Review: Godfather 2

29024-godfather2_3-thumb-480x270.jpg

I shouldn’t have been surprised at the treatment of the film after the first Godfather game from EA, but in playing through Godfather 2, I found myself impressed yet again with how they have continued to pillage the venerable film for ideas. If you’re a fan of the films, I’d advise you to stay away, but if you’re remotely curious about the game and are willing to stomach what it does to the franchise, then read on. This isn’t going to be pretty.

Godfather 2 is loosely based on the events of the second film. I say “loosely” because it basically strings along a series of missions based off of certain key moments from the film itself, such as the flight from Cuba in the wake of Castro’s New Years gift to the government, the war with the Rosato Brothers in NYC, and Hyman Roth’s assassination. Everything else in between is made up filler material to expand the experience into a full blown war against the other families between NYC, Miami, and even Havana. Sorry, you don’t get to play DeNiro in any flashbacks as he takes back the old neighborhood from Don Fanucci which might have actually been a lot of fun as a stealth game.

Anyone familiar with GTA-styled, sandbox titles will find that the game attempts the same thing while expanding on everything else that was available in the first one. It’s played from third person and you start out as a soldier in the Corleone family working for the non-Pacino version of Michael Corleone. From what I could gather, the soldier had been around long enough to know Vito Corleone, but there’s little else to his personality other than in bossing everyone around and wiping out enemy mobsters as your avatar to the underworld. The mob face feature allows you to shape and beautify your thug into whoever you want them to look as, within reason, and you can pick whatever ‘clothes’ they will be wearing for most of the game since there’s no real point to changing your duds.

Most of the game will revolve around taking out members of the other families and using the new Don’s View to plan your attacks and conquer enemy territory. Conquest plays a big role in the game just as it did in the last as you seize fronts from your rivals. The Don’s View gives the player an overview of everything related to being the Don, such as looking at their owned businesses across the city, who they have within their own family once they earn the right to have one, assign equipment to soldiers, hire out guards to protect their interests, and track where they should go next. The game takes place in the late 1950s, but the Don’s View interface makes it feel as if you are literally sitting on top of the world from Sputnik…which isn’t a bad feeling to have and doesn’t take away from the immersion as much as other things do.

The Don’s View will be where you will spend a lot of your time in planning your next move. And your rivals will start stepping on your toes with lead tipped boots before long forcing you to decide where to invest your firepower in order to save your assets. These randomly occur over time with one family sending thugs to any of your fronts, sometimes with one or a few of their top men taking part in the attack, and you can either drive over to deal with it yourself or rely on the thugs you had left behind.

29027-godfather2_2-thumb-480x270.jpg

Of course, since the game wants to engage the player in every way possible, your hired help tends to fold like paper if confronted by one or two enemy lieutenants coming in with the rest of the fodder. This forces you to often come in yourself…not that it will always help because Terminators apparently exist in the 1950s.

Shooting tough guys in a game like this is expected. You shoot, they fall down, unless they happen to be a made man. Like Achilles, they have only one way to die because all of them have apparently been dipped into the Styx. When they come back from a shotgun blast to the face, you have to rationalize that every pellet must have been guided into doing the least amount of damage by divine forces beyond our ken because Fate itself has decreed that they must die instead by strangulation. In supposedly gritty, mobster-like fare found in Godfather 2′s sandbox, it’s incredibly jarring to see a made man come back with perfect skin after you had burned them alive with molotov cocktails only a few minutes earlier.

So how exactly do you find the weakness of a mobbed up T-800, er, made man? You can’t pick whose weakness you want to discover, but in Godfather 2′s increasingly strange world, it happens when you offer your services as a mob enforcer to the general public just short of having them walk the white pages. By doing favors which range from beating up someone’s dad to assassinating a jilted lover’s rival, you can earn the info that will tell you how to permanently whack these special targets. How or why random people would have this info is never explained, only that they do and you just need to do what they want to get it.

It’s little things like these that make the game out to be more of a criminal theme park than the kind of gritty drama that the source material was all about, or which the recent GTA series has attempted to evolve into. The only things missing are the mascots, but they take the form of all of the key figures from the films themselves which only add to the shame and disappointment of everything else. They’re used simply to mime scenes from the films within the game. Even Robert Duvall’s presence, as limited as it is, is scarcely worth mentioning because of how little of him there is here.

But robbing banks, smashing up store fronts, taking over businesses from rival families to earn income that you can use to train and purchase weapons with, and raiding their strongholds once you’ve cornered their territories are all fun things to do. There really are moments of that in Godfather 2. It’s too bad that when it tries to be serious, it comes off more as a sitcom.

29030-godfather2_8-thumb-480x270.jpg

Raiding a family’s stronghold once you’ve taken over all of their businesses in a city is a fine old shootout. If you’ve left any of their Terminators alive, they’ll show up to defend the homestead, too, but if you win by blowing up the mansion, they’ll stay dead no matter how you had taken them out in order to get there. This, in itself, is strange since blowing up a house apparently kills off a rival family, even if you don’t find the ‘head’ there. At one point, I had gotten tired of having to routinely discover everyone’s weak point that I simply took over the territories first and then took out their house.

As your own family grows, you’ll eventually be able to hire in wannabe goodfellas who have their own sets of skills and who will only end up in a hospital for a time if they happen to be ‘incapacitated’. Some are arsonists, others are good in picking locks and opening safes, others are great at patching up people in the field to keep them from ending up at the hospital. They all have special skills which only adds to the oddball setups that you’ll encounter throughout the game.

Can’t open a secured door? Blow it up. Can’t get through a rickety door? Find a ‘bruiser’ who can kick it open. Don’t have either of these guys? Too bad, because you need their ‘skills’. Some do make sense, like the safecracker, but others just seem pushed into the game in order to make things appear diverse, relying on you to believe in the odd logic behind the ‘puzzles’ requiring these people. This particular sandbox isn’t too subtle about forcing the player to do what it wants them to in order to get into certain places or deal with specific situations.

And then there are the situations that make fun of reality. Take the Castro assassination mission, for instance. Once you’ve played Sam Fisher and have managed to sneak by his guards to line up a headshot and take it, the cut scene reveals that your shot has suddenly become a grazing wound. At this point, it becomes a gun battle to get out of Havana, but for some bizarro reason later on, you’re still able to fly back and forth from the country without arousing suspicion in order to take out another rival family.

29033-godfather2_7-thumb-480x270.jpg

Even better, hiding in a safe house removes all suspicion from you so that you can continue to wage your street war there if you don’t want to leave yet. I was able to take over nearly every business that I could before following the script and leaving the city. The Three Stooges couldn’t have done any better.

Managing your own family also has its own quirks. As mentioned before, if you have the cash, you can outfit members of your own family to wield specific weapons. However, to carry more powerful ones, they need the appropriate ‘license’. Apparently, among mobsters in EA’s world, you need a license to carry a tommy gun or a shotgun because the rules actually matter for some reason. You can improve certain attributes that they have with cash, such as how fast they draw their weapon or how quickly they execute their special skill, but you can’t buy their way into a higher license.

The solution? Kill them. Whack your own family members because that makes more sense than in bribing an official, forging documents, or simply telling them to train on something else. So why take them out because they don’t have the license they need? To make room for someone else that does. This makes as much sense as the Castro mission, only it’s something that you will have to deal with throughout the entire game, making it something of a hilarious punchline to mob management.

Police in the game are actually competent to some extent and will chase you as long as there’s a witness around to point the way or if someone is still on your tail. Losing them isn’t hard, especially when you have a safe house to duck into which absolves all civil sins as soon as you cross the threshold. Despite causing major metropolitan mayhem in dealing with them, they won’t call out tanks to deal with you. But the game will do its best to overwhelm you with numbers which it does particularly well at making it a challenge.

I’m not really going to talk about the graphics because the gameplay really says everything that I want to say about the game, but I’ll mention them anyway. It’s not a pretty game, for one thing, and Xbox 360 owners that have been fed heaping spoonfuls of pixel bliss in the form of Gears of War 2, GTA IV, and Resident Evil 5 are going to wonder why a next-gen game like Godfather 2 had decided to ignore what has been going on in that space.

29036-godfather2_1-thumb-480x270.jpg

Voice acting isn’t bad and the music plays off of the pieces found in the original movie, but it comes off as so much window dressing to the mockery the game makes of the source material. Multiplayer pits would-be mobsters around the world against each other, testing the crews that they have put together in order for them to earn things such as licenses that can be used to outfit them with better weapons in the main game which comes off as a cheap way of forcing players to go through EA’s multiplayer network. Finishing the game, which can take anywhere from fifteen to twenty hours at the most, unlocks little else to get anyone excited about the ending.

Godfather 2 is why I am worried about things such as when a big publisher sees a valuable piece of IP and wants to license a game around it because it might be the cool thing to do. As a fan of the film, I’m almost embarrassed to say that I’ve played this game. As a gamer, I’m shaking my head at all of the possibilities that could have come out of this title only to see the rushed results of something that has all of the feel of having been manufactured, packaged, and then put out for the masses to simply consume like a Twinkie.

The ironic thing is that it isn’t as terrible a game as it sounds. Most of the basics work as long as you’re able to put up with some of the strangeness that they’re wrapped around, but that’s the extent of how good the game is. It lacks any real style of its own and what there is of that drawn from the film is something of an insult to the very material it is supposed to represent. That’s probably the most disappointing thing out of the entire experience for me. Despite this, there’s obviously going to be a Godfather 3 since that’s the last film in the franchise, and I’m likely going to play it. But at this point, I think they might really need to bring Pacino in.

The Godfather 2
EA / EA Redwood Shores
PS3 / Xbox 360 / PC (Xbox 360 version reviewed)
Rated M for Mature