|System: X360, PS3, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: EA Redwood Shores||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Electronic Arts||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Apr. 7, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-16||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jonathan Marx
Mario Puzo's world of The Godfather seems to be one that's ripe for any medium to exploit. The dark, seedy underworld and its shady dealings, the importance of family and loyalty, the constant intrigue and deception, the cerebral, almost regal way in which a Don shepherds his flock, it all mixes to produce great books and even better films.
There's also a lot of potential to create a fantastic video game. Unfortunately, The Godfather II from EA doesn't capitalize on this potential. Don't get me wrong; this is a fun game that most mature gamers will enjoy. Subtle tweaks and additions have even made it a better experience than the flawed yet engaging original, and the mixture of action and strategy elements is an addictive combination that provides for a good deal of entertainment. Where The Godfather II disappoints is in its inability to truly capture the essence of the intellectual property. This leads to a game that feels a bit shallow; unable to forge its own identity. Its generic, open-world character leaves the game open to comparison to Grand Theft Auto, a series with which it simply can't compete. Nevertheless, it is a solid title that I had a lot of fun with; I just see the potential for a whole lot more!
If you've played the first game, expect much of the same from Godfather II. This goes not only for gameplay but for presentation as well. In fact, the game seems to be running on an un-tweaked engine. In other words, it looks like a high-quality PS2 title or a very early next-gen offering. The only exception to this is that of explosions - fires and bombs look amazingly realistic and powerful. While character models are accurate - with the glaring exception of Michael Corleone - lips never seem to sync up just right, the animations are often stiff, and subtle bits including texture-less hair and plastic-looking ears make them all seem like Ken dolls. Moreover, there is an obscene amount of pop-in in both the background and foreground. Fortunately, the 60s era and the unique cities come to life via a good amount of attention to detail. Bucking the downward trend, music and voice acting are significantly better than the visual presentation. The remixed Godfather theme, era-appropriate radio stations, and believable dialog between the characters make the aural aspects of this title quite pleasing. I was especially surprised at just how well each of the characters were voiced.
In terms of gameplay, The Godfather II is equal parts action and strategy. As such, players will spend a lot of time roughing up racketeers with their fists and laying siege to rival families' holdings and compounds with explosives and firearms. However, as the Don, players will also have to settle back, analyze their territory, hire muscle to keep their crime rings running smoothly, and juggle the responsibilities of expanding and cultivating an empire spread across multiple locations. The mix of getting your hands dirty with your thugs and allocating resources from afar is a delightful combo players will enjoy.
On the action side, players will have a host of upgradeable weaponry and underlings with which to do battle. The third-person shooting mechanic is well-implemented. In fact, the sticky yet adjustable auto-aim makes dealing out death very easy indeed; many won't find the game particularly challenging in that regard. Returning to the game are the brutal Black Hand controls of the original that allow you to use the shoulder buttons and analog sticks, so that bashing people's heads in and choking the life out of marks is oddly satisfying. The new combo controls for melee combat are much more manageable this time around and also do an effective job of replicating a beat down. On the whole, getting down and dirty with the troops is well-executed, though perhaps too easy for the intended demographic.
The strategy portions of the title are facilitated by the touted Don's View interface. This glorified map gives you a snapshot of your empire at any time. From this menu, players are able check daily profit and loss statements from their holdings, hire new troops, allocate existing resources, target new business, protect their empire, set waypoints, etc. Pretty much everything you need to do as a Don is at your fingertips. I found this interface to be very manageable - an invaluable resource that made executing strategy a snap.
As you progress through the game, you'll accrue cash from your rackets, crime rings, bank robbing, and hits that will make it possible to upgrade your army. Improving your soldiers' skills as fighters, intimidators, and gunmen makes them more effective at administering the will of the family. Because every crew member has a specific specialty (arsonist, safecracker, enforcer, etc.), their list of upgradeable skills will vary. If one proves to be particularly useful, you can promote that soldier to Capo or even under-boss, giving them additional specialties, making them more important to you. These made men are essential to the efficient administration of your family's empire. Placing one of these men at key holdings will make sure they are never lost to attack, and bringing them along during raids will give you an edge in firefights.
In addition to an upgradeable goon squad, new weapons and perks become available as you progress through the game. Better weapons are simply found laying around key enemy compounds - pick them up and they'll become useable for all licensed family members. Perks are obtained by establishing crime rings. Crime rings are hard-won, as you'll have to essentially create a monopoly by controlling every racket associated with a specific type of illicit business (prostitution, drug running, smuggling, chop shops, and more). Once you control that industry in a city, you'll get bonuses to income and even access to special perks (bullet-proof vests, brass knuckles, armored cars, etc.). Of course, the same is true for your enemies - if they own all the prostitution rackets in town, they'll brawl with brass knuckles, causing more damage during hand-to-hand combat. While brass knuckles are easily circumvented with firepower, going up against a crew with bullet-proof vests can be quite dangerous indeed. In order to get rid of the pesky body armor, players simply need to take out one of the rackets to disrupt the crime ring - this is where arsonists and demolitions experts come in handy. Why struggle besieging well-armed guards when you can simply blow up the building? Doing so will eliminate their access to the perk, making it easier to take over rather than take out their other businesses, eventually establishing your family as the head of the crime ring.