The Godfather II

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: EA
Developer: EA

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PS3/X360/PC Review - 'The Godfather II'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on April 9, 2009 @ 1:37 a.m. PDT

After being promoted by Michael Corleone to Don of New York, players expand to new cities, as they build up their families through extorting businesses, monopolizing illegal crime rings and defeating new families in an effort to become the most powerful mob family in America. To help players manage their empire, The Godfather II introduces “The Don’s View” – an innovative strategy meta-game that allows players to oversee the entire world as they grow the family business. Using the Don’s View, players will be able to build, defend and expand their crime rings, while keeping an eye on the movements and plans of the rival families.

Genre: Open World
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Redwood
Release Date: April 7, 2009

"The Godfather: Part II" is a classic film. It's subtle, intelligent and well-executed in almost every regard, filled with tremendous actors, an ageless score, and scenes that remain fixed in your mind for years. The movie isn't exactly ideal for the video game medium: The action is light, the talking is heavy, and it really isn't the first movie license that comes to mind for a video game. Even the original The Godfather is a superior choice for a video game, since it provides a hectic and dramatic backstory. The Godfather II, therefore, has a lot to live up to, and it doesn't come close. Unfortunately, it turns a classic movie into a ham-handed and tedious romp through locations that vaguely resemble situations in the movie. This might be admissible if it was a good game, but it doesn't even manage that.

Set during the same time as the film, The Godfather II opens up with Michael Corleone and his most trusted underling, Aldo Trapani, in Cuba on the night of the revolution. Trapani was the main character in the previous The Godfather video game. In The Godfather II, you play as Aldo's underboss, Dominic. When the revolution hits, Michael is forced to flee Cuba, and along the way, Aldo is gunned down by a sniper, which leaves Dominic in charge of Trapani's hometown of New York City. Unfortunately for the Corleones, Aldo's death has thrown New York into chaos, with multiple families and gangs attempting to take over. Naturally, it's up to Dominic to take back New York for the Corleones, a mission that will also take him to Florida and Cuba as he contends with foes ranging from powerful crime lords like Hyman Roth to the U.S. Government, as the FBI begins to build a case against the Corleones.

The Godfather II comes close to doing things right, but it ends up doing almost everything wrong. Looking at the controls, Dominic apparently suffered a tragic accident that filled his shoes with cement because he's incapable of jumping. This may sound like a minor thing, but the game is built around creating completely implausible obstacles that a 4-year-old could get past, but Dominic can't. Should you find a ladder to climb, you can go upward, but only then. This ignores the points where you can vault over a waist-high object, but only when the game says you can, and there is no rhyme or reason to when you can and can't.

Gunplay is easy, and perhaps it's overly so. You hold the lock-on button and fire, and the enemy dies in a few shots, though it perhaps goes a bit faster if you aim for the head. You can and probably will hide behind objects, but this isn't hugely necessary for reasons I'll discuss later. The gameplay is fine, but it's tedious rather than tense or exciting. Part of this is because the enemies are brain-dead. They'll run straight into your bullets and "hide" in front of boxes instead of behind them. To make matters "worse," you're not alone in your endeavors. In addition to your don, you also have up to three Made Men hanging out with you at one time.

Made Men are hired from among the rabble of lesser criminals located around the city, and they come in a variety of types, ranging from medic to arsonist to demolitions expert. Each Made Man can do one of these things, and he basically amounts to a super-powered soldier who follows your don around or waits in the wings. As the game progresses, you can give these Made Men new jobs, such as capo or underboss, which allows them to learn one or two new abilities. It's a nice idea in theory, but it falls apart in execution. Your Made Men are a bizarre mix of useless and overpowered. When they're following your don, their AI is borderline incomprehensible. They'll get stuck on walls, run backward, vanish, or do anything except what they're supposed to do. To get around this goofy AI, the developers made it so that Made Men teleport around; sometimes you'll even open a door and find yourself face-to-face with a guy who was behind you just a moment ago. They're also deadly accurate and can win fights on their own when they're not running around aimlessly, which makes the already-tedious gunplay even more so.

The difficulty level in The Godfather II is a joke. You begin strong and just keep getting stronger, beginning with the moment you get your first Made Man. Dominic has a regenerating health bar that is too long and regenerates too quickly, meaning that as long as you don't decide to stand in the middle of the map and let the enemies shoot you, you won't die. Even if you do that, you still won't die. A medic makes you functionally immortal, since the only way you can die is if the AI decides to not walk over to you and heal you, and that is unlikely to happen. Keep more than one medic on your team, and you can even forego gunplay if you like. For a brief period of time, I ran through levels choking every single armed guard to death, simply because there was no reason to not do it.

Keep in mind that you get more powerful as the game progresses, but if enemies also do, there is no indication of this. When you're decked out with bulletproof vests, double-damage ammunition and a full complement of Made Men, you're basically unstoppable. The last level of the game is a dramatic shoot-out where you're supposed to assassinate someone and escape from a heavy police presence by stealing a car and driving it to your safe house. I simply chose to walk back; the police's inept AI was so bad that they would kill themselves while I ran down the street, basically unharmed. Even if they shot at me, it was never enough to overcome my tremendous defenses. Between your huge health bar, rapidly regenerating health, bulletproof vests, medics, and the powerful Made Men, you have to actively try to die.

Even if you ignore the lackluster gunplay, The Godfather II remains boring. Despite having three potentially interesting places to explore, each one is a lifeless and heartless sandbox; Cuba, Florida and New York are all extremely small, and there is almost nothing to do that doesn't involve capturing buildings. You can do "favors" for people, but those are tedious and mostly involve either "go to place A and shoot person B" or "go to place A and blow up building B."

That's the most excitement you're going to get. Driving around is uninteresting and unexciting, there are no real laws to follow, and nobody seems to care what you do. If there was a car chase mission in the game, I certainly don't remember it. You can't interact with any building that isn't a front, so 90 percent of the game world is just there for decoration. This is particularly shameful in New York, and even games like Spider-Man 2 managed to make a more vivid and interesting city to explore. Every "front" you have to explore amounts to the same thing: a semi-interesting front room and a tremendous amount of square rooms that are put together in a way that would make an interior decorator's head explode. Even when the rooms are placed in sensible ways, your character's inability to jump means you have to go through six or seven identical square rooms just to get to the other side of the room.

Through a fairly simple process, each front can be captured by Dominic or his men to become part of the Corleone crime family. Once you've shot your way through the square rooms, you find the "owner," and after you've terrorized him beyond a certain point, he'll give in and you can take over. You can also keep terrorizing him to increase your daily income from that building. Push the owner too much, though, and he'll get angry and fight back, which means you'll have to redo the entire takeover. This really isn't an issue, since the game gives you a giant flashing indicator of his weak point on the meter, and it isn't really tough to stay below that. Each owner also has a "weak point" you can exploit for a 25 percent income bonus, but these weak points have no rhyme or reason to them. They're drawn from a small pool of potential weaknesses, and since there isn't a clear indication of what a shopkeeper's weakness is, you can quickly run down the "list" of weaknesses until you hit gold. Instead of finesse and strategy, The Godfather II encourages mindless brute force to figure out your tactics.

One of the potentially interesting new features in The Godfather II is the Don's View. When you pause the game, it zooms up to an overhead view of the city you're in, allowing you to find locations and issue commands to your men. You can zoom around and order your trusted underlings to attack or protect a building, depending on whether or not it's already under your control. You can have them issue an all-out attack or bomb the building to disable it for a brief period, and all of this plays into the crime ring feature. When all of the buildings within a crime ring are under your control, you're granted a special boon. These bonuses can be anything from bulletproof vests for your entire group to armored cars to tremendously huge sums of cash every day. This is also where you can order your Made Men to join your crew, or you can spend cash to upgrade them and your don. Upgrades cost cold, hard cash but provide permanent benefits. You can even choose to use favors from this menu, which are earned by performing mini-missions for certain people of influence, such as the chief of police, district attorney, lieutenant governor or union boss. Do so, and you gain the ability to take all your Made Men out of the hospital instantly, or you can even call off the police.

While the Don's View is an interesting concept, it is fairly useless in execution. There is no point to bombing enemy factions, since it is much more effective to simply take the building for yourself, and with the exception of bulletproof vests, enemies don't actually seem to take particular advantage of their bonuses. Keeping your own buildings guarded is extremely easy, and by the time you reach Florida, you should have so much money coming in that you can afford to keep every location filled up with guards, thereby making it nearly impossible for enemies to take them back. Even if they launch an all-out attack, you can send a couple of your goons to back them up, which ensures a victory and means you lose nothing at all.

Asking your Made Men to take a building for you has no real benefits, since it means you lose total income. The only reason to do this is if you're tired of The Godfather II's tedious gunplay or don't care about your income, and that generally isn't a good sign for your enjoyment of the game. Upgrading your Made Men and your don is a neat idea, but the overabundance of money you get means that you'll probably have most of the Made Men's relevant skills upgraded pretty quickly, so these men serve no purpose other than to occasionally change which ones you use.

This, in turn, renders the favors system useless. Being able to get your slightly brain-dead Made Men out of the hospital is good, since they may get caught in the crossfire when you defend your territory. The rest of the favors I got by doing the tutorials that are sitting in my inventory. Getting the ability to rebuild bombed buildings would be nice if the enemy AI were more aggressive, but they only bombed me a handful of times in the game, which didn't do anything but serve as a minor inconvenience. The police are perhaps some of the most inept I've ever encountered in a sandbox game. I rarely saw any until Cuba, and even then, I simply walked around and didn't worry because they were either too stupid to follow me when I committed a crime, or I could easily avoid them by running away or going to the safe house.

The saddest flaw comes from the favors involving enemy Made Men. You see, just like your own family, enemy families have Made Men too. They're supposedly stronger, faster and more durable than any of your regular soldiers, and can be sent to attack your buildings and kill your guys. Like your own Made Men, they are immortal, and shooting them only sends them to a hospital. You can also call in a favor to set up a hit on them, which takes them out of the picture for a short time. The only way to permanently kill a Made Man is to perform a favor for a random person on the street, who will in turn tell you a "key weakness" to one of the enemy Made Men. Key weaknesses are specific ways to kill that Made Man to send a message to his family. Kill them correctly and they stay dead for good, supposedly making your life at lot easier.

However, for all their hype, enemy Made Men are not enough of a threat to worry about going through the trouble of killing them. I usually didn't even notice an enemy Made Man was among the enemies until he died. Even if I didn't permanently kill them, it only took an extra shot or so from my magnum or shotgun to keep the enemy down. The same goes for putting hits out on them. Why on Earth would I go through the trouble of performing a favor to get the ability to temporarily disable an enemy when I could permanently kill him or, or even better, just shoot him and be on my way?

The Godfather II attempts to offer interesting multiplayer, but the ideas don't work very well in execution. You take one of your Made Men online to compete in a series of games, which are generally geared toward one of your character's specialties, like arson, demolition or safecracking. It's actually a bit more fun than the single-player mode, but the controls feel too awkward to use against intelligent opponents, so most players probably won't want to spend the time dealing with The Godfather II's awkward controls. There are some neat ideas, like a Don's Control mode, where one player on each side can become a don and issue commands and bonuses from the Don's View instead of playing on the ground, but they're going to be of rather limited appeal.

The only real reason to play online mode is to earn honor points. Any Made Men you take online will earn honor points, which in turn upgrade their weapon licenses and allow them to equip better weapons in the single-player game. This is, unfortunately, not a good idea. It doesn't really matter that your guys are running around with peashooters, but if it actually were necessary to upgrade your Made Men, you'd be stuck if you bought this for the single-player experience and not the multiplayer experience. To be fair, you can kill off your Made Men and hire ones with better weapon licenses, but that feels forced and awkward, and it still involves tracking down a Made Man with a higher license, which is harder than it sounds.

The Godfather II is a bland-looking game. The only environment that is of any particular note is Havana, Cuba, which at least stands out as resembling the city on which it was based. New York and Florida are uninteresting and lack familiar landmarks and interesting era-based locations to really make them stand out. The character models are a bit dated, but their animations are bad. The ragdolls are awful, enemies will end up inside of walls and boxes more often than I could believe, and in general, things look pretty terrible.

The most glaring animation bit was if you could actually find a way to make Dominic walk off a high ledge. There are no falling or landing animations whatsoever, so Dominic just "walks" across the sky until he "lands," It gets worse from there. The pop-in is bad enough that I was actually able to snipe enemies through walls before the walls spawned. Bodies and cars fall through the earth, Dominic's animations screw up for a while if you do the wrong thing, and the list goes on. The voice acting is passable, if not particularly memorable, and the worst thing that one can say about it is that the game has no sense of timing. Taking what should be a tense or dramatic moment and ruining it when one of your Made Men makes a crude wisecrack is just sort of embarrassing. On the other hand, it feels pretty symbolic of The Godfather II's relation to the movie.

The Godfather II is an offer that you probably should refuse. The interesting ideas do not make up for everything else that the game does wrong. The gameplay is tedious and uninteresting, full of repetitive and boring "missions" bookended by the occasional trip into Don's View to send a made man to a particular building. The world is uninteresting and empty, and the only difference between a linear action game and The Godfather II is the time spent driving through the lifeless cities. The multiplayer adds a little bit of extra value, but not remotely enough to justify playing The Godfather II over the selection of better multiplayer titles available on the Xbox 360. The Godfather II could have been a respectable game, but the execution makes it come off as the video game equivalent of Fredo.

Score: 6.0/10


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