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Godfather II: Just another sandbox game

For anyone who has read the book or seen Godfather II, and let’s be honest, if you haven’t you’re not playing this game, you may be in a for a few surprises. Whatever you do, don’t read the book or watch the movie within six months before playing this game. Don’t do it. As a matter of fact, don’t play any game based on a movie shortly before or after seeing said movie. Consuming the same storyline across mediums without providing ample time for digestion between will always lead to despair and indigestion.

First and foremost is the complete and utter lack of trips to Las Vegas. I say trips because there is a lot of flying between cities as you struggle to maintain a grip on your fledgling empire. It is casually mentioned that Don Corleone does live and work in Vegas but he spends most of his time in New York at the Federal Building in the court hearing. Also, I should mention the good Don is neither voiced by Al Pacinio or Michael Imperioli and while Carlso Ferro does a convincing job of playing an Italian American with enough power to know he doesn’t have to flash it, he by no means brings the character to the forefront. In Assassin’s Creed II on the other hand he is fantastic. Speaking of fantastic, John Mariano was spot on as Fredo. RIP John Cazale.

But I digress. My point is, the plot compliments the film nicely while allowing you to be the Don you want to be without stomping all over Mario Puzo’s grave.

Speaking of being Don, the chain of command is a little bizarre to say the least. Again, in reference to the movie or book, once Michael Corleone takes over he ships out to Vegas, he divides up the Corleone’s New York territory amongst his favorite underlings. Low and behold when you come on the scene the underlings aren’t getting along. So good old Michael tells you he’s putting you in charge of the olive business and tasks you with cleaning up New York. Read: kill everyone. Here’s where things get fishy.

Dominic slugs a thugh

The Don doesn't mind getting his hands dirty

In the first game you’re recruited by Luca Brasi and you have to work your way up from the bottom by taking over rackets and earning respect. Here, you start at the top and can recruit your own crew one by one with the exception of a consigliere. Apparently you can’t afford a consigliere so one has been appointed for you. This is all well and good but you have to eliminate the other families and to do that you have to take over rackets. Wait. Why’s the boss doing all the work of a lackey? Obviously because beating people up and forcing them to pay protection money is fun. Then why call me a Don if I’m out running around? Good question. I suppose you don’t have to do this. You could take over everything from the menu system while you focus on the story missions, but I stand by the point I made three sentences ago.

That being said, recruiting thugs with different skills is an interesting RPG element to include. Especially when promoting them gave them an opportunity to learn a new skill. Eventually you could run around with just you and your underboss and the only reason you needed anybody else was for meat shields and cannon fodder. Marking my men for death so I could replace them with someone with a higher weapons proficiency was both satisfying and dangerous. I found myself getting very angry at my medic, so I went through a couple of those. Unfortunately they always found it necessary to die right when the other family’s back up arrived. I suppose this is acceptable punish for someone who feels the need to eliminate his own man. The upgrade options for the family members never really seemed necessary. Here I went and saved up all this money to purchase these upgrades and I honestly could not tell the difference once I got them.

Moving on. Technically the game is great. You blow stuff up, the auto aim works, controlling your family and taking over businesses from the menu system works great, and overall the game mechanics are clean and intuitive. It’s like a good German car. Everything works precisely as it should.  The problem is, it’s not terribly exciting. They tried hard to make a GTA game with a real plot based on a well established and well-loved American story. They got the story down but the GTA bit is lacking. For example, I never felt a significant urgency when being chased by the police. They were more like buzzing flies than threats to my safety and freedom. This is especially noticeable while robbing banks. In The Godfather: The Game trying to rob all five, I think there were five, banks at once was thrilling. It even took a bit of planning. In II if you have an engineer and a safecracker you could practically walk in and out of the bank without anyone even noticing there was money missing.

The entire game is like watching a video of a rollercoaster ride. While mildly exciting, maybe even entertaining, at the end of the day I’m not going to lose my lunch after watching a video of a rider on the Magnum XL 200. On the other hand I won’t need to visit a chiropractor after watching a ride on the Gemini, so there’s something to be said for that.

Now on to the plot. I won’t give away the ending, well, not the one you are involved in. Of course the very end of the game matches the movie, but it’s just a cutscene seemingly tossed on at the end to make sure the game and movie story lines matched up. I was sort of looking forward to a rowing min-game too. Oh well what the hell. The game’s focus is centered around Cuba and why you can’t live in a mobster’s paradise in said Cuba. Read: revolution. The concept is actually very interesting. We get to see what Fredo was up to while Michael was on trial. You guessed it, booze and women. Meanwhile you are watching over his Florida interests.

As much as I love Micheal’s older brother, Hyman Roth is the character that makes this game. I have never had a video game character make me feel so manipulated as Roth did. Granted you could make a case for Bioshock, but Andrew Ryan didn’t make me feel manipulated. I was very manipulated, but I didn’t feel manipulated. Puzo would be proud to hear me say this; I could feel Roth pulling my strings and guiding me along to Cuba and I was completely and utterly helpless to do anything about it. It was impressive.

That brings us back to Cuba. The immediate post-revolution country is sufficiently ravaged but the game only sends you to Cuba for one reason. That reason is apparently not so far-fetched, but it still seems strange and it’s one of those situations that has a set outcome no matter what you do. Like every Call of Duty game set in World War II ever.

I could discuss more, like the period-ambiguous clothing and the great jazz remixes of the classic Godfather theme song, but 1200 words on a game that was fun but not great is too much as it is.

Oh yeah, there’s also an online multiplayer that lets you earn upgrades for your family members. There’s no algorithm for playing with people your own skill level, apparently. I got very bored, very fast.

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