Of course, there are ways of making things easier for yourself. Both you and your opposition get bonuses like brass knuckles or bulletproof vests from the ownership of all of a particular type of business, so if some wise guy has all his soldiers kitted out with the latter, then bombing just one of the relevant businesses will put it and the bonus out of commission and give you the edge you need. More strategic benefits, meanwhile, can be won by doing favours for corrupt officials, popping the odd guy here or stealing some paperwork there, so that, should one of your guys get gunned down or arrested, you can get them back on the scene with less delay.
You’ll also need to do favours when eliminating the other families’ lieutenants. Bizarrely, certain ordinary citizens want people roughed up or a business vandalised, and by fulfilling their requests you’ll obtain information on where these key targets hang out and what you need to do to ‘off’ them for good. You see, just wandering up and shooting them, as you might the gang bosses in Crackdown, is not enough; they have to be killed in the right way. As a result, you need to know that Boss A needs drowning in the East River or Boss B needs to be executed with a pistol, or you’ll have to waste time murdering them and their lackeys over and over again.
And it’s with this sort of thing that the game really starts going pear-shaped. We’re used to silly restrictions and bizarre incongruities in our gangster games, but a lot of The Godfather II really just doesn’t make any sense. I know that strangling Boss C sends a message to his family, but wouldn’t whacking him with a golf club prove equally effective? Isn’t this really just a transparent mechanism for eking the gameplay out a little? More to the point, some of the favour missions are not just stupid, but really, really mad. At one point I was asked to go and wreck a local club that acts as a front for prostitution. The problem? It was actually one I owned. I guess some employers might think that it keeps the lackeys in-line if you wander into the workplace and smash up the scenery with a baseball bat, but to my mind it just makes the game feel lazy and ridiculous. Even Alan Sugar doesn’t get up to that kind of thing in The Apprentice!
But being ridiculous isn’t The Godfather II’s real problem. It’s real problem is that it makes the business of running a gang and being a gangster feel so mundane – and not in the interesting way that The Sopranos used to make it. Don’t get me wrong. For the first few hours it’s actually reasonably diverting, provided you’re willing to live with the game’s various inadequacies. Sadly, by the time you’ve left New York for Florida you’ve really seen most of what the game has to offer, and while the other cities are larger, and have more businesses and more corrupt officials and more competing families, the actual experience doesn’t change all that much.