I’ve been waiting for this game for a long time, it seems ages ago I played The Godfather pt.1 (and that was on PS2) and enjoyed it rather more than I expected to with its period-GTA gameplay, and this delayed sequel has been on the outer reaches of my ‘most wanted’ list since then.
The original Godfather game followed your character as he moved up through the ranks of the Corleone family, and was a decent mix of third-person shooting and driving, with the occasional bit of stealth, harassment (that’s beating people within an inch of their lives) and bribery and corruption added for good measure. Rather than take on the role of Corleone family boss Michael, Godfather II allows you to design your own character in true ‘EA Gameface’ style, and do it all over again, this time with some light resource management to complement all the driving, strong arm intimidation and shooting. You shouldn’t be mislead by the Godfather II title, the game doesn’t really follow the plot of the movie but does feature central characters from it; Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) Fredo Corleone (John Cazale) and Don Michael Corleone (although they didn’t get the rights to use Al Pacino’s likeness, I guess it’s still tied up with Scarface). There are incidents and locations from the movie to make sure it works as a game, but even with EA’s muscle behind it is Godfather II tough enough to go head to head with the likes of GTA IV, Saints Row 2, Mercenaries 2, Wheelman et al?
Well the answer is definitely ‘yes’, but it’s a slow burner for the same sort of reasons as the first game. The Godfather II throws you in at the deep end, and it takes place in the late 1950s and early ‘60s and the gameplay is split between three cities: New York City, Miami and Havana, Cuba. The family’ decide to have a jolly-up in Havana on the eve of the Cuban revolution, and in the ensuing riot your immediate boss Aldo Trapani, the player character of original game, is killed. When you arrive back in New York City you are promoted and told by Michael Corleone to start your own ‘family’, and immediately get to recruit your first ‘little helper’ or ‘made man’. The men you recruit from around the city all have different skill levels and specialties; Bruiser (can kick down stubborn doors), Demolitionist (explosives expert who can blow holes in walls), Engineer (cuts through fences and can disable electrical supplies so enemies can’t call for backup), Medic (heals you or your immediate gang when downed and is very important to any family), Safecracker and Arsonist (well duh). The only problem I found with this is that early in the game you’ll often go and attempt a mission only to find that it’s impossible because you need a specific expert to complete it, as the only way in may be to blow a hole in a wall or cut through a fence. Once you have a few guys working for you one can be promoted to ‘Capo’, at which point he can be given a second specialty, and your best man (I suspect you’ll develop a favourite the same way I did) can eventually be made like your right hand or ‘underboss’, and learn a third trade, making him indispensable. If you tire of one of your men’s lack of ability and can’t be bothered to pay out your “hard earned cash” to upgrade him, or simply come across a more talented man then the poor reject can be “marked for death” so that friendly fire (normally turned ‘off’) can hurt him and he can have an unfortunate accident down a dark alley… Sadly he won’t be “sleeping with the fishes” or getting “concrete boots” though, because despite there being literally dozens of different ways of executing people with all the different weapons or even with Dominic’s bare hands, this is one aspect in which the game could definitely have been improved. Up to 3 men can be ordered to your crew and follow you everywhere, and they can even be made to lean out of the car windows and shoot enemies with a press of LB – they look a lot like the Ant Hill Mob from Wacky Races when they do this. The vehicle handling is okay, but due to the unexciting selection of ‘50s and ‘60s vehicles (many of which handle like tanks and have turning circles like oil tankers) you won’t be going for a drive just for the fun of it as you would in GTA.
There are a lot of cutscenes in the game and they tell the story nicely with action, violence and language to suit; your character Dominic features in all of them so you always feel connected to the story. The in-game map is called the "Don's View," and aside from just being a map this is a full 3D representation of what’s going on in the city and tells you the location, name and what kind of business it is, and which family is running it – it’ll even tell you how many people guard each location so you can prepare for an attack, or raise/lower your own levels of protection. There are even cops, politicians and union bosses who ask you to use your strong-arm tactics in return for useful favours like calling off the cops, rebuilding bombed-out businesses or faster recovery from injuries.
At first the depth of the game seemed quite daunting to me, but once you get to know your way around the map and the reams of menus and statistics things get much more fun and everything seems to click into place (some menus are useful but many of them are completely superfluous to success in the game so don’t worry if “stats” turn you off). Each business you acquire can be made part of a larger crime ring which when completed will grant a perk or bonus (income bonuses, better vehicles, weapons accuracy etc). Every business is likely to be attacked by a rival family and thus you need to pay men to guard each location, and ward off attacks. These are just paid soldiers and not made men. As you build your family of made men you’ll be able to order them to locations to attempt takeovers of rival ventures, or even to defend your own businesses from attack by rival families. These guys are upgradeable but even at their base level are the equivalent to 5 or so normal guards. If you prefer the hands-on approach then you can lead every single attack or defence, it’s entirely up to you, but eventually you’ll be staging takeovers and defending businesses simultaneously, once the ins and outs of the menu system have been learnt it works really well and feels like a Real Time Strategy (RTS) game with some light resource management, but one in which you can leap right into the sharp end of any time you want. Some people will love this aspect of it and others will wonder what the heck it’s doing there, but it sets it apart from the other games in the genre and makes it unique.
When you take over a business it’s a matter of removing all the guards and then pummeling the business owner and making him an offer he can’t refuse so he sees things your way. Each owner has an ‘intimidation gauge’ and you have to intimidate, threaten them or beat them until they break, but not take it too far or he’ll fight back and refuse to work for you, which obviously means he dies and you can’t take over that business until he’s been replaced and you have to stage the entire attack again. Once you’ve taken over all of a rival family’s businesses they will retreat to their compound, and the only way to wipe them out and kill the family Don is to blow up the whole thing. This means storming the place (a heavily-guarded mansion of some sort) and setting explosives at its core, then quickly escaping before you get blown to kingdom come along with it. Assassinating family members beforehand will make the compound attack a lot easier, and their location and kill requirement can be discovered by doing favours for random members of the public dotted around the cities.
Once you get a decent level of control in New York, you’ll be drafted into the Miami side of the family to help out, and it’s here that you realize the true scale of the game after the rather claustrophobic New York map, which is tiny in comparison to say, GTA IV’s Liberty City. In-game Miami is a huge play area spread out over a group of linked islands, and with wider, straighter roads the driving is lot more fun. The rival Miami families seem to be larger and a lot better tooled up than the New York ones, and not only that you’ll still have to manage things and fend off the occasional attack back in New York. This isn’t as much of a juggling act as it sounds though, as by this time you should have several extremely proficient Capos who can be sent to deal with the problems, rather than you flying back and dealing with it yourself.
The Godfather II’s multiplayer mode is less about being the boss and all about hands-on action. The character you choose to play with isn’t just some generic soldier, it’ll be one of your guys from in the game, and you can upgrade him by
achieving set goals during multiplayer games. I tried 3 of the 4 modes which were Team Deathmatch – which is a straight-up fragfest, and tends to be a matter of endless circle-strafing, but is good fun for a while. Fire Starter – Unsurprisingly this can only be played with at least one wise guy with the arsonist ability, and the goal is to start fires at specific points on the map. The rest of the team can be whichever job they want, but it’s best not to rely on only one firestarter. Safe Cracker – is similar to Firestarter inasmuch as there are various points marked on the minimap. Safecrackers need to get to the safe and open it without getting wasted along the way, so again teamwork and a good escort team is vital. Assault– is again similar, but requires a Demolitionist to blow holes in certain walls.
There’s also an extra multiplayer mode that is free to download called "Don Control," this is more like the story mode’s gameplay as it allows players to build a family, command them in battle and view the action from a bird's eye view. This mode will support up to sixteen players, and players can recruit other players and cut them in on the profits accrued during the battle for businesses and territory. One point I’d like to make is that you can’t jump straight into the multiplayer mode, you can’t use Dominic so you have to play the story mode for a bit until you’ve recruited at least one wise guy. But on the other hand, multiplayeraphobics needn’t worry as you don’t actually have to dip into the multiplayer modes at all, as if you look around enough there are plenty of highly skilled expert henchmen waiting for you to give them a job.
What you get with Godfather II is an interesting mix of 1960s GTA-style gameplay with some resource management mixed in, but breaks up what can be repetitive action quite well. This is definitely not a game for the casual gamer as some of it is quite involved, and it seems a lot less easy to “pick up and play” than GTA IV or Saints Row 2. The graphics are unexciting and even bland at times, and lack that next gen ‘wow’ effect, but the game is always smooth, and looks kind of like The Sims Do GTA, only much more violent and gory. The fire and flames in the game deserve a special mention, and when you blow up an enemy family’s compound it looks amazing. The lack of boats or planes makes the constant car travel required for much of the gameplay rather repetitious, and also limits the variety of the gameplay compared to the aforementioned games of a similar breed. Nonetheless The Godfather II is a slick and interesting variation on a theme, and one that makes you an offer you probably shouldn’t refuse.