Godfather II First Impressions

The Godfather: Part II is the only sequel in Hollywood history to win an Academy Award for Best Picture (Lord of the Rings and Silence of the Lambs don't count). That alone is a tough act for a video game to follow; but Godfather II the video game also has to go up against Grand Theft Auto - the heavy-hitter of both mobster and sandbox gaming standards. Even if every gamer in the world has read Mario Puzo's Godfather (they haven't) and gives credit where credit's due for mob clichés (they don't), Godfather II would still have to do something different from GTA to stand out.

For starters, Luscious Entertainment has added the all new Don View. This creates a strategy element in the mobster life where instead of just running around as your custom-made mob man, smashing shit up and collecting racket money, you can pull back into a city-wide view and take in the positions and movements of the rival families. With this bird's eye view, you can make decisions about who you want to hit and how - which businesses you want in your pocket and what men you want in your crew. Playing the strategy element of GFII makes you think like a Don, while still letting you act like a mobster.

Like the first Godfather game, you serve the Corleone family, with big dreams of being head of your own family if you do Michael Corleone the favour of acting as Don while he sorts out business with the FBI. You recruit a crew to start with - made men with their own personalities, backgrounds, and specialties. The specialties are crucial because they'll determine your mob war strategy. Got a demolitions guy? Blow up the strip joint. Got an engineer who can knock out power grids? Sneak in the back of the auto shop and knock out their power so you can get the drop on their hired goons. And you can always spend money to level these "skills" up.

Collecting a complete racket gives your family a monopoly - allowing you to cash in on bonuses that each racket offers. If you own all the strip joints, for example, you can knock 50% off the cost of guards (because presumably, you're paying the other half in sweet, sweet hooker flesh). Having more means having more to guard, however, so as you move up in the city's mob food chain, you start to attract more attention - the wrong kind, that is. Hiring goons of your own and recruiting more men for your crew only goes so far; the other families have more of the same and putting a hit out on their soldiers doesn't take them out of play completely. You've got to dig around, do a few favours for the right people (district attorney is always a good place to start), and find out what your enemies' weaknesses are. Because once you know how to hit them, you'll be taking them out for good, leaving your family free to snatch up the emptied parts of the underbelly.

Godfather will feature Florida, New York, and Cuba as the main settings of the game. If you did your homework (you know - read the book, saw the movie), you'll be pleased to see that this fits in with the actual story of the The Godfather: Part II, although you're missing out on most of what Michael Corleone is up to. Tom Hagen's still around, though, and Robert Duvall was enough of a sport to come back for the second game as voice talent. Robert Di Nero, on the other hand, you probably won't see (or hear) because unlike the movie, Godfather II the game has zero Old Italy flashbacks to the childhood of Vito Corleone and the founding of the Corleone family.

What I saw at that posh Godfather II event was a bare bones, pre-alpha model of what the game could look like when it comes out next year. I say "could" because it was obvious both from the visuals and from the bizarre tabletop game they had us play to grasp the abstract concept of Don strategy that key parts of how the game will work are still up in the air. For example, the production people copped to the fact that you could play through the game without using the Don's View feature. It would make it unbalanced, but it could be done; and that won't look good for Godfather if it's trying to break away from the GTA model of mindless violence = money = king of town.

Also - and this is a total nit-picking comment - they keep insisting that you are a Don from the beginning of the game; which doesn't make much sense because Michael Corleone is never not the Don in Godfather II (and would he really appoint someone who's not blood-related as a replacement? Come on!)

The game could go either way at the point (much like all games in pre-alpha stages), but it's obvious EA is going the extra mile to make Godfather II into more than just a sequel. I want to say if Francis Ford Coppola can do it, then surely they can - but that guy is magic. Even his own daughter can't match him, so where does EA hope to get off?


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