A hit-and-miss man.
Above all, the mafia is a business. Extortion is really just a euphemism for price-gouging. Fixed gambling? Insider trading. Executing a traitorous informant? Looking out for your stockholders. So it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see last season’s The Godfather horn in on a little of the 360 action. The Godfather was a decent offering for the Xbox and the PS2 mostly for its good story-telling and epic scope, but its encroachment onto 360 turf just covers the next-gen base.
A few visual flairs and some upgraded side-missions make the game a touch deeper, but there’s nothing to recommend this to someone who has already played last-season’s version, and there’s certainly no way to recommend this already outdated game to 360 owners looking for some next-gen crack. The story-telling and the shooting is still good, but now the graphics look cheap and dated and the little mission upgrades are ephemeral and easily dismissed.
[image1]Set in 1940’s New York City, you play an entry level Corleone enforcer. As you rise up through the ranks, your story intertwines with the events in the first movie. For example, did you ever wonder how the horse’s head got into the bed? The movie never answers the grisly question, and the game takes full advantage, really putting the “Ewwww” in Elmer’s Glue. Same with the gun that Michael Corleone uses to avenge his father’s injury—you don’t get to play as Michael, but you do get to plant the gun he uses.
This is a brilliant use of the movie franchise. Rather than play out the exact scenes of the movie, you fill in the blanks, playing all of the scenes that the movie so assiduously refused to show. Another example is the final scene, where five crime bosses get hit simultaneously during Michael Corleone’s first Godfather ceremony. Praying isn’t playing
, but assassinating goons certainly is. And so it goes, your anonymous character carries out all the brutal crimes that the Corleones command.
With successful completion of missions, and with every enemy kill, your character gains respect. Respect is something like a mafia RPG “experience” meter—as you gain levels you upgrade skills. The skills are pretty generic: shooting, fighting, speed, street smarts, etc. While tweaking the skill sets a bit helps your character out, the light RPG elements of the game really don’t change the gameplay. Which is a shame, since the action in the game needs more meatball and less antipasti. In most missions, you perform one of two tasks, or sometimes both in succession: driving to a location or fighting your way to an informant on foot.
Driving is a clear miss for this hit-and-miss game. The mechanic is the same as Grand Theft Auto
’s, except without a diversity of vehicles or crash physics. It is bad enough that there were only five different types of cars you could drive in the original version, it’s worse that there are only the same five in the 360 version. A couple of pathetic “ramps” that allow you to catch maybe a half-second of air, but they just serve to show how uninspired the vehicular portion of the game is. The worst bit is that you will have to drive quite a bit through the course of the game, as missions take you from one side of the map to another.
Fighting is another shot wide of the mark. The right thumbstick controls the melee attacks, and by holding a button and flipping the right thumbstick in a bunch of directions, your goon will fire corresponding punches and kicks. Another button grabs, and you can drag your enemy and throw them off roofs and into pizza ovens.
[image2]It looks okay on paper, but in the heat of battle you can be left fiddling with your thumbsticks to no discernable purpose. It is also nearly impossible to throw, as it requires “swooping” your opponent with the right thumbstick while letting go of the right trigger. The timing is precise, which is to say, dumb. I meant to throw the bastard, but instead I grabbed him by the collar and simply let go . . . over and over again.
Luckily, shooting fares better than fighting and driving combined. The target lock system is quick and usually intuitive. When you are “locked” on a target, you can use the right thumbstick to aim at particular body parts, or over obstacles. This same mechanic was the best part of the abortion-worthy True Crime: New York City
, and we’re glad to see it replicated here in a decently programmed game.
One thing the 360 version does right is to eliminate some of the A.I. glitches that plagued the first game. No longer do enemy family members immediately ignore you after you’ve successfully extorted a business. And taking over rackets requires a few more punches than the zero required in the original version. Bad guys seem more aggressive everywhere in the game, and the first time they pull a hit on you as you’re walking innocently down the street, you realize that the enemies are no longer all talk.
And talking is still what this game does well. The voices are pulled from the movies, and are complemented by some superb original voice-acting by O.G.’s James Caan
and Robert Duval
among others. The scriptwriting is smart and the Brooklyn dialect is uniformly sensational. It isn’t often that we heap praise on voices, but it’s only in a hot and cold game like this where you can see how decent acting makes such a huge difference.
The music is similarly pulled from the movie, and provides a nice soundtrack for the action of the game. The trademark trumpet tune is here, and casts a pleasant sorrow over the story of betrayal and honor. It certainly ain’t vanilla pop or hard-core gangsta rap, and for that, we can all rejoice.
[image3]However, the graphics are not nearly as nuanced as the sounds. The city is huge, and looks good from a distance, but up close the textures are bland and repetitive. Cars are similarly featureless, and all sport opaque windows. The buildings that you can enter are surprisingly large, but you quickly discover that they are all cookie-cutter replications of just five or six base models. That was bad enough when it was just on the Xbox and PS2, but it’s unforgivable in a 360 title. As a whole, the package is as bland as pesto without the garlic.
While the character models are still good, their animations, their blocky hair, and their rectangular clothing are no longer acceptable. Maybe the faces are a little crisper, but you could do the same by turning up the sharpness on your TV. The fact that the characters are basically the exact same as they were in the old version makes it impossible to confuse the 360 Godfather with any other native 360 game. It really looks like it was made for the Xbox.
The game itself is pretty short, as the main missions only take a few hours to shoot through. Some side missions, which are restricted to assassinations and extortions, try to fill out the giant double-breasted suit of the full NYC map, but are several pasta dinners short. While there might be a lot of room to explore, the game doesn’t provide much incentive to stray from the main narrative.
A few new side-missions seem sprinkled into the mix, another little incentive to buy the 360 version, but these missions really don’t affect the main story at all. New options like robbing banks make the experience more diverse, but they don’t make the game feel very new or much more fun than the first time around.
Also new for the 360 are recruitable mobsters. For a price, you can have your own sidekick. It works fine—the sidekicks are usually pretty powerful and don’t get in the way. Police officers too, if bribed, will fight for you. This can lead to some pretty intense police vs. gangland battles, but again, it isn’t essential to the game.
If you missed The Godfather
the first time AND you sold your old Xbox, then maybe you should pick up the 360 version. But with winners like Saint’s Row
out there, The Godfather
is one big bully stuck in the past.