Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Electronic Arts
Release Date: March 20, 2007
At its heart, Godfather: Blackhand Edition is a Grand Theft Auto clone. You play as the son of a murdered Corleone agent. After your father's death, your character ends up drifting and being a petty thug for low-level scum. This all changes when Luca Brasi comes to visit. As one of the top men of the Godfather, Don Corleone, Brasi has been assigned to bring you into the Corleone family and away from the petty street life. Of course, things are never quite so simple, and your character ends up involved in a massive war between the various Mafia families.
One of the more interesting aspects of all versions of The Godfather is that it allows you to create your own custom character. Rather than controlling a pre-created character, the player instead gets to create his own custom avatar to take through the game. Everything from basic facial features to scars and moles can be added and customized. Unfortunately, despite the level of detail, the actual amount of choices for those details is shockingly thin. Just fooling around with the randomizer for a few minutes will yield characters that look almost identical, and while you can create a number of different-looking gangsters, you can't exactly create anyone you'd want, taking away a lot of the fun of the Create-a-Gangster feature.
Once you've made your man, things really jump into full swing. In the world of The Godfather: Blackhand Edition, everything is built around respect – the respect of gangs for one another, the respect of shopkeepers for the Mafia, and the Mafia for the police all play a part in the game. Respect basically functions as experience points in The Godfather; as you perform actions that earn you respect, you slowly gain levels, advancing from a petty thug to the Don of New York City.
While these levels influence the ending, their primary use is in skill points, which can then be "spent" on various attributes of your gangster. For example, putting points into the "The Law" allows you to steal cars without getting the police on your back, or makes it easier to bribe them. "Negotiation" makes it easier to extort from shops and businesses, and the titular "Blackhand" ability makes your hand-to-hand combat significantly stronger.
One interesting difference from the other iterations is the choice between being an Enforcer and an Operator. Enforcers are the muscle of the family whose skills are based around combat and doing damage; operators are a bit more subtle and use blackmail, bribery and others to do their dirty work. While Operators still have to do dirty work and Enforcers occasionally have to be a bit more subtle, it's a nice addition to give the player more of a choice.
The other advantage to respect, and a new feature to the more recent versions of The Godfather is the crew system. Similar to that found in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, your character can bring members of the Corleone gang along with him in order to make missions easier. Ranging from simple thugs to an expert hit squad, these gangs are not cheap, but they can make your life much easier. Particularly skilled gangsters can even hire corrupt members of the police force to watch their backs!
There are a few ways to get respect in The Godfather. First and foremost is by completing missions. Ranging from protecting a member of the Corleone family to sneaking in and placing a horse's head in someone's bed, these missions make up the bulk of the game and aren't very challenging, for the most part.
To make matters a bit more frustrating, the missions are a very poor use of the movie license. What was once a subtle and masterful movie is reduced to its basest elements here. For example, the death of Luca Brasi is turned into an intense shootout against his assassins! The main character is shoehorned, rather clumsily at times, into the movie plot. Most assassinations are done by him instead of by their respective movie counterparts, and what are chilling scenes of criminal actions are instead turned into generic action shootouts. While some of these changes are understandable in turning the movies into a fun game, a lot of them just feel lazy, as if the developers couldn't be bothered to make more interesting stages.
The other big way to get respect is by extortion and racketeering. There are countless businesses throughout the city, and only a scant few are paying the proper "respect" to the Corleones. By visiting these shops, you can "discuss" this with the owners, and this negotiation mostly takes place via a mini-game. Each store owner has a "pressure bar" that shows how close they are to giving in to gangland pressure, and you slowly fill this bar by "encouraging" them in a number of ways. Smashing up the shop, threatening or beating the owner or his clients, or stealing the bankroll are all ways to pressure the shopkeeps. Beyond that, each store also has a special weak point, something that is particularly important to the shopkeeper. Take advantage of that, and you get extra money and have an easier time building the meter.
However, there is a catch to all of this. As Luca Brasi puts it in the game's first mission, "A man pushed too far can be dangerous." Each pressure meter has an invisible "breaking point" that can be seen for a few moments as you first enter the shop. (More skilled Negotiators can see it for longer periods of time.) If you push the meter past this point, the shopkeep will refuse to pay… and may even attack. It takes a firm but gentle hand to successfully extort every business in the city, but the problem is that in the end, there is a severe lack of things to do to extort a shopkeeper. Break a few things or bully him, find a weak point, and move on. This method of gaining respect goes from being entertaining to tedious very quickly, and it becomes a chore not long afterwards.
The most obvious difference between Godfather: Blackhand Edition and the early predecessors is the brawling control scheme. When fighting hand-to-hand, the Nunchuck functions as your left hand, and the Wiimote as your right. While it isn't perfect, the movements you make generally match what happens on the screen. Punching forward rapidly causes your character to launch into a flurry of punches, while hook punches are done by quickly swinging the respective controller sideways. Some of the more complex motions involve holding buttons while making motions, and it can take a bit to learn everything. For example, to strangle an enemy, you actually have to move the two controllers as if you're wrapping your hands around an enemy's neck, and then quickly shake them, as if you're throttling him.
The Wii brawling controls are very cool in concept, and they work really well most of the time. There are a few moments when the controls fail, and it is sometimes difficult to get out the exact attack combination you want. In particular, the hook punch required more of a sideways jerk than a punching motion, causing it to feel very unnatural and uncomfortable, but the controls are still incredibly fun and add a real sense of action to the fighting system. I tried going back and playing Godfather on the PS2, but the combat just felt dull and lifeless. A nice feature is the addition of a motion tutorial mode, which explains exactly how you do each specific action, and it gives you a chance to practice. The actual tutorials are a bit unspecific about certain motions, but they are otherwise very helpful in turning yourself into a real Corleone brawler.
Of course, not all fights in the Mafia can be resolved with fisticuffs, and more often than not, you'll be using firearms to get your point across. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the gun combat in Godfather: Blackhand Edition is excellent. The game basically offers two different modes of aiming. Locking On with the Z button causes your gangster to target the enemy's body, utilizing auto-targeting. By moving the Wiimote up and down, you can specify points on the body to target, going for the arms, legs or head with significant ease. For those who prefer it, the game also offers a "free targeting" mode, where you have complete control of your aim and use the Wiimote to move a crosshair across the screen. I personally found this mode a bit more fun to use for dealing with multiple targets, as I could skip from one to the next very quickly. However, the Wiimote's natural sensitivity means that it takes a lot of getting used to, while Locking On, despite being less enjoyable, is generally more effective.
Although The Godfather: Blackhand Edition is a significant improvement over its last-generation counterparts, it still isn't a very good-looking game. The character models stand out in very odd ways, and your custom-created protagonist looks almost cartoonish next to the game's attempt to create realistic portrayals of the movie's characters. He feels more like someone pasted in at the last moment than an actual addition to any cut scenes. The game also suffers from awkward popup, blurry textures, weird animations and countless clipping errors. The A.I. itself is often weird, and I occasionally encountered pedestrians just walking into walls or otherwise doing illogical things. While the game isn't so bad looking that it is unplayable, it's a real disappointment that The Godfather's attempt to capture the movie's amazing visual style is so marred by the lackluster graphics.
The music is mostly ripped right from the movies, but that is actually a bad thing in the case of The Godfather: Blackhand Edition because it further reinforces the differences between the movie and the game. The voice acting is generally high quality, including a few voice clips from Marlon Brando as the Godfather himself. Like the music, however, the reappearance of the movie actors just solidifies how far it has strayed from the plot. A lot of the actors are replaced by sound-alikes, and while most do a good job, there is never a moment when you will mistake them for their real-life counterparts.
In the end, The Godfather is a rather sub-par Grand Theft Auto clone. It has a lot of interesting ideas, particularly the respect and extortion systems, but it fills most of the gameplay with repetitive and boring missions. The Wii version of The Godfather manages to make things a lot more fun by adding an enjoyable control scheme to combat, and I would recommend the Wii version over the other iterations. However, in the end, The Godfather is still a bit too bland to really enjoy for long. Becoming the Don of New York is a tedious task, and the rewards are few. If there were more depth to the game's extortion features or more tasks to do that didn't involve simply shooting countless boring enemies, perhaps The Godfather would stand out more.
As it is, The Godfather: Blackhand Edition is a reasonable choice for those who have never played it before and are looking to add a new title to their Wii lineup. If you've beaten it on another system, however, pass on the Blackhand Edition. The changes are fun, but they're not enough to justify buying a lackluster game twice.
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