Electronic Arts' first attempt at recreating The Godfather was, for the most part, a huge success ... and I should know, I went through the game on five different consoles. For whatever reason (mostly having to do with my job), I ended up playing through the game on the PlayStation 2, original Xbox, PSP, Wii and Xbox 360. In fact, the ONLY console I don't own The Godfather on is the PlayStation 3. Deep down there's a part of me that does a double take every time I see a used PS3 copy at a game store.
The Godfather: The Game wasn't a perfect experience, but it did tell a fascinating story, move along at a nice pace and offer an intriguing world that was just different enough from all of the other Grand Theft Auto clones on the market. As silly as it sounds, I had a lot of fun seeing some of the best scenes from the movie from a completely different (and often interactive) point of view. Given the high quality of the first game and the source material (by all accounts a better movie), I was genuinely excited about this sequel. It's rare for me to get excited about a sequel to a movie game, but this was one of those times. Sadly, now I know that I got my hopes up for nothing.
It's as if Electronic Arts decided to take everything that was great about the first game - reliving your favorite moments from the movie, always having a variety of things to do, the unique world to explore - and replaced it with a standard run-and-gun action game that takes place in some awfully familiar locations. The game attempts to fuse a bunch of good ideas together, but due to the game's unfinished feel, sub-par graphics and terrible A.I. helpers, The Godfather II is a deal I'm going to have to pass up.
The game is set in the late 1950s, several years after the events of the first game. You play Dominic, a customizable character who is one of the Dons of New York City. You start out simply taking over other businesses controlled by other gangs, but quickly the story has you traveling from one city to the next, and eventually getting caught up in a whole messy situation that involves the new Cuban government, the U.S. government and all of the mobsters in between. And if that wasn't enough, you still have to worry about those opposing families, each doing whatever it takes you rub you out of the picture.
The game takes place in three different locations, all of them overused by modern day sandbox games. There's New York City, which you may remember from such games as Grand Theft Auto IV and True Crime: New York. There's Florida, which we've seen in everything from Grand Theft Auto: Vice City to Scarface. And finally there's Cuba, which we've seen before in the Driver series. Despite being criminally overused, it isn't impossible to have a unique take on these three diverse locations. Unfortunately that's not the case with The Godfather II. At no point do the developers try and add authentic atmosphere to make you feel like you're in Cuba, New York or Florida. Instead we get a generic map with very little space to explore and even less to do.
Each city has a certain amount of businesses, it is your job to convince the proprietor of each business to side with you and start paying you for protection money. You do this by rushing into a building, guns a blazing, and then slapping the owner around until he agrees to your terms. Then, just to be on the safe side, you hire a bunch of security guards to stand watch just in case the other families try and take back the business. And they will. In fact, the first half of the game is nothing but you trying to balance taking over each business with protecting the ones you already own.
In theory the fun of the game is beating back the bad guys and then making sure they don't take over your land again. The problem with this theory is that it turns into a lot of redundant missions. Even when you hire security, it's common for one of your enemies to take back your businesses. This means that you will have to go back to that same property, kill all of the attackers again, and then, you guessed it, convince the owner to stick with you ... again.
Maybe I'm just a terrible Don, but I found myself repeating the same levels over and over again, enjoying them less each and every time. Not that I enjoyed them to begin with, for the most part these missions are as rudimentary as they come. These businesses (which mostly look the same, for whatever reason) are bland and dull, they are nothing more than big areas to facilitate a bunch of run and gun action. And while the controls aren't bad and the aiming is usually pretty good, the game's redundant back and forth mission structure was enough to turn me off of the game almost immediately.When you're not trying to take over businesses (and protecting them) you are asked to do other things, like kill a bunch of government insurgents or take out a competing family. Unfortunately these missions play out almost exactly like the standard property-taking missions. The only noticeable difference seems to be the fact that in these missions your goal is to kill somebody, not convince them to give you money. Outside of that one minor difference, these missions are the same. Sadly this means that you're going to spend the next ten or so hours running back and forth doing the same thing over and over again.
The good news is that you don't have to do it by yourself. The bad news is that the computer-controlled A.I. is so ridiculously terrible that you might as well be doing it by yourself. Each of the back-up members you hire (and then later upgrade) has a unique skill. For example, one of the guys will be able to cut through fences, other guys will be able to pick locks, another guy can bomb buildings and so on so forth. The idea behind these different skills is that you can use them to perform these tasks so that you can have an easier time acquiring property or taking out other families. Rarely do you actually need to use these talents, though. You see, the game doesn't really force you to pay much attention to that since you can almost always get in without any special abilities. Yes, it would be easier to cut through that fence, but if I walk around the corner there's an open door. So why am I bringing the fence cutter again?
Had it been fleshed out, this skill-based character class would have been really cool. You would have needed to use real strategy to take over the city, just not brute strength. But outside of a few very specific moments, you really don't need to pay much attention to these skills. The only good use for these computer-controlled characters is as back-up warriors. And they're not even good at that.
Actually, the computer-controlled good guys are so bad that at times I was confident that they were working for the enemy. These characters suffer from a lot of the same problems we've seen in other mediocre third-person action games. That is, they get stuck behind simple objects, they never really know who to shoot at and they have a really hard time doing the simplest things (like getting in the car). And that doesn't even begin to explain all of the technical problems that come with these back-up fighters. For one thing, you can never really be sure where your guys are. There were times when I would burst through the front door of an enemy building only to find my three partners standing there waiting for me. How did they get in there? I was leading the way and they were just behind me. Teleporting helpers are a common (and jarring) experience, something that never seems to work out for me in the long run.
Speaking of annoyances, I have a few things to say to the person that came up with this control scheme. As I stated before, I don't have a problem with the aiming or the gunplay, all of that is solid as far as I'm concerned. My problem is in the inconsistencies. A perfect example of this is the lack of a jump button, which means that you have to rely on the game to tell you what you can and cannot jump over. In many areas of the game you can easily jump over a small wall or into a window by using the action button ("Y" in this case). However, you can only perform these actions when the game tells you to, so not every small wall or window can be jumped over or into. This means that when you're running from the fuzz and you see that teeny tiny wall in front of you, you don't know if you'll be able to pass it. More times than not you will be held in by what looks like a foot tall barrier, the kind of thing even a child can step over without even thinking twice. But not Dominic.
The guns are also frustratingly inconsistent. Seeing as it's the middle of the last century, you can't expect an exciting arsenal of weapons. Instead we get a couple of handguns, a shotgun, a sniper rifle and a Tommy gun. I may not be a gun historian, but it seems a bit odd that I can kill a guy in two shots with my silenced handgun, yet it takes a full clip (40 bullets) to take somebody out with the Tommy gun. I never knew what kind of damage I was going to inflict at any given time, and that's certainly not the kind of thing you want to be thinking about when you are going into battle against two or three dozen enemies.
But even worse than the inconsistent gameplay, the horrible A.I. and the redundant missions, is the fact that the game doesn't even try and capture the magic of the movie. The first game may not have been able to equal Francis Ford Coppola's amazing sense of storytelling and pacing, but at least it tried. This game doesn't even try. Oh sure, you see a few key scenes from the movie play out using polygons and meet a few familiar faces, but they have cut so much of the heart of the movie out that it's practically unrecognizable in this state. This is one of the greatest movies of all time; there is a lot of unused potential on display in The Godfather II.The back of the box tries to talk up something called "Don's View." In this mode you are able to assign your subordinates to take over businesses, defend property and so on so forth. In theory this allows you to orchestrate all of the action while you sit back and watch it play out. Unfortunately this is even less fun than actually playing the game (repetitive gameplay and all). It's a solid idea, but not the selling point the box tries to suggest.
To add insult to injury, Electronic Arts certainly didn't spend much time trying to make this game look good. When the first installment in The Godfather franchise came out, I overlooked the sub-par graphics. After all, the Xbox 360 version was nothing more than a port of a PlayStation 2 game released early in the system's lifecycle. Several years later I cannot cut The Godfather II the same slack. This game looks awful, absolutely dreadful. The character models are blocky and often hard to make out, and the environments are repeated so often that I wouldn't be surprised if you suffer from déjà vu more than once while playing through the game. To my eyes, these graphics look like really good PlayStation 2 graphics, not something you would get on a next-generation console ... especially four years into its lifecycle.
The voice acting is also a big step down from the first game. While it's certainly nice to hear Robert Duvall reprise his role of Tom Hagen, he's about the only big name talent found in this game. The rest of the voice actors sound completely out of place, especially the more outrageous supporting characters. The voice of Dominic isn't bad, but I never really cared enough about this character to care. Thankfully the music is better, though the game can certainly be accused of simply repeating the same played out tune a few too many times.
When you're not being bored to tears by the game's repetitive story mode, you can go online and play with friends. Unfortunately, like everything else in The Godfather II, this mode comes off as being half-assed and is rarely much fun to play. The game supports up to 16 players at once, but all you're doing is playing the same boring old online modes we've been seeing in games for the last ten years. Worse yet, they are played on some truly heinous locations. The maps in The Godfather II are simply not made for a 16-player deathmatch, and it won't take more than a round or two to convince you to go back to Call of Duty or Halo. I do like the idea of leveling up your character by playing online, but the whole thing is just too messy to be fun. This is definitely a tacked-on mode that few will spend much time in (it's already a ghost town, based on my anecdotal experience with the mode).
The Godfather Part II may be one of the greatest movies of all time, but this game is definitely a huge disappointment. How could Electronic Arts get this game so wrong? Here is a game with a lot of great ideas, but none of them are able to shine due to the game's unfinished feel, repetitive gameplay and ugly, ugly graphics. As somebody who really enjoyed the first game, I simply cannot recommend this sequel. Given this game's questionable quality, I am already starting to dread what EA is going to do with The Godfather Part III.