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EA's take on the iconic Mafia brand makes a return after its lacklustre predecessor, but is it going to sink in concrete shoes...
Hyped in the run-up to its 2006 release, The Godfather: The Game failed to really impress on any of the consoles it launched on. Based on the events of the iconic movie by Francis Ford Coppola, the game charted the personal story of one of the Corleone Family's grunts, as he rose through the ranks to become the Don of New York. Over two years on, and The Godfather video game becomes a franchise, with the release of a sequel due next month on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.
Promising to inject a greater level of strategy into the gameplay, EA says that gamers will be 'playing the game of organised crime' across the three city settings of the sequel. But away from the marketing speak, how is the title shaping up? TVG recently took a horse's head along to EA, and found out that perhaps The Godfather II isn't making such a bad offer after all...
The Revolutionary Influence
Set in the aftermath of its predecessor's events, the game begins with former protagonist Aldo Traponi in charge of the Corleone's interests in New York City, whilst Don Michael extends the family's interests westward. It also happens to be New Years Eve 1958, with the Corleones joining the four other mob families in Cuba, where they're on the verge of securing a deal that will see Mafia wealth rise substantially. Based on certain events from the film, the plans quickly goes sour as the rebels (led by Fidel Castro) pour into Havana, leaving new protagonist Dominic leading Michael and Aldo to the airfield, and - with a bit of luck - safety. As they're about to make their escape, Aldo is shot and killed, leaving Michael to appoint Dominic as the new crime boss of New York City. From there, it's up to players to take over the various rackets dotted throughout the game world.
Unlike its predecessor, The Godfather II takes place across three cities, NYC, Miami, and Havana, each with their own rackets to win and retain. Though the actual area of the three locations equal the whole of the first game's New York, EA have explained that there's actually a greater density of activities to be found this time around. Hopefully the variety in the city styles will mean The Godfather II will escape the criticism of its predecessor of 'samey' environments that were easy to get lost in (and get bored with). The theme of evolving the foundations of the original is something that also extends to the combat system, where throwing punches is now mapped to the individual controller triggers instead of the sticks, and grabbing is as simple as holding both at the same time together. A couple of knees to the stomach or head-butts with some deft flicks of an analogue stick, and players will soon be performing some of the raw street fighting moves that made them wince back in the original. Oh, and contextual right-stick clicks can still perform some rather brutal executions.
The open-world gameplay of the original remains (as you'd expect), together with the same extortions and other felonies - which can now be pulled off in the sun-drenched skies of Havana! Threatening shop owners and crime fronts make a return too, with the mini-game of hitting an opponent to breaking point rearing its head once more. Surely EA isn't just repeating the same errors as last time, is it? Not necessarily. Electronic Arts is actually trying to involve a much greater level of depth to the experience, tapping into the core of what it means to be the Don of a Mafia family. It's trying to break away from the standard crime-ridden streets of a sandbox game by introducing a little strategy, which may actually be the saving grace for the franchise come February. Entitled rather omnipotently 'The Don's View', players are given an overview of the three cities and the various rackets (like prostitution, gun-running, and chop shops) run by the Corleones and the four other families, with the overall goal of taking them all over.
Each racket appears four times between the cities, with players rewarded with a bonus when a crime ring (a single racket type) is wholly owned by one family. For instance, rule the chop shops and players will find themselves behind the wheel of armoured cars. As strategy is at the heart of the gameplay in The Godfather II, the other NPC-controlled families are also 'playing the game of organised crime', and (at least according to EA) will try to wrestle power back from the Corleones. Of course, it may yet trip up and never really fit together with the rest of the open-world Mafia hi-jinks, but for now, it's raised our otherwise low expectations for the title.
I Am De Don.
The notion of being Don is at the heart of what EA is trying to accomplish this time around, rather than just throwing gamers into the world of a mob grunt and watch him steadily rise through the ranks. In the sequel, you're the Godfather practically from the outset; you're the one making the decisions and calling the shots, although it's (sadly) not looking like the option to stick a horse's head into a rival boss's bed made it off the brain-storming plans in pre-production. Shame. What players can do however, is decide what the strengths of the family's henchmen will be, with skills such as arson and medicine available - perfect for doing rudimentary surgery on a bullet-ridden colleague after a botched job. Players can decide whether to send AI grunts on different errands in The Don's View, which can disrupt an illegal operation of a rival, or take it to them in person. There's also the rather interesting dynamic of doing favours for various people in the game, which may help in later missions. For instance, helping out a union boss with some trouble early in the game will allow Dominic to call in that favour whenever he needs to, whether that's to allow him access to a building or lower a bridge, giving him the strategic upper-hand in a mission. We're hoping this cause and consequence dynamic is something that's truly exploited in the campaign, proving once more that The Godfather II is a serious attempt by EA to put the franchise back on track.
For a game that's perhaps not got the best pedigree, it's actually quite surprising that EA is trying to introduce a multiplayer gameplay experience that links directly to the solo campaign. Taking the world of The Godfather II online, players will continue the fight against other gamers, completing objectives whilst playing as their family's grunts, each of whom will have the same attributes that they had in the solo campaign. The link works in reverse too, with the earned cash, honours, and abilities, also added to the offline experience. Whilst much of the detail isn't being spoken off too much, we're hoping that the multiplayer extends the strategic elements of gameplay rather than just throw in some over-used online gametypes like a Godfather version Deathmatch or King of the Hill.
Despite the strong resemblances to the original movie actors, the initial Godfather game visually felt flat; there was very little soul or personality. Quite simply, the game world felt like a movie set. So two years on, and with experience of developing on the current crop of consoles, is EA pushing the visual boat out in the follow up? If the build shown by EA is anything to go by, the answer is...no. That's not to say The Godfather II is a dog of a game, it just seems to be a little lacking. Perhaps it's because the sequel is also being built with The Godfather engine, but the looks are a little underwhelming. Hopefully EA will have continued to add some spit and polish during the intervening weeks between the preview build and the end product, because gamers are starting to get more than a little used to some truly jaw-dropping graphics. However, looks aren't everything; the strategic gameplay and interwoven solo and multiplayer modes may yet exceed expectations - and even prop up the end experience.
All the signs point towards The Godfather II improving on its predecessor, thanks mainly to the introduction of the various strategic elements in the gameplay. EA so far seems to have learnt lessons from the original, and it's certainly appeared on our radar as one title to keep an eye out for in February.
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