When Electronic Arts first released The Godfather on the Xbox and PlayStation 2 there was a lot of doubt whether they could pull off such an ambitious idea. A lot of people have fond memories of Francis Ford Coppola's classic 1972 feature film and the idea of turning it into a Grand Theft Auto-clone felt sacrilegious to many. But Electronic Arts did it; they were able to convince even the most cynical game critics that The Godfather was actually a quality game full of good ideas and solid game play. That was a year ago and since then we've seen the game ported to everything from the PC to the Xbox 360 to the PSP. But just when you thought you had seen this mafia simulator ported to every system imaginable, Electronic Arts turns around and releases the game on two more consoles -- the Sony PlayStation 3 and the Nintendo Wii.
The Wii port of The Godfather is known as the Blackhand Edition, but don't let the subtitle fool you, this is essentially the same exact game you saw on all of the other consoles. The only big difference in this game is the way you actually play the game, which is aided by the Wii's crazy motion controls. Outside of the predictable differences we're left with what is a solid action game that you may have already played before. If this is your first experience with EA's rendition of The Godfather then this is a great game to sink your teeth into, but for everybody else there just isn't enough new here.
If you've seen the original 1972 movie then you'll feel right at home in the story of The Godfather, this game features the same characters, location and atmosphere found in that award winning feature film. Instead of playing as one of the movie's central characters, you have a chance to experience life as a brand new player that does not appear in any of the films. From the very start you have a chance to create your character in the same way you might in one of EA's sports titles (such as the Tiger Woods series). You start out as nothing more than a grunt, the type of character everybody bosses around; but soon enough you'll be climbing your way up the ladder to eventually become the Don of New York City.
Despite the appearance of this new character, The Godfather: The Game manages to stay surprisingly close to the source material. Your character (which you get to name whatever you want) finds himself with a front row seat for just about every key moments in Francis Ford Coppola's epic. In most cases you'll be the one actually performing the tasks that lead to everything from the famous horse head scene to all of the death sequences that gave the movie its edge. Although EA did take a few liberties, if you're one of the many fans of the movie chances are you'll have a great time living this interactive version.
At first you'll be asked to do simple tasks, usually involving you beating somebody up or shooting at a bunch of rival families. You basically have two basic ways of attacking in The Godfather; you can use your fists or a weapon, both of which involve you wiggling the Wii's remote control around in interesting (and often fun) ways. The hand to hand combat is definitely my favorite part; you actually have to perform an air punch in order to hit somebody in the game. If you want to jab somebody all you need to do is quickly punch straight ahead, whereas if you want to land a more powerful punch you can bring your arm back and use the Wii's motion sensing control to perform a hook punch. The Wii's remote feels extremely natural in this kind of game and there's something exhilarating about performing the punch motions and seeing the same thing happen on the television screen. I won't say that the fighting control is especially deep, but it's just as advanced as the other versions of the game. Playing The Godfather gives me great hope for the future of the Fight Night series (among other franchises).
When you get sick of throwing punches (or your arm cramps up) you can always switch over to a variety of different weapons. One of my biggest problems with the other versions of The Godfather was the gun controls, I just hated the way the camera would lock on to enemies and if you weren't lined up properly you would simply shoot at the floor. Thanks to the Wii's unique control this problem has been completely rectified. While you still have a target button, getting the shot you want is made much easier because you can just point to where you want to shoot and not have to deal with an analog stick. I do still have a few problems with the way EA developed the gun play mechanics, but this is about the best we should expect from this game.
One problem that hasn't been addressed is the paltry collection of guns at your disposal. When it comes right down to it there just aren't very many weapons to use, I'm not sure if that's because of the time period the game is set in or if the developers just didn't feel like it was essential to have a lot of different firearms. There is your standard fare, such as a tommy gun and a shotgun, as well as a few alternate weapons, like a lead pipe and Molotov cocktails. When these weapons stop being as effective as they should you can hit up the back-alley arms dealer and upgrade them a couple of times. There may be fewer guns to play with, but in a lot of ways you can still cause the type of chaos that made games like Grand Theft Auto so popular.
Speaking of Grand Theft Auto, a lot of people are going to compare The Godfather: Blackhand Edition to Rockstar's best-selling 3D action/adventure series. But The Godfather is less about the open-ended game play and more about the overall story that takes you up the ranks. In a lot of ways The Godfather is more like the 2002 game, Mafia, than the Grand Theft Auto series. Along with the game's similar look and feel, many of the game's missions will feel instantly familiar to anybody who played through Mafia.
From the very beginning New York City is open for you to explore either by foot or car, which means you can get out there and extort businesses and hunt down people who your bosses want you to whack. These mini games are pretty simple (usually requiring you to do nothing more than beat somebody up or take over their business), but they go a long way in helping you earn enough money to afford whatever you want. Like many of the other open-ended games of recent years you can do just about anything you want (such as carjacking, beating innocent people up, and running from the cops), but don't expect to spend as much time completing these mini games as you might in one of the Grand Theft Auto titles.
The look of New York City is straight out of the movie. This is a perfect recreation of 1940s New York, complete with old cars, appropriate attire, and even a few classic songs from the era. You can drive around any of the city's five areas -- Little Italy, Brooklyn, Midtown, Hell's Kitchen, and New Jersey -- with no loading times, which gives you a chance to check out some of the key sites and find all of those hidden items. Not only that, but you are also able to go inside of many of the buildings and search out people and just see what is up. Sadly, most of the interiors are repeated more than you would like so after awhile the thrill of running through a motel killing people will subside and leave you wondering if you've been here before.
But enough about the buildings and city, it's the story that most people are going to be excited about ... and for good reason. Many of the biggest names from the movie make an appearance, which means that we get fine work from first-time voice actors like James Caan, Robert Duvall, and Abe Vigoda. The Godfather: The Game also marks one of the final performances by Hollywood legend Marlon Brando, who manages to add a lot of credibility to the Don Corleone character. It's a shame that not everybody came back to reprise their roles (the most disappointing being the lack of Al Pacino), but you'll hardly notice thanks to some otherwise amazing voice work.
Although there are a lot of different missions to complete, most of them seem to follow the same general theme. A typical mission has you driving to a location, shooting the place up, getting back in your car and then driving back to where you started. There are a few exceptions to this structure, including some stealth missions and a few car chases, but for the most part The Godfather doesn't deviate from these simple missions. That's not to say that these tasks are bad, in fact some of them are a whole lot of fun. The problem is that by the end of the game you kind of feel like you've played a certain type of mission a whole lot of times. Thankfully the game is fairly short and by the time you've noticed that your basically doing the same thing over and over you will be far too busy trying to outrun the cops and other gangsters.
Speaking of car chases, the vehicles in The Godfather feel pretty natural, which makes for some pretty exciting chase sequences. Sadly there aren't a lot of cars to choose from in the game. Perhaps that has more to do with the era than the game's design, but it's still noticeable when you've carjacked the same vehicle for the two-hundredth time. It's also worth noting that most of the cars (and occasional trucks) are extremely sluggish, to the point where it's sometimes not fun to drive them. To be fair, there are a couple cars that have fast top speeds, but this is not the type of game where you'll be raving about how fun it is to run from the cops and motor around the city. The good news is that the Wii's nunchuk control makes driving these cars a breeze; it definitely gives me confidence that this open-ended style of game can be done well on Nintendo's newest console.
Unfortunately none of the cars in The Godfather have radios, which means you will be forced to listen to the same incidental music for the entirety of the game. By no means is the music bad, but it won't take long before you start hating that Godfather theme. The fact that it plays ad nauseum while you're driving is enough to make you want to turn the music all the way down. In other versions of the game you could substitute your own music giving some variety to the soundtrack, sadly that is not available in the Wii port.
As you complete the missions you will be given experience points, which allows you to level up and increase your character's stats. Each time you level up you will be given a couple of points to put wherever you want, such as your fighting skills, proficiency with the gun, speed, health and so on. Getting your character to a high level will make him extremely difficult to kill, especially if you've upgraded your weapons and have mastered the control. That won't mean you won't die from a direct shotgun blast to the face, but it curbs those unfortunate situations quite a bit.
Don't worry too much about dying, though. Although it's a blow to your confidence, chances are you're going to be dying a lot while playing through The Godfather. But that's okay, because if you do run out of health you will be revived at the nearest hospital for a nominal fee. Best of all you get to keep your weapons and just try again. Better yet, if you die in the middle of a mission you will only have to start over at the checkpoint, which can make things a lot easier. As the game winds down you will probably pass on more than you would like, but only after the game decides to go from normal difficulty to hard (and cheap). Still, The Godfather is never too frustrating and can easily be beaten if you have the patience and can put up with a few frustrating game play hiccups.
The graphics in The Godfather: Blackhand Edition are similar to what we saw on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox a year ago. It's not that this is a bad looking game, but it's hard to be impressed after seeing the game running in high def on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Thankfully the experience isn't dogged down by the somewhat outdated graphics; it's still just as much fun as it ever was.
While The Godfather is an exciting game that mimics the movie better than anybody could have imagined, it's not quite the showpiece game for the Wii. The fact that this style of game can be done on this Nintendo console does bode well for the future of the Wii, but I would rather have realized that while playing a brand new game … or at least something that hasn't already been on every other console known to man. If you're a Wii owner and you haven't played The Godfather then by all means pick this game up and see what all the fuss is about, but if you've already fought your way to the top then there's probably not enough new content here to warrant a second play through.