Review: Godfather II

By Pete Haas 2009-04-06 22:13:12 discussion comments
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The Godfather II's task is much harder than that of other video game film adaptations. Most film-to-game adaptations are based on recently released, popcorn action flicks but here EA is tackling Godfather Part II, a movie that's racked up over thirty years' worth of critical praise. The challenge, in short, is to offer a fresh experience to gamers without defiling a revered film in the process. Ultimately, though, the real problem with this game isn't that it fails to live up to the film but that it doesn't measure up to its competitors or its own lofty plans.

EA, to their credit, doesn't treat the film like some golden idol and picks the original storyline apart as needed to create their game. Players control Dominic, a member of the Corleone crime family appointed by Michael Corleone to run the empire's operations. Dominic didn't appear in Godfather films or books so a place in the storyline has to be carved out for him. In some cases, Dominic's deeds fill in the gaps of the film's storyline (for example: putting together the blackmail on a politician) but he'll also stand in for other characters at certain moments as well. In addition, events in the film have been rearranged a bit. This will likely piss off die-hard fans of the film merely on principle and Dominic's a bit of an empty suit but the game's main storyline is still decent.

The storyline's decent on paper, anyway. It's hampered by hit-and-miss voice acting. Robert Duvall reprises his role as Tom Hagen and he's great but not many other characters are so lucky. Hyman Roth, a major figure in the game/film, sounds like a bored impersonator of the pedophiliac old man from Family Guy ("I've got popsicles in the cellar", etc.). Considering that three decades have past since the film hits theaters, it's understandable that they wouldn't be able to get most of the original actors but the replacements just don't feel like they're into it. Maybe it's because they realize their performance is going to get measured against the original actor's and be found wanting so they don't even bother.

Like the original Godfather, Godfather II is at its heart a third-person perspective sandbox action game. It's the oldest part of the game, which you'd think would mean it's the most developed but it's actually the aspect of the game that shows the most age. Over the course of the game, you'll unlock three cities you can wander at will - New York, Miami, and Havana - but that's less impressive than it sounds.

First of all, the cities are small - I think if you put all three together, they'd be about as big as the largest borough in Grand Theft Auto IV's Liberty City. Second of all, you can't freely explore them - Dominic can only climb through certain windows and over certain small walls and cars don't knock down gates so there's plenty of areas that are just simply inaccessible. Third, there's not much to find through exploration. Sure, there are NPC's offering side quests but they're just randomly generated character models offering one of four (give or take) types of simplistic missions: kill this guy, punch that guy, steal this jewelry, break that merchandise, etc. Doing these jobs will get you a little extra money and the occasional favor (like being able to call off the police during a chase) but they're no more fun than just shooting random pedestrians...and even that's not that fun.

When you commit a crime, eyewitnesses will report you to the police if you don't bribe or otherwise "take care of" them, the police will show up. You'll get a wanted rating of 1-4 sirens depending on how much havoc you cause but all this means is that slightly more police will chase you. To evade capture, you need to escape a circular area centered on where your initial crime was, which expands if you commit more crimes. This would be a pretty simple task if cops didn't seem to just spawn right behind you over and over. Your best bet is to hop in a car and speed away but high-speed chases aren't that fun. As I said before, a fence will stop your car dead in its tracks and so will a car waiting at a stoplight, no matter how much momentum you have. So underdeveloped is the driving that it's barely incorporated into any missions.

So yeah, there's little to no reason to wander around the game's cities so you'll spend most of of your time trying to expand your empire. You're competing with a few different criminal empires to take over businesses that bring in daily income as well as confer bonuses. If you control all three businesses in the Chop Shop crime ring, for example, you'll gain the ability to drive armored cars. You only have these bonuses as long as you control every business in the ring so the enemies will try their damnedest to steal one away from you.

In addition to the third-person perspective, Godfather II also has something called the Don's View in which you can look at a city from a three-dimensional view and see you and your enemy's businesses, as well as airports, quest objectives, etc. It's a pretty easy interface to get the hang of. Through the Don's view you'll hire guards for each of your businesses and send your made men - recruitable NPC's who are tougher than average guards and can accompany you on missions - to assault or defend as needed. It's not very satisfying to hear about your made men's successes through a pop-up window of text (you don't get to see video footage or anything) so more than likely you'll want to round up some of your made men and go to war personally.

You can be accompanied by up to three made men at any given time. Each possesses at least one talent - safecracking, melee combat, demolitions, first aid, arson, or engineering. These unique talents allow you to assault enemy businesses in different ways. For example, a demolitions guy can blow up a weak spot in a warehouse's back wall and allow you to bypass many of the guards. You can instantly switch the people in your crew around through Don's View, though, so if you have one Safecracker somewhere in your family and he's not actively attacking/defending some other spot on the map, you'll always be able to open any safes you come across. Later in the game, you'll promote crew members in your family and they'll gain additional specialties so you may not even have to swap anyone. The idea of characters with special skills seems interesting but it feels too watered down to really add flavor to the experience. There's no depth to these skills beyond one or two uses.

The money you earn through your businesses can be invested back into your made men (and Dominic) through upgrades. You'll be able to boost their health, marksmanship, special skill speeds, etc. by paying money. One thing you can't improve with money are "weapon licenses" - their ability to wield certain types of weapons. Made men with a "Basic" weapon license can only use the starting weapons while those with an "Expert" license can wield them all. To get a better license for a made man, you'll have to use him in multiplayer matches (team deathmatch or objective maps) and earn points. It's a subtle way of encouraging people to play the game's multiplayer but I still kinda wish there was an offline way to acquire a new weapon license.

The objective when assaulting a business isn't to simply kill all the enemies - you're fighting your way to the highest or least accessible point of the building where the owner is cowering. Once you do that, you have strong-arm him into giving you the business. The interrogation system is actually pretty interesting. When you find the owner, a bar will appear on the screen with two lines. The objective is to intimidate the owner enough so the bar passes the first line so he'll yield control to you. You'll get extra income from the business depending on how far past the first line the meter fills up but if the meter goes past the second line, the owner won't negotiate with you and you'll be forced to kill him. When the owner's dead, you'll have to wait a certain period of time before you can try to recapture it. Each business owner has a "weak point" that you can play up to get extra income out of him. For example, an appliance store manager doesn't like it if you smash his merchandise and a construction site foreman really won't appreciate it if you dangle him over the roof. There's only maybe three or four weak points though so this intriguing feature becomes stale quickly.

The game's overall goal is to take over every business in a family's possession and then attack and blow up their compound. Needless to say, this results in you attacking many, many businesses. It wouldn't be so bad if the game's interiors were well-designed. Though there are some cosmetic differences between different types of businesses, within each individual building there's not much variety or detail so you'll end up getting lost and wandering around amongst the nondescript hallways until you find an overlooked door that leads to the owner.

The gunplay itself is underwhelming. The game uses a targeting system similar to GTA IV in which you lock on to an enemy with one button and then hold down the fire button 'til they're dead. You can also move your targeting reticle around while locked on to aim at specific body parts. There's no dismemberment or anything though - they'll just flop over once they take the requisite amount of damage.

Unless you're shooting enemies in the head, they'll withstand an obscene amount of bullets before they die. It's designed that way probably so you'll make use of the new execution system. Going up to an enemy on his knees and pressing a button will cause you to unleash one of many different executions depending on what weapon you've got in your hand. If you've got a Tommy gun, for example, you'll shove it in his mouth and pull the trigger. It's flashy and probably feels really good in a multiplayer match but it's no game changer.

There's a decent amount of firearms (pistols, shotguns, machine guns, sniper rifles) to choose from in the game but for some reason, new weapons are hidden in story missions and can only be unlocked if you find them so the full selection of guns will be withheld from you if you're not in a scavenger hunt mood. There's less variety amongst the foes, as they're mostly just generic gangsters. Rival families have made men too but there's no attempt to give them any personality whatsoever in the game's storyline so encountering these guys won't have any additional weight.

Much like a movie gangster, Godfather II was ultimately undone by its boundless ambition. It couldn't just be a sandbox action game - it had to be a strategy game too. It couldn't just be a sandbox action/strategy game - it needed role-playing elements and a multiplayer component too. This is a game that tried to have it all but ended up with nothing. Okay, maybe not "nothing" - it's entertaining enough but doesn't manage to distinguish itself in any specific area. Maybe now that they've got the basic blueprint down, they'll be able to develop the features more in a sequel.

Players:1-16 players
Platform(s):Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Developer:EA Redwood Shores
Publisher:Electronic Arts
ESRB:Mature
Rating:
discussion
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