When it comes to creating a videogame based on an existing piece of popular entertainment there can be few examples of a series more suited to the task than The Godfather. Crime, drugs, violence, family loyalty, slicked-back hair, suave Italian suits… just a few things that spring to mind when outlining the key elements of The Godfather franchise. With The Godfather 2, we can expect a game that makes intelligent use of the source material while improving on the modest effort that was the first game, right? Wrong.
The ‘game-based-on-popular-movie’ syndrome (in which said games are almost universally sub-par) rears its ugly head within minutes of starting out on your criminal adventure. You play as ‘Dominic’, a brand-new character entrusted by Michael Corleone himself to run the New York sector of his crime syndicate. As Dominic you bear witness to, and play a part in, various key events from the movie; the Senator Geary and dead prostitute incident, for example. Not that these moments are presented in a particularly entertaining manner. In fact, if you’re looking for a lesson in how to direct a cut scene so that it lacks any sort of engagement with the viewer whatsoever then there are few better places to start looking than here.
Strangely (considering the source material) the story elements seem to have been an afterthought in the design process, acting merely as a device to guide you through the game’s three locations (New York, Florida and Cuba). Few and far between, these narrative portions are broken up by lengthy, repetitive stretches of playing as ‘The Don’.
Essentially, playing the role of The Don consists of expanding your portfolio of crime rackets (chop shops, drug trafficking, brothels etc) and strengthening your gang with a view to eliminating rival families. Your most vital task is to take over rival families’ rackets, as this increases your daily income while decreasing theirs and eventually leads to their downfall. Taking control of a racket is as simple as breaking into the building, disposing of the guards and intimidating the business’ front man until he gives in and agrees to hand the place over to you. In any other open-world action game this may sound like something of a difficult task but in The Godfather 2 it’s almost painfully easy. Not only can Dominic withstand enough bullets to put an oil tanker out of commission, but his health regenerates when not taking damage and the enemy AI doesn’t seem to have been programmed with combat competency in mind. At times it’s almost embarrassing as to how cushy a task taking out seven or eight heavily armed guards can be.
As if the challenge wasn’t easy enough already the new ‘Don’s View’ map screen practically removes the need to think at all, allowing you to seize rival rackets without setting foot in the door yourself. Simply highlight the racket you desire and send your best men to do the dirty work for you. As you select which men are best suited to the job, you’re told how high your chance of success is, removing any would-be suspense along with the need to think tactically. Due to the painstaking repetition of going from one business to the next, eliminating the guards and taking the racket for yourself, it is all too easy to allow yourself to simply sit in the menu and allow the game to play itself. If there’s a game out there with a more effective shortcut to success then we’ve not played it.
The bulk of the income earned from your illegal business ring is immediately eaten up through employing guards to defend each site. Any remaining money can be spent on upgrading the stats of Dominic and any gang members you’ve promoted to ‘made-men’. You can induct up to seven made-men into your family and roam the streets with up to three at a time. Each potential family member has a certain skill that’ll help in certain situations; a safecracker is useful for picking locks and breaking into vaults, while demolition experts can blow holes in walls or bring down entire buildings and so on and so on. Making good use of each skill can help in bypassing areas of high guard activity or obtaining hidden goodies such as money or weapons.
Rival families enlist their own made-men who generally pose a significantly tougher challenge than the usual cannon fodder you encounter. Disposing of rival made-men requires you meet a specific ‘kill condition’ for each. These range from silently strangling your victim to death to hurling them head-first from the roof of a building. Killing a target without meeting the correct criteria simply results in that person respawning a few minutes later. The system is fairly entertaining for a couple of hours but you’re soon left begging for a bit of ‘Hitman-esque’ freedom in how to go about eliminating your prey. This is cold, hard linearity in its most rigid of forms.
There are other ‘side-missions’ you can undertake, such as robbing banks or doing random favours for people you pass on the street. Do someone a favour and they’ll provide you with a useful perk or piece of information. Doing favours is essential if you want to take out rival family members as there is no other way to garner the required kill condition and target location information. Why random pedestrians would know the whereabouts of high-ranking Mafia figures is something of a mystery, but then there’s a lot about Godfather that makes no sense anyway.
All of this repetitive, mundane and frankly old-fashioned gameplay takes place across three separate open world environments (the aforementioned New York, Florida and Cuba) that, all combined into one, would struggle to rival the size of just one of Grand Theft Auto 4’s islands. Add to that the fact that the environments are eerily under-populated and you’ve got yourself a pretty unappealing world in which to try and have fun – creating a sense of immersion was obviously not too high on the priority list.
The visuals can’t rescue the game-world either – while technically not all that terrible, they just lack any sort of identity or personality. Character models have that same cold, soulless look that you used to see in Tiger Woods’ games from a few years back. The 1950s fashion, cars and interior decor, that the movie made look so iconic, merely comes across as looking drab and tired compared to its contemporary genre rivals (GTA4, Saint’s Row 2 et al).
The Godfather 2 has a few interesting ideas but, sadly, fails to put them to good use. After only a couple of hours the repetition completely drains away any desire you may have had to play through to the end. Whether you’re looking for an open-world game, an action game or even a game based on a movie then you’re advised to look elsewhere because what’s on offer here isn’t worth the trouble.