Review: Leave the gun, take the... cards?
Released last year, The Godfather has proven to be better than the average licensed game, as versions for PS2, Xbox, PC, Xbox 360 ? and this year PS3 and Wii ? turned out quite good. beating the train-wreck that was expected from an EA game. While the console versions are largely the same game, with PS3 and Xbox 360 offering plenty of added content to make their asking prices more tolerable, the PSP version, subtitled Mob Wars, is a whole different beast, for better or worse. Sure, those familiar with the game will see the same sort of retelling of the 1972 classic movie, with the famous characters and their voices (along with one unusual Michael Corleone), but it's done in a fashion that will take some by surprise. Pleasantly? Maybe not, but Godfather: Mob Wars is at least a decent attempt at doing something different rather than just simply port the game to PSP and hope people will double-dip on the same game they played on their TV with little to no improvements. It's cheap enough now that those on the fence can give it a shot without going broke, too.
Godfather: Mob Wars is split into the same story mode as the console games, combined with a more portable-friendly card-based strategy game. The story side is ripped straight out of the original release, at least in terms of missions, as the PSP game strips out the open city, hit contracts, favors, and random extortion which broke up the plot. Most notable is the lack of a freely explorable New York, as this makes many missions brief and occasionally dull because there's no driving aspects whatsoever, though they're more suited for portable play since it takes very little time to blow through one. The bonus trio of Director's Cut missions from the 360 and PS3 versions are nowhere to be found either, despite Mob Wars shipping the same day as the Xbox 360 game. It all progresses the same, with the unique choice of blending in a new character into a preexisting story, and does it with minimal revisionist history, instead filling in some blanks creatively, carefully making sure to not compromise what's one of the greatest movies ever.
The Mob Wars in the title is the name of the card-based strategy game, which is actually a blend of strategy and action. This generally fills the void of extortion and takeover missions, just on a less grand scale. Each of the Five Families has their own section of NYC (or Jersey, in the case of the Stracci Family) and your job is to win every territory by bombing the rival compounds and eliminating everyone. But it's done in a weird way, with cards. Mob Wars plays out in rounds, with three steps per round. At the beginning you pick some cards from a deck that have various effects ? lowering heat, increasing heat of rivals, lowering vendetta with other families, increasing rank of your soldiers, etc. The next step is to hire allies to place in, ahem, Corleowned territories in order to defend against attacks from other families, or place them in a neutral territory for an extortion mission or in rival land for a takeover mission. The extortion missions run like the console games, where you ?reason? with a business owner to pay protection, and frequently, buy out (or force out) the racket behind closed doors. Takeover missions are self-explanatory, with the goal of either killing a specific target, taking out every enemy guard, or bomb the building to smithereens ? the latter goal is the only way to take out a compound and wipe out a rival.
The interesting thing about Mob Wars is the shift to traditional Godfather action once the missions start. Instead of the extorting and takeovers being the luck of the draw, your skills (many of which are earned in the story side) decide how things turn out. However, while Mob Wars is interesting, it's got a minor problem ? it's way too easy. Easy because if you have a Transport card, it's possible to simply warp to a rival compound and bomb them into submission without the hassle of working your way there. It's thus possible to win Mob Wars in just a few turns without much thinking and strategy (however, once you take out the final family, you can't go and take over the now-neutral areas, as you're locked out of this section of the game). Aside from a forced tutorial turn after a few story missions, Mob Wars is fully optional, but definitely recommended to earn skill points and get cash for buying ammo (since there's no ammo lying around due to the lack of an open city), and not only that, to make things easier on both ends it's wise to play them in a good balance.
With the transition to PSP, the controls have been completely redesigned to make up for what the system lacks. The lack of a right analog stick causes many changes ? the Blackhand combat system now is tied to buttons instead. Arguably this is better than the sometimes fickle sticks, and it's easy to pick up. Gunplay largely is intact, with the L button for aiming, but the X button to fire this time. The R button is for centering the camera or, when a weapon is out, free aiming. This itself can be really frustrating, because in tight sequences, trying to center the camera with a weapon out doesn't work as well which can mean instant death when taking a blind corner. The lock-on can still be annoying too, targeting someone halfway across the screen instead of the guy right in front of you, who just happens to be lining your innards with bullets. The ability to tap one of the d-pad buttons to change targets would have been nice, as when you're aiming the function used for swapping weapons switches off.
Clearly EA went the path of unique when creating Mob Wars, the question is...why? The PSP has been proven worthy of huge open world games like the two Grand Theft Auto games and Test Drive Unlimited for instance, and NYC in The Godfather is about as large as Vice City...so what's the big deal? Though the game is still good, it feels bare at times since the story is so brief without the driving sequences and Mob Wars so easily exploitable ? it's possible to beat the game in a couple days time if you're hardcore about it, compared to the weeks to finish the console game due to its huge size and amount of tasks to finish. Many things have been left out on the opposite side of things too ? there's no Mobface, forced to use the game default, and no ability to spend money on new outfits to raise your respect either. They could have at the least included this, but EA didn't. I can understand the need to redesign the game into bits and pieces for portable play, along with avoidig a mere port to a portable system, and that's likely why they did it (or they feared they didn't have the ability to stream it and keep battery life in check), but I think much of the game could have been recreated and still have Mob Wars fit into the picture.
The Story of Godfather: Mob Wars contains the same top-notch presentation, even if it's been downsized. Other than a couple minor characters and the ridiculous Michael Corleone imitation, all the characters, be it voice or looks, are recreated in surprisingly great detail; even now it's impressive how accurate the character designs are. Strangely, some of the cutscenes look like bad FMV, rather than in-game cutscenes ? the game switches between them seemingly randomly, with one scene looking great and then the next all washed out. Bizarre. With the removal of Mobface there's no customization for your own character, which does disappoint. The removal of open world has an effect, but when you do get out there in the city for missions, it's amazingly bare compared to the console game ? hardly any pedestrians and only a few cars wandering around, and every racket and store only has the owners and no customers. New York is a big city, and it looks like everyone stayed home this time around, a far cry to the absolutely loaded city streets and sidewalks the game is known for.