The Godfather II Preview

"I don’t feel I have to wipe everybody out, Tom. Just my enemies."

“Act like a mobster, think like a don”—this is the core mantra around which is built EA’s forthcoming, stylish (and gleefully, extravagantly violent) new action/strategy hybrid based on that guy-staple movie, The Godfather Part II. Editors, writers, and various other gaming-community goombas got a chance to hang out at the Electronic Arts family compound this week, spending their collective time much like the members of any self-respecting crime family—scheming, drinking heavily, consolidating various rackets and power-plays, and more than occasionally killing each other viciously in the name of money, respect, and/or good old-fashioned revenge.

[image1]The Godfather II does not attempt to exactly, faithfully follow in the mobster-wingtipped, narrative steps of the much-hailed namesake motion picture (the film was a dual-timeline lasagna of ‘current’ narrative and mob-history flashbacks, making it both a sequel and prequel in one go—a neat trick, if you can do it). [We’re looking at you, Bioshock 2. ~Ed.] Instead, the game synthesizes the most dramatic moments, best lines, and the sheer street-owning feel of the Corleone family saga into each player’s own unique story. As such, there are certain liberties taken as to when (and by whom) certain memorable cut-scene lines are spoken—but they’re all there, delivered with (as far as we’ve seen) convincing, pitch-perfect writing and voice-acting (with F-bombs racked in the bay and ready to be dropped).

The down-in-it, third-person action aspect of the game will be familiar and inviting to anyone who’s played the first game, or indeed any decent open-world game. Here, you’ll find the expected core-story and side-quest missions full of melee combat, firearms of all descriptions, and that ever-popular, pedestricidal driving on the mean streets of New York and, with time, Miami and Havana and perhaps even Vice City itself. The Godfather II features an improved version of the “Black Hand” control scheme, which lets players punch, grab, throw, throttle, head-butt, and groin-kick enemies… and that’s before we start talking about the many, creatively-brutal weapon- and target-contextual executions (many of which are unspeakably graphic, but a little more on that later, you mugs).

Even these mostly-familiar mechanics have been tweaked or improved in some way. For starters, the follow-cam view for gunplay is offset, giving a generally better view when it’s time to line up a shot in the targeting reticule, whether locking on or free-targeting different parts of the target’s body—that coveted head-shot takes a little more time, determination and/or dexterity, but it can pay off. Players are able to throw punches freely, whether or not they’ve locked onto a target, and the freed-up attack scheme allows players to take a good run at a potential target before laying into him (or her).

That grab-mechanic is in many ways brutally central to the feel of this game. By pulling both shoulder triggers and keeping one busy thumb on the right stick, players can grab a target by the lapels and rough him/her up in various ways. It’s very handy (and dramatic, and shamefully satisfying) in situations where you’ve just kicked in the door of a local business you’re going to shake down for protection money.

[image2]So, a specific example: Grab (let’s say) the proprietoress of a gentleman’s club by the blouse covering her money-makers, head-butt her, and bash her around a little bit. This is also a good chance to divine a potential victim’s psychic weak-spots, such as a squeamishness for certain types of abuse, or a mortal dread of having their merchandise trashed. Then advise her in the most unmistakable terms that the very last thing she may well ever fucking see is your boot coming for her face—I know that some of you doubtless think I am exaggerating at this point which is *very* cute—well, you get the idea.

In fact, the more you continue to slam some business owner around in this manner past the point where their will is broken, the more additional money their future custom will yield for you. But don’t go too crazy as you may, A) end up killing instead of impressing them, and corpses don’t kick down the bacon, or B) you may end up driving them to the point where they’ll fight back instead of breaking… and you’re going to have enough enemies on your hands as things are.

Not only enemies, but their whole fucking crime-families, as you’ve probably already surmised. The established mob order has been breaking down, and there are other fully-functioning (and fully-ambitious) mob families out there looking to take over the city, just as you are. Enter the game’s “Don’s-eye view”, a racket-management screen that turns The Godfather II into a hybrid action/strategy game. This overarching strategic element obliges you to track the various business venues you’ve cowed into paying protection and/or wrenched from the money-grubbing hands of your enemies.

Various ‘rackets’—bakeries fronting for prostitution-intensive strip clubs, appliance stores operating as money-laundering operations, hiding-in-plain-sight drug operations, and so forth—will, when taken over in clusters, form the ‘crime rings’ which can yield your family not only constant riches but special bonuses which come into play as a result of your dominating those particular, um, ‘sectors of commerce’. It’s a little like the benefits of procuring a Monopoly in a certain family-friendly board game… only much, much nastier. Lock down a particular crime ring for your family,and you can get such automatic, workaday bonuses as bulletproof vests, special ammo, brass knuckles all around for your various assorted street soldiers. Suddenly lose your stranglehold on a crime ring to a well-timed attack by your enemies, and you’ll also lose the associated auto-benefit until such time as your family can take back the assets in question.

[image3]Ah yes, the Family: You’re the Don in the game, the guy calling the shots. Accordingly, it’s for you and you alone to decide matters of hierarchy; i.e., who to recruit as your street soldiers, your capos, your specialists, your ‘made men’. Each potential Family member you encounter in the game will have his own individual background, skills, and even personality – the Big Talker with a penchant for pyromania, the guy skilled in medicine who happens to know his way around explosives, etc.

As chances for your assigned Family members to employ their skills arise, special icons will appear in the game-world: a dynamite icon for walls that can be blown by a demolitions expert, a flame icon for buildings that can be torched, an indicator that a safe-cracking wonk can conquer a vault for some quick cash, and the like. In actual real-time gameplay, these orders are accomplished as easily as approaching a ‘workable’ game location, and giving an order to the appropriately-skilled Family man with a single-button command.

On the strategic side of the game, both common, faceless ‘guards’, and your prized specialists can be assigned to protect or assault (or torch, or bomb) the business fronts of your rivals. It’s a neat feeling to send off your pyromaniacally-skilled made man to make short work of a rival family’s racket (knowing that a single, skilled Family man is easily the equivalent of several generic, posted guards), but there is always a risk involved. Send your favorite right-hand man into the wrong hornet’s nest, and he may very well not come back at all.

Of course, you are always free to real-time your way to the enemy’s doorstep—as you would in, say, a game of Grand Theft Auto—and personally oversee the assault yourself, with up to three of your favored henchmen in tow, responding to your squad-based whims. Tthey don’t pull their guns until you do; if your loyal musclemen have wandered too far away from you in a fight and you want to ‘keep your friends close’ (as the saying goes), all you have to do is whistle and they’re back at your side.

[image4]And of course, since your ‘family management screen’ only has a finite number of slots, you may be obliged to make room for a newer, better comrade… by marking one of your own men for death. The mob has never been big on the whole ‘golden parachute’ thing—in fact, ‘concrete parachute’ is probably closer to the truth.

As you whittle the Families of your rivals down, you’ll eventually need to take out the big men—the captains, the capos, the underbosses. The Godfather II revels in what I can only call ‘brutal style,’ and when it comes time to remove these gentlemen, no mere lucky headshot in a street battle will do… they’ll just come back from the hospital pissed off and in better shape than ever, just like your own underlings.

No, even if you get your vicious little hands around their disrespectful necks, the only way to permanently remove them from the game is by engaging them in combat, weakening them to a wounded, helpless "FINISH HIM!" state, and executing them up-close-and-personal in a variety of absolutely gruesome, nightmare-making, holy-shit-I-can’t-believe-this-is-an-EA-game ways. I don’t need to go into all of these, beyond giving you a general sense: the gun to the back of the head, of course; then there’s the stuff-the-shotgun-in-his-face and Curt-Kobain-his-ass-into-the-afterlife routine. One of the nastier ones I saw involved ramming a baseball bat into the victim’s mouth before jamming him face-down into… you get the idea. As I announced aloud during one of the morning demos, I really wish I hadn’t seen some of this stuff. The heavy drinking near the end of the second evening at EA helped to partially erase some of the ickier images from my short-term memory.

And oh, hey, here’s some good news: Despite all the team-based violence we attending editors and writers inflicted on each other later in the day, we’re not allowed to say anything about multiplayer until the 19th. Well, hell. Stay tuned, you Turks.

[image5]From its raw mechanics to its no-bullshit cinematics to its pleasing sense of running your own criminal show, The Godfather II is looking to be a compelling experience, whether or not you’ve seen any of the movies in question. For my part, I’m going to hurry and revisit all the movies, before somebody caps me in the back of the head for not knowing all the cool lines by heart.

I’m even going to watch Part III—even the parts where Sofia Coppola acts—with my eyes wide open. That’s how I roll.