- Review Price: £39.99
”’Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC – Xbox 360 version reviewed”’
While it has its defenders, EA’s game of The Godfather is to my mind one of the worst movie tie-ins in gaming history; a mediocre GTA clone that showed no respect to one of the finest films ever made, and swamped a handful of genuinely interesting ideas in some of the most tiresome open-world gameplay I’ve encountered. In short, I didn’t like it much. All the same, I was determined to come to The Godfather II with an open mind. After all, if EA had the decency to distance the game sequel from the movie sequel by not calling it The Godfather Part II, then the least I could do was to do the same. Maybe it’s fairer to put the films out of my mind and come to the game as if it were simply a new take on the open-world crime genre that just happened to be linked to Coppola’s movies.
Well, I tried. The tragedy of The Godfather II is that I don’t believe it is just a cynical attempt to squeeze more money from an expensive license. At its core, it has some solid ideas and it’s really trying to take the genre somewhere different. The problem is that it hasn’t done much of it particularly well, and in some key respects it’s basically incompetent or technically inept. The fact that one of the darkest and most powerful narratives in American cinema has been turned into a mish-mash of mobster management and duck-and-cover gunplay is by-the-by; even taken on those terms, the game is average at best, and wretched at its worst.
Credit where credit’s due. While The Godfather II is loosely based on the events of The Godfather Part II, there’s less attempt this time around to put the player in the background of the movie, putting the horse head in the bed, and that kind of thing. Instead, you’re commanded early on by Michael, now firmly established as head of the Corleone family, to take over operations in New York, and while he’s there to provide the odd mission from time to time, you’re mostly left to your own devices. There’s still no Al Pacino in the main role – just a reasonably acceptable stand-in – but we still get digital versions of Fredo, Hyman Roth and Frankie Pentangeli to convince us that we’re still in The Godfather’s universe. Well, convince might be the wrong word given that these digital actors have all the facial nuance and emotional range of the kind of dodgy animatronics you might find at a third-rate Belgian theme park, but hopefully you get the point. The game steps back from the film so that it can put you where you want to be; in the shoes of a respected Mafioso capo.
The general idea seems to be to take the racketeering and extortion activities that were sidelines in the first Godfather game and put them centre stage. Basically, you have three urban environments, based in New York, Florida and Cuba, and a number of rival families to eliminate. To do so, you need to take over their businesses – drugs, prostitution, diamond smuggling, money-laundering and the like – and eliminate their bosses, until they retreat to their compounds, at which point you can wipe them out for good. All the time, of course, they’ll be doing their best to put you out of the way, attacking your businesses and trying to recover those they might have lost. All this happens in a new interface called ‘The Don’s View’; a 3D map of the area in question with the various businesses highlighted and access to all the information that a budding Mafia boss might need.
Up to a point, you can play The Godfather II as a strategy game. As the game progresses, you recruit ‘made men’ to your family. Each has a speciality, such as arson, enforcement or demolition, and you can put them on missions in The Don’s View, asking them to, say, take over a business, bomb a rival family’s facility or defend one of your businesses that’s under attack. To make things work, however, you really need to get your hands dirty yourself. That means driving around, assaulting businesses with the aid of your crew, and generally showing everyone else that you’re the biggest, most brutal fish in the pond. This is where the more conventional GTA-style action kicks in. You and your guys burst into the joint, and either slap or shoot the opposition until you’re left with the manager’s full attention. Convince him that he needs your patronage, and – hey – the business is yours. And when the opposition tries to take over one of your outlets? Simple. Make sure you’re there to give them a big, warm welcome with bullets attached.
All this stuff uses enhanced versions of The Godfather’s ‘Blackhand’ close-combat system and ranged weapons systems. Against soft opposition you can get away with using fists, golf clubs and baseball bats, and while I don’t think the grabbing, slapping and headbutting options are half as flexible or interesting as EA seems to think they are, the close combat works pretty well. Gunfights are still a bit of a mess, unfortunately. EA has tried to put more focus on cover and accuracy, but it hasn’t really worked. Enemy AI is rotten, the AI of your own Mafiosi is no better, and it seems easier just to race around blasting everyone in no particular order, picking up health upgrades on the way, than to rely on any sort of stealth or strategy. Sure, you can sneak around garrotting people if you like, but why bother when a full-frontal assault works just about every time?
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.
It turns out that taking over and running an adult film racket isn’t that much different from taking over and running industrial facilities (though you do get a few more under-clad floozies knocking around), and pretty soon the game develops into round after round of assault, defend, eliminate, assault, ad nauseum. The combat just isn’t exciting enough to maintain your interest, and the strategy side isn’t rich or deep enough to keep you going either. By the time I was halfway through taking over Florida, I found myself well and truly bored.
Nor does it help that the environments themselves are so lacking in detail and personality. I moaned about Saint’s Row 2 on this count, but by comparison it’s a masterpiece of city building. These are towns full of indentikit establishments, lifeless streets and generic neighbourhoods, with the sort of populations and traffic levels that should put them in the same generation as the original GTAIII, not GTAIV. The Godfather II is bland, bland, bland as far as the eye can see, and you’re left thinking that it would have made more sense to concentrate on making one really good, really rich urban environment than the three confined, half-baked efforts we see here.
The visuals, meanwhile, show scant signs of improvement on The Godather’s already dated efforts. The lighting might be better, but the textures remain patchy, the architecture and interiors dull and boxy, and the character animation is frequently laughable. What’s more, many of the supporting cast seem to be constructed from components at random, and this results in some of the weirdest haircut, beard and suit combinations I’ve seen in many a year. The Godfather or Austin Powers? Sometimes it’s just too hard to tell.
Realism isn’t a strong suit all-round. The physics vary between decent – car collisions – and profoundly odd (if you fall off a ledge, you’ll see instantly what I mean). And why is the game so odd about which barriers you can vault over and which ones you can’t? Surely it’s simply a matter of height! Meanwhile, it’s just a little bit sad that the game relies so heavily and so clumsily on cheap violence and even cheaper sex. Is it reasonable that porno sets and brothels will have naked women knocking around? Definitely, and it’s only right that the game reflects the seedier side of the 60s Mafiosi world. However, I haven’t seen this many nipples on screen at once since Paul Verhoeven made Showgirls, and I can’t help suspecting that the aim is more titillation than verisimilitude. And if you must go in for this kind of thing, EA, at least vary the character model beyond the haircut and skimpy lingerie.
Let’s be blunt: The Godfather II feels unfinished, and if that’s not the case, it certainly feels unpolished. There are aspects of a good game here, and the move towards strategy was definitely the right way to go, but the overall result just doesn’t measure up to what we should expect from a game at this stage of this console generation. If we must have a Godfather game, why not one with real strategy or real moral choices? Why not one that tries to embrace ‘adult’ in the sense of intelligent, mature and sophisticated, rather than ‘adult’ in the sense of gore, tits and ass? But, please, let’s just not bother having another one. While I think The Godfather II had the potential to be a more interesting game than The Godfather I, it’s a potential that’s been squandered. Frankly, it’s an embarrassment to the license, and an embarrassment to an EA that we know is capable of better.
In terms of ideas it’s a stronger game than the original Godfather, but the more you play, the more you realise that the execution just isn’t up to scratch. An offer you can easily refuse.