Leave the game, take the cannoli.
The Godfather—and more to the point, The Godfather Part II—is one of those movies: You can’t get your official Guy Membership Card until you’ve seen it (pretty much the same deal applies with Blade Runner and the official Guy Secret Decoder Badge). The first Godfather game had players taking the role of a custom character working with the larger-than-life mobsters from the movies, with New York as the stamping ground; The Godfather II opens up the game-world to include Miami and Cuba.
[image1]Perhaps the most significant change is that, whereas the first game offered a would-be gangster working his way up through the Mafia ranks, The Godfather II starts right off in the late 1950s with your new character, Dominic, heading up his own fledgling crime family. To this end, the game features a new overarching, "Don’s-eye" view that sees the various Family-turn cities as collections of assorted crime rings to be acquired, lost, defended, and/or torched as the ever-fluid situation warrants.
During an introductory segment in Cuba wherein Michael and Hyman Roth’s bid to buddy up with the Batista government is suddenly and rudely interrupted by Fidel Castro’s uprising, the New York family boss gets himself perished. And the player, as Dominic, just as suddenly finds himself thrust into the role of the new Don as the formerly-stratified New York criminal order flares into ambitious, all-out, full-scale mob warfare. Ready or not, here comes everybody.
The familiar, sandbox, GTA-esque portion of the game is what you’ve probably come to expect: Dominic running and driving around, intimidating, shooting, blowing up rival families, their business interests and the made men guarding them. From the outset, you’ll be able to induct one ‘soldier’ into the Family to follow you around and help with your dirty deeds, and you will eventually crew up with a total of seven: four of the aforementioned ‘soldiers’, two capos, and one underboss. Each made man in this group of mugs has his own specialty – cracking safes, the all-important ability to heal your men in the field, and just blowing stuff up real good.
The other major ‘Don’s-eye’ portion of the game focuses on tracking the expanse of your enemies’ criminal empires as well as your own and dispatching your street soldiers to curb one empire and defend the other, as needed. The various criminal ventures – prostitution, money-laundering, drugs, etc. – provide your family operation with different functional rewards, such as armored vehicles or bulletproof vests. Gain complete control of a particular crime racket, and you gain the concomitant reward; lose said racket, you lose the reward.
[image2]In theory, it’s an ambitious, free-from scheme that lets one, as the game’s tagline proclaims, “act like a mobster, think like a don”. It’s rather a mature, shocking, and brutal romp the first few times you roll up on a business establishment, lay hands on the proprietor via the famiar ‘Black Hand’ control scheme and commence to cuffing, head-butting, F-bombing, and otherwise beating the shit out of said proprietor and/or their merchandise. Potential victims have a certain limit at which, if you push them there, they’ll crack and give you what you want; they also, however, have a limit at which they’ll fight back… and of course, a limit at which you’ve got a dead body on your hands, which isn’t necessarily good for keeping the money rolling in.
One thing for damned sure: EA didn’t hold back a jot on either the language or the general brutality of the proceedings. You’ll definitely want to hit Mute if little Timmy suddenly wanders into the room looking for Pokémon Platinum while you’re slapping some hapless businesswoman’s knockers sideways, or helpfully informing a store owner that you’re ready to put a boot in his ass if he doesn’t wise up and cough up.
Another nice touch is that your single-player family can be taken into online multiplayer games for the purposes of leveling up – and the experience they gather in that online capacity can then be imported back, to translate into greater riches, skills, and rewards in the single-player game.
Unfortunately, that nice theoretical, functional touch – as well as many other great-in-theory elements of The Godfather II – just don’t pan out nearly so well after you’ve played the game for a few hours. In fact, there are scattered elements throughout the game that come across as shockingly unfinished, or at least dismayingly unpolished.
[image3]For a ‘sandbox’-style game, you’ll encounter an awful lot of pointless walls, generic facades, and inconsistent world-rules – some doors that won’t fall to an explosive device can be readily, barehandedly opened by one of your goons, if he’s strong enough. Dominic can take on a roomful of foes even if he has to resort to doing it with his bare hands (withstanding amounts of gunfire that would give Clark Kent terminal lead poisoning)… but you’ll soon encounter innocent-looking scenic elements and ludicrously-low barriers that, God damn it, he just can’t figure a way over. There is also a depressing preponderance of buildings and locales that take up space without serving any particular function.
And the less said about why you, the Don, are chatting up random citizens and inquiring about doing them favors – instead of, you know, the precise opposite – the better.
None of which is to say that there isn’t fun to be had here. Terrorizing the local businessfolk into coming around to your way of
funding thinking is a guilty pleasure, and things do start to feel personal when they turn traitor and what you’ve just ‘secured’ is quickly taken back by an opposing family, prompting an escalation on your own end. And there is something terribly gratifying about finally working your way through the ranks of an opposing family and eliminating it, either by bombing their compound or simply executing the big-shot in question by a variety of creative and gruesome methods that we needn’t go into here. The fact that such personal executions have to be, um, executed by said particular methods makes no sense at all, of course… but it’s no sillier than the insane amounts of damage players can expect to absorb and recover from in video games without number.
[image4]Multiplayer just kind of hangs around, like the goon who won’t ever be your right-hand man, but might come in handy when it comes time to shake down the butcher’s shop down the block. Beyond the expected team deathmatch, there are modes like Firestarter (send your arson-guys to set various blazes), Safecracker (crack various safes about the map), and Demolition Assault (use your demolition guys to… yeah, you get the point). One interesting (and exactly-right) aspect is the ability of players to place ‘cash’ bets on how opposing teams fare against each other. There are moments when Vito Corleone is smiling upon the proceedings here.
Most of the abovementioned flaws don’t really start to grate until you’ve got several hours under your gun-holster, so if you’re here as much to vicariously re-experience some Godfather moments (they’re shuffled out of order in most cases, but the iconic ones are here) as to play a straight-up violent mobster game, you’ll still have fun. The main game is comparatively short anyway (maybe a dozen hours), so depending on how
jaded experienced a gamer you are, you may well get your money’s worth before you decide it’s time to get out of this racket. Just be aware that there’s surely a Godfather III in the works… and just when you get out, they might pull you back in. Sofia Coppola.