand, the character designs of the main players are downright fantastic. Sonny, Vito, Hagen, Clemenza ? they're hauntingly recreated like their real counterparts. The bummer is the lack of Al Pacino ? because he obviously is working on the Scarface game (a game already touted as terrible), his likeness is absent making the Michael Corleone model look nothing like the real thing. Which is lame.
Pacino's voice also is missing, but I doubt it'd work anyway seeing how much his voice has changed since the original movie and today. However many other famous names have reprised their roles for the game, such as James Caan, Robert Duvall, Abe Vigoda (who is very much alive), and in a couple spots, Marlon Brando ? his lines were used for the hospital part of the game, with a soundalike doing the other lines because it was recorded at the end of Brando's life. Some of the dead actors obviously have been replaced, but some characters, like Fredo and Al Neri, have been modeled like their real selves likely licensed from their estates. Seeing the movie is over 30 years old, these sorts of things happen. The result is a mixed bag ? the famous actors handle their lines in stellar fashion, and most of the secondary characters are pretty good too. Though Fredo must die...and of course he does in Godfather Part II so it's all good. The music consists of the various takes on the movie theme, and some generic action music that generally fits. Too bad EA didn't license a bunch of 1940's music to make their own set of radio stations.