My first impressions of Godfather II were tinged with the heady optimism that comes from starting a new job at Kotaku and with the forbearance I have for games in pre-alpha.
Now, five months later and following a real hands-on with the multiplayer, I can say the honeymoon is over.
Godfather II's multiplayer is tied to the singleplayer mode in two crucial ways: money and gun licenses. In each of the six - count 'em, six - multiplayer maps, players earn cash for killing other players on the opposite team, for performing any of their special abilities like healing teammates (Medic) or blowing things up (Arsonist), or for pulling off execution moves like stuffing the barrel of a Tommy Gun in someone's mouth and pulling the trigger. The cash carries over into the singleplayer game, making it worth your while to cut fences and kill arse in multiplayer even if you can't stand playing with real people just so you can buy the pimp hat and other cool things for your crew in singleplayer.
The second thing you earn by grinding in multiplayer are Honors, which also carry over into singleplayer by unlocking gun licenses for your crew to use. Each firearm (Tommy Gun, Sniper Rifle, etc.) has three levels that make the gun increasingly awesome as you earn the licenses for each. The level three sniper rifle can one-shot kill someone even if you don't get them in the head.
"Why do gangsters need gun licenses?" fellow games journalist Adam Pavlacka quipped.
Why indeed. And why are there baseball bats? I never saw those in in any of the Godfather movies and I'm damn sure I never read about them in the book...
But I'm getting ahead of myself in the outrage department. I actually didn't have a problem with the concept of carrying cash, gun levels and benefits back and forth between multiplayer and singleplayer - it sounds like a good idea. Singleplayer also ties into multiplayer because you're choosing guys from the crew you create in singleplayer to use in online matches. Any levels or abilities they gain in singleplayer and whatever you customise about their "RPG stats" and costumes are carried over and can be crucial in forming a cohesive online team. You wouldn't want to run a Fire Starter mission without an Arsonist, would you?
There are four online game modes to go with the six maps - Fire Starter, Demolition Assault, Safe Cracker and Team Deathmatch. Fire Starter is a race between the Blue and Red teams towards gas tanks marked on the map. Only characters with the Arsonist ability can set them alight - and can do it faster if they've got a stat buff in singleplayer. This is a big deal because it takes time to get that blaze going beneath a propane tank and while you do it, the other team will be trying to shoot you.
This is where your teammates come in - they're supposed to protect you while you set fire to things. Each gas tank you burn grants you a cash multiplier and makes a green flame appear beneath your feet. If you get killed, you lose the multiplier and have to start setting things on fire all over again to build up scoring potential for your team. Demolition Assault and Safe Cracker are essentially the same in terms of goals, strategy and multipliers - only you're blowing things up or cracking safes instead of setting gas tanks on fire. Meanwhile Team Deathmatch is exactly what it sounds like.
In Godfather II, the multiplayer is all about teamwork and strategy. Online Lead Designer Greg Rizzer said they didn't want to create a multiplayer just for the sake of having a multiplayer - they wanted a system that was true to the "think like a Don, act like a gangster" motto of the Godfather II game. To that end, the maps are carefully balanced, entirely symmetrical and come with a recommended player number for maximum fairness. There's also team chat which lets you talk to your crew or trash talk enemies that you're standing near, and match-making options that let you exclude players with too high or too low a level.
The recommended player thing is definitely important. We got to try out Jungle Fortress - a level designed by Medal of Honor level designer Scott Swearingen - where the recommended number of players is six to eight. We were playing with a 16; the max amount Godfather II's multiplayer can support. This turned our Fire Starter game into Deathmatch because we couldn't take more than five steps without running into the enemy; never mind getting all the time we needed to set fire to gas tanks.
I was actually really frustrated at this event. I could see that the levels were intricately designed with hidden passageways and carefully placed cover items (walls, sandbags, etc.). But I felt like I couldn't take advantage of them because 1) I didn't have enough time to learn the maps, and 2) we weren't getting to strategize with our teams (the venue was too noisy to use team chat and we had no idea who was who when we actually got in the game). So each match turned into every-man-for-himself shootouts and lurid explosions from overpowered Molotov cocktails - which made me die a little inside because Rizzer said the multiplayer wasn't supposed to be a hackneyed throwaway mode.
I bet the multiplayer is great when it works - when you're talking to your team, when you've figured out the maps, when you actually go by the recommended numbers. I really respect the amount of effort Rizzer and his team put into balancing the multiplayer and making it matter to the singleplayer mode.
But (here comes the outrage), the biggest failing of the Godfather II's multiplayer mode is that it makes me feel like this is not a Godfather game. I had this feeling at the first Godfather II event - back then we were looking at the beginnings of singleplayer. But now that I've seen multiplayer, I really feel like this game has little if anything to do with the Academy Award-winning film on which it's based beyond the voice talents of Robert Duvall. Instead of cunning subtlety and slick negotiations within the dual storylines of Vito Corleone and his son Michael, we get loud explosions and gratuitous gunplay to go with the disinterested voice of Tom Hagen plus Joe Blow and whatever dudes he pulls in off the street.
The multiplayer, while not horrid, only drives this point home like a shard of glass driven into my heart by a sledgehammer. And the fact that it's tied into the singleplayer so directly only rubs it in that this game has more in common with Grand Theft Auto than it does with Mario Puzo's masterpiece. I know it was that way the first Godfather game - but is it really so wrong of me to expect a sequel to improve where the original failed?
P.S. For fans of the hand-to-hand combat from the first game - yes, you can punch people in multiplayer, but there's no grabbing. And the garrote only the works if you can sneak up on someone or are about to do an execution move.