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PSP Review - 'The Godfather: Mob Wars'

by Jeremy Wood on April 20, 2007 @ 1:16 a.m. PDT

After a life of small-time jobs and petty thefts you've been accepted into America's most famous criminal organization, the Corleone family. Now it's up to you to carry out orders, earn respect, rise through the ranks, and make New York City your own. Play your cards right and you could even be running everything as the next, and most powerful, Don.

Genre: Action
Publisher: EA
Developer: EA
Release Date: September 19, 2006

In 1972, Francis Ford Coppola helmed the film adaptation of Mario Puzo's best-selling mafia novel, The Godfather, and not only did the film go on to win Best Picture that year, but it has remained on a lot of people's favorite films of all time list well into the 21st century. As a hugely popular movie and novel, this intellectual property had yet to find its way into the territory of licensed video gaming — until EA released a free-roaming game for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox in late 2005. The general consensus was that it was a pretty fun to play, but wasn't something that would keep you entertained for long. Now EA has ported the console version into a PSP title with a lot of the gameplay aspects missing, but a whole new mode to hold your attention.

The biggest change to Godfather: Mob Wars is the new Mob Wars mode itself. Instead of delivering a fully detailed city a la Grand Theft Auto, Mob Wars offers up some map-based "strategic" gameplay. Unfortunately, there's not really much strategy involved at all. All of the business and racket takeovers and crime family stronghold raids are handled via third-person action, much like the Story mode. In the end, it doesn't really matter how much strategy you use, because if you accidentally walk onto the wrong side of a shotgun barrel, any strategic planning utilized up until then is all for naught. As for other notable differences, you no longer have the option to explore the map. In fact, you can't even get behind the wheel of a car; all of the driving portions from the console version appear as non-interactive cut scenes.

The story, on the other hand, hasn't changed at all. You play the role of a fledgling mobster who, as a child, watched your parents get gunned down by one of the Corleone family's rivals right in front of your eyes. Now all grown up, you dedicate yourself to Vito Corleone and his family to follow in the footsteps of your father. The story spans across the first two "Godfather" films, as you'll begin in the service of Vito Corleone, performing the random lowly misdeed here and there, and you'll work your way into the number two position as Michael Corleone's right-hand man. If you're a fan of the films, you'll more than likely enjoy playing a pivotal role in all of the film's most prominent moments; you'll even sneak into an unsuspecting victim's bedroom and leave behind a very infamous "gift" — the severed head of a horse.

Whether you choose to play in Story or Mob Wars mode, you'll inevitably control your character in a third-person perspective, with the camera view centered behind your character's back. During Story mode, you'll be tasked with a myriad of objectives that range from killing everyone in sight, to sneaking your way through a heavily guarded building, while in Mob Wars mode, you'll either need to go in and pressure a shop owner or a racketeer into the Corleone Family's pocket or stage an attack on an enemy territory and shoot a whole lot of bullets until nobody's left standing.

Gunplay takes the forefront throughout most of The Godfather: Mob Wars, but sadly, the combat is unintentionally sloppy on the PSP. The targeting system is completely broken, as you usually can't even establish a target lock on one of your enemies until they're already filling your ass with lead. This wouldn't be a problem if the camera did a better job of focusing on the action at hand, but centering the camera rarely works the way it should. When you press the left trigger button, you're supposed to target the nearest enemy, and tapping the L afterwards will switch through available targets. For some reason, though, the camera will get caught in doorways, and enemies can then sit right in that doorway and blast your face full of ridiculously large holes while you fumble with the atrocious target lock. It's quite easy to get yourself wasted trying to switch between weapons as well. In some situations, your most effective weapon to use will be your shotgun or Tommy gun, but you'll spend a good time switching through a catalog of pistols before you get to either of them.

You're also able to partake in the tried-and-true method of physical violence with good ol' fashioned bare-knuckled fisticuffs. Don't expect to rely on your melee fighting abilities very often, though. The button configuration is so muddled and confusing you might as well be trying to eat spaghetti with a wooden spoon. Just to put things into perspective, to grapple and throw one of your adversaries, you must target them with the L button, hold the Square button, drag the analog nub in the direction you want to throw them and then release the square and L button at the exact right time to actually finish the throw. On all fronts, the combat system leaves much to be desired, but the gunplay still thoroughly trumps the horrid stealth levels. Luckily, there's not much in the way of stealth-based gameplay, as only a select few missions require you to be sneaky. Poor camera control and overly alert guards make the stealth portions of Godfather: Mob Wars frustrating enough to induce stomach ulcers the size of meatballs.

The actual Mob Wars mode itself, exclusive to the PSP game, shows some potential but ultimately fails to deliver anything of significance. You're able to hire mobsters with different level rankings, depending on your cash flow, and play a hand of cards with varying results during the start of each round. These cards can be used to manipulate the map into your favor, or wreak havoc on rival crime families. Obviously, you can strategically play your hand of cards, but that doesn't mean it's always going to raise your chance of success during the movement rounds. You're able to attack one enemy territory and take over a business or racket once per turn. Where the problems begin is that during an attack, you're still left to the mercy (or lack thereof) of the game's clumsy targeting controls no matter which cards you put into play right beforehand. This glaring flaw practically renders the entire strategic aspect of the Mob Wars mode completely moot.

Godfather: Mob Wars will probably not impress you with its addled gameplay, but it doesn't pull any punches in the presentation department. Visually, the portable version can easily be matched up against the PS2 counterpart. Unlike the console version, you're unable to modify your character's appearance, but in the PSP game, as you move ahead in rank, your stylish gangster wardrobe will progress along with it. The game manages to keep a steady frame rate, no matter how much action's on the screen, and aside from the random mobsters, there's a fairly large variety of character models for the wandering NPCs. Surprisingly, EA was able to land the vocal talents of most of the original cast members of the movie trilogy, including Marlon Brando himself, who recorded exclusive sessions for the game before he passed away. The film's memorable soundtrack also makes its way onto the handheld in rousing fashion.

I can say with complete and total confidence that Godfather: Mob Wars is not going to keep you interested for long with its lackluster combat and controls. However, the game's compelling story and sheer cool factor probably will. The title looks great on the PSP, and if you're not a fan of open-ended gameplay, this is a great way to experience the story without all of the incessant errand-running found in the console versions. Devout fans of the "Godfather" films are going to draw something positive out of the experience, regardless of the game's many technical flaws. If you've never been a fan of the films or the mafia lifestyle in general, though, this game will do absolutely nothing for you.

Score: 5.8/10

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