Review: Not quite an offer you can't refuse.
When Electronic Arts first announced they were making games based on the beloved Godfather classics, fans were understandably concerned; after all, most games based on movies suck like a shop vac. However, EA surprised everyone by creating a game that was actually quite fun.
Fast forward three years and EA has released the sequel, The Godfather II, based on Francis Ford Coppola's sequel. Overall it's still a fun game but oddly, the Godfather license feels more like a burden than a blessing, weighing down the developer's creativity like a pair of concrete loafers (more on this later).
It's quite obvious that EA is trying to make a Grand Theft Auto killer, and while they don't come close to toppling the reigning king of open-world sandbox gangster games, they do bring some fresh new elements to the genre. For example, hiring new members into your Family and upgrading their skills, attributes, weapons and even their appearance is much more engaging and enjoyable than GTA IV's tedious ?man dates? to unlock friend bonuses.
Each Family member has at least one skill, ranging from Arsonists (who sets fires), Bruisers (who can kick down reinforced doors), Demolitions (can plant explosives to blow open walls or destroy buildings), Engineers (who can disable a building's power to kill the alarm system, and can cut through chainlink fences), Medics (who can revive fallen team members), and Safecrackers (who can unlock safes, doors and bank vaults). Each skill is needed to complete missions or open up new building entry options, so it's vital to bring as many skills with you as possible.
You can only bring three Family members with you at a time but can swap them out on the fly if you need a particular skill. You can promote your members from Soldier to Capo to Underboss, with each promotion allowing you to add a new skill to their repertoire. Each member has a weapon rating which limits the type of weapon they can carry, ranging from the basic Level 1 weapons to the more powerful Level 3. You can take your men online to earn points to upgrade their ratings in multiplayer, but it's much easier to simply recruit new members with better weapon ratings. But since you have a limited number of slots for Family members, how do you make room for a new recruit? After all, your Family members can't die (instead, they are unavailable for a while as they heal in the hospital). No problem: simply mark one of your existing guys for death, which enables friendly fire. Blast him in the face with a gun and voila! Job opening!
Most of your time will be spent taking over business from rival gangs by shaking down the owners, and is a lot of fun. Doing this also serves to weaken your rivals as anyone owning all businesses of a certain type earns bonuses like body armor, incendiary bullets and armored cars. Capturing a business involves taking out the enemy guards and then intimidating the owner; you also earn bonus extortion money by finding the owner's weakness, which could be punching him, slamming him against a wall, smashing his inventory, or simply waving a gun in his face. But if you go too far with your intimidation, his stress level (as indicated by a meter) will go too high and he will refuse to capitulate and instead fight back. At this point you have no choice but to kill him which prevents you from capturing the business for a period of time.
You will need to capture all businesses owned by your rivals as this is the only way to unlock access to their main compound. Once you attack and destroy a rival gang's main compound, they are gone for good; otherwise, they will continuously attack your businesses to try and take back what was previously theirs. These attacks are quite frequent and can be a little annoying but fortunately, you can send your men to defend the business while you go about doing other things. This thankfully prevents you from having to run back and forth or even abandon a mission mid-progress.
You can reduce the frequency of attacks by killing off enemy Soldiers, Capos and Underbosses, who are all increasingly more powerful than the standard thugs you encounter. These guys can randomly turn up at enemy businesses but the best way to take them out is to do favors for people. Once you finish the favor (which can be robbing or vandalizing a business, beating someone up or killing them outright) you can unlock their secret hangout location and special kill condition. You see, enemy Soldiers, Capos and Underbosses can only be permanently killed with a specific execution move; ?kill? them any other way simply disables them for a short period of time. It's actually a cool idea and gives you a great opportunity to try out the dozens of ultra-violent execution fatalities available to you.
Gameplay can get a little repetitive ? basically all you're doing is attacking or defending businesses ? but it is still quite enjoyable. You can also rob banks, search for better weapons and do favors for corrupt officials to unlock special bonuses like instantly healing hospitalized Family members or quickly repairing a damaged business. Beyond that there is not much to do; don't expect the varied side missions common to GTA. In fact, once you finish the campaign there really isn't anything to do.
It's this lack of variety that really hurts the overall package. It looks and plays like a typical open world sandbox but you quickly learn that the sandbox is quite small and limited in comparison to GTA.
As well, the whole Godfather license is really not used that well. You play as Dominic, a loyal soldier of Aldo Trapani, the character you played in the original. The game starts in Cuba on the eve of the revolution as Hyman Roth hosts a meeting of the families to divvy up his holdings. As the revolutionaries create havoc in the streets, things go awry as you escort Aldo and Michael Corleone to the airport; as a result, Michael promotes Dominic to Don of his New York operations.
Similar to the first game, your customizable character is integrated into an altered version of the movie. However, any resemblance to the original film is vague at best. Some scenes are recreated word for word while others are so out of whack it makes you wonder why EA even bothered to pay for the movie license. In fact, it often feels like the developer's creativity was hamstrung by trying to stay within the confines of the Godfather story. Quite frankly, EA would have been better off to create a brand new IP from scratch and let themselves loose, rather than hem themselves in with preset boundaries.
A variety of technical issues don't help either. The game takes place in three locations: New York, Florida and Cuba. Each location is quite small; in fact, I estimate you could easily fit all three maps into GTA IV's Broker Island and still have plenty of room left over. Heck, Cuba is so small you don't even need a car to get around (in fact, using a car in Cuba's narrow streets can be more trouble than it's worth). Even with the tiny maps the game suffers from nasty popup and draw-in; you will constantly see cars and other objects materialize in front of you, often when they're less than 100 feet away ? not good. This is despite the fact that graphical detail is considerably lower than GTA IV with mannequin-like NPCs, similar-looking building exteriors and identical building interiors.
Other graphical glitches include characters clipping through walls, debris that floats in mid-air and cars that disappear for no reason. Several times I've driven to a location, fought some bad guys and attempted to flee the cops, only to discover that my car mysteriously vanished ? not good. The hit detection on some objects is way off too; you'll occasionally crash your car into an invisible six to eight inch-thick barrier surrounding some items. Oh, and forget trying to enter your car if it is parked on an incline because apparently, doors won't open unless they're on a flat surface. Arrrgh.
Character detail is average at best, with creepy blank expressions that show no emotion. Most of the film characters look and sound like the original actors with the glaring exception of Michael Corleone. Without Al Pacino's face (or even an actor that sounds like him) it really hurts the illusion that you're playing in a Godfather movie. Overall, the voice acting is good (not surprisingly, the best performance comes from Robert Duvall) but your Family members and NPCs constantly repeat the same lines to the point of aggravation, with the occasional long awkward pauses during conversations not helping things either.
Character AI is hit and miss; your Family members do a decent job of supporting you in a firefight and Medics generally rush to your side if you go down. But sometimes Medics are more concerned with shooting enemies than reviving you, especially if you are up on a balcony and they're below you. Your Family members often run around in circles and have a difficult time getting into your car, and will attempt to shoot through walls at enemies. Enemies will take cover but will more often than not walk out into the open to suck up your bullets. Pedestrians don't react to you at all when you walk into them; unlike GTA IV where they would stumble or react to you realistically if you bumped into them, pedestrians instead are surrounded by an invisible silo that you bounce off of. They will point accusingly at you if they witness you committing a crime like carjacking or run away when the bullets start flying, but don't expect the same realistic reactions you've come to expect in GTA IV.
The wanted system is also seriously flawed. The police will be alerted to any criminal activity and will aggressively chase you down, blasting away first with pistols and then powerful shotguns. Similar to GTA, there is an alert radius projected onto your HUD map but driving out of that radius does not elude the police. The radius centers on the location of the crime and does not follow you, so you could be well clear of the crime scene but cops will still aggressively pursue you. There is no indication of your wanted status beyond a verbal expression from your Family members, who will say something like ?I think we lost them? ? but this really doesn't mean anything because the next thing you know a cop will see you and start chasing you again. Another time you will have police hot on your tail, whip around a corner and magically, the pursuit ends. The whole wanted system feels completely random and is frustrating because you never know what you did to escape the police.
Other irritations include the camera swinging around when you perform an execution, which is very disorienting when there are other bad guys shooting at you. When you are revived by a Medic, your weapons are put away so you are often standing in the middle of a firefight with nothing to fight back with except your bare hands. Sure, it only takes a second to pull out a weapon but it's something you shouldn't have to do in the first place. When reloading a saved game you either start at your safehouse or at the airport, the latter of which is a pain because you have to waste time to find and jack a car.
Multiplayer supports up to 16 players over Xbox Live in Team Deathmatch, Demolition Assault (use your Family Demolitions expert to destroy targets), Firestarter (use your Arsonist to torch targets) and Safecracker (use your Safecracker to unlock safes). All game modes are relatively enjoyable but somehow aren't as fun as the craziness of GTA IV's multiplayer. Of course, the fact that it is difficult even finding people online doesn't help either.