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The Godfather II
Score: 78%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: EA Games
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1, 1 - 16 (Online)
Genre: Action/ Third Person Shooter/ Strategy

Graphics & Sound:
When I sat down to begin reviewing The Godfather II, EA's latest installment of Francis Ford Coppola's legendary screen trilogy, I was a bit leery. Despite the critical praise heaped upon its predecessor, The Godfather, which I played on the Xbox 360 back in 2006, I was not overly impressed. To me, the initial game attempted to mesh a Grand Theft Auto style sandbox play with a well-delineated movie script and the result was, again in my opinion, less than satisfying. In hindsight, perhaps a bit of my dissatisfaction came from the game trying to be overly faithful to the iconic movies of which I am such a fan.

So, I suppose the question becomes how does EA recreate a game that does not disenfranchise fans of the movie, instead drawing them in deeper? The solution, at least in this case, is to deviate a bit further away from the main storyline that takes place during the films. While remaining true to the timeline and overall story of the trilogy, The Godfather II takes a little artistic license by no longer skirting the edges of the film's main characters, but by taking up the role as a new Don under the Corleone family. You will still have occasion to meet with many of the main characters from the movie, such as Hyman Roth and Michael and Fredo Corleone, but you are no longer tied into missions directly drawn from the movie script, allowing for broader gameplay and mission settings.

Part of the aforementioned artistic license comes in the form of the graphics in the game. Recreating a vision of the late-50s/early-60s that will appeal to the modern generation is a daunting task and for the most part, EA does a nice job in this regard. Beginning in pre-revolutionary Cuba and later moving to New York and Miami, the clothing, buildings and cars have been meticulously crafted to faithfully recapture the essence of the era. While I found that the detailing and cosmetic appeal was better than in the previous installment of the series, the increase in visual appeal was not as impressive as I had hoped it would be given a three year development window. Admittedly, this is being a bit on the nitpicky side, as the game graphics are on par with or better than most of the sandbox games available currently and certainly do not diminish the game's overall appeal or playability.

While the graphics did not see an impressive leap forward, the aural qualities of the game most certainly did. From the opening logo screen when the shot rings out and the blood splatters, the sound effects of the game are, for the most part, spot on. The soundtrack varies, depending on the locale, and is very much in line with the music of the late 50s. Voiceovers are well done, and, while Michael is obviously not voiced by Al Pacino, the characters are believable and add to the overall experience. Oddly, the weakest element in the voice acting is that of the main character, especially in the awkwardly scripted dialogues between the player and people asking for favors. Sound effects are visceral and loud; gunshots crack and ring appropriately and explosions have that deep, pleasing rumble. The only real issue I had in regards to the sound effects was most noticeable in multiplayer. As the player is running around, the footsteps seemed exceedingly loud, making me think that everyone must be able to hear me coming. However, although I could hear other players stomping around, the directional aspect seemed to be missing, so I could never really quite fixate on where the sounds were originating. This was a minor detail, but one I felt could have been handled with somewhat better care.

Players familiar with the original Godfather game, as well as most other sandbox type games, will quickly feel right at home in The Godfather II. Much of the gameplay revolves around the GTA-style mission mix. There are main story-progressing missions obviously, but also many many side tasks that you can attempt that will earn you some extra cash for upgrading your player, you made men or your weapons. Some of these side missions also provide you with key information regarding how exactly to take out key members of competing families, thus weakening them prior to your taking over their operations. As in the previous game, the basic idea is to take over various rackets around the city (in this case, cities), thus garnering more power for your family while cutting the legs out from under the competition. As you take over entire rackets, say all four dance clubs or construction sites, your team will gain a substantial advantageous perk. These perks might be personal enhancements such as brass knuckles for better hand-to-hand combat and bulletproof vests which lower the damage you take during firefights. Some also give you access to better support mechanisms, such as unions that can quickly rebuild a business after it has been bombed by a rival family, thus limiting the financial toll that would normally be incurred from such downtime.

Among the plethora of side missions, you might choose to aide any of several "prominent" officials with problems that they are having. Rendering aid to these people will allow you to later call in a favor from them, which might be in the form of calling off a police chase or performing a sting on a rival family's underboss. As the game progresses, these favors become increasingly important. Ultimately, your goal is to wipe out the rival factions and take over their businesses thus increasing both your wealth and notoriety. The Godfather II is much larger in scale than The Godfather, spanning multiple cities, and you, as the Don, are expected to oversee the operation in all of these cities, no matter where you are currently residing. To help in this endeavor, The Godfather II introduces Don View, which gives the player instant access to all of his holdings, allowing the reallocation of guards to needed hotspots, as well as the ability to upgrade the stats of both yourself and your made men. This RPG element is a fun aspect of the single player experience, but it also ties in with the multiplayer part of the game (as described below).

The multiplayer portion of the game, while fun, still feels a little under-developed. The standard varities of Team Deathmatch, Escort and Sabotage type missions exist, and while the graphics are passable, they do not mirror the polish of the single player experience. As mentioned above, I noted some oddities in the sound effects while playing in multiplayer. Also, players respawn in certain areas of the map, but not always in particular spots, thereby limiting the ability for opposing players to "spawn camp" a team. Players respawn as invincible for a few seconds, so if a member of the opposite team is on the wrong side of the map, well, payback can be a... very rewarding experience. Playing in multiplayer starts off by choosing one of your made men from the single player game and choosing which weapon you would like him to begin the match with. As your made men progress in the single player campaign, being promoted and gaining more career options, they will become more useful in multiplayer. Similarly, as you play a made man in multiplayer, you gain higher weapon license levels for them, allowing the use of much better weaponry. This dynamic helps to promote a nice balance of play and, while I feel there is a bit of tweaking to be done to the system, over-all it provides a very interesting gameplay element when choosing how to divide playtime.

After a short stint playing The Godfather II, players may be deceived into believing that the single player version of the game is overly simplistic and entirely too easy. After a quick, tutorial-like level set in Cuba, the player is brought to New York and given his assignment as a new Don by none other than Michael Corleone himself. There, after being tasked with defeating a small rival family, you are given your first soldier slot and told to recruit your first made man. After doing so, you are sent on a series of missions, again most acting as on-the-job training, complete with small videos and how-to's. As you run from one racket to the next, you'll learn the basics of interrogation and intimidation and well as the appropriate use of brute force. Thankfully, learning a lesson from other games in the genre, the developers have scaled down the maps, and although they are still impressive in size, travel from one assignment to the next is much less of a hassle.

Once you finish wiping out your first rival family, it'll be time to get out of town for a bit while the heat subsides. It's off to Miami, where the real playing begins. There are a few more tutorial type moments, but at this point, it is largely up to you, the player, to determine how you want to go about building and expanding your network. Those players that might have sleepwalked through the first map will want to wake up now, because the difficulty is significantly increased, with tactics and resource management now becoming a necessity. Keep an eye on your maps, because while you are attacking one family's business in Miami, they (or another family) might be attacking your holdings back in New York. One handy aspect is that, if you get frustrated, you can restart the game but keep all of the upgrades you are already purchased, making the jobs much easier to accomplish.

Game Mechanics:
Probably the easiest aspect of The Godfather II to describe, the mechanics are easy to learn and fairly straightforward. Using the SIXAXIS controller, camera control and movement are tied to the thumbsticks in a way that most players will instantly find familiar. Players use the (L1) and (R1) buttons to aim and fire their weapons respectively. Weapons are selected by holding (L2) and pushing the thumbsticks directionally towards the desired implement in pop-up menus. The (R3) button will be used mostly to perform grisly execution moves. As the player progresses through the storyline, certain learned techniques, such as necksnaps and owner persuasion, require moving the controller rapidly up and down or to the side, making use of the motion-sensitivity aspect of the SIXAXIS. Players using third-party controllers need to be aware of this possible limitation. The upper face button (Triangle) is the default action button and will be used in many context-sensitive ways, such as opening doors and hijacking cars. As with movement and camera control, driving is also feels very familiar. The Godfather II even includes handy little pop-up help texts on the screen to apprise the player of what particular buttons might do in a given situation. Control of your made men is also using several of the face buttons (L1 directs them to open fire when in an automobile). Overall, the control scheme is well thought out and very intuitive, definitely one of the stronger elements of the game.

All in all, while The Godfather II provided a more enriching and enjoyable experience than its predecessor, I was still not wholly satisfied. As a sensational experience, it was very well done, both from a visual and audio standpoint. However, the side missions quickly became repetitive and, as with so many other games, both sandbox and RPG alike, failed to tie into the main story in any substantial way. The learning curve is a bit extreme, going from the powder-puff cake walk to the need to constantly watch your back all too fast. The mature rating is aptly earned, not only from a violence and language standpoint (both understandable considering), but also from an over-abundance of scantily clad or completely topless women as well as, in my opinion, far too many references to drug usage and trafficking. Still, the ultimate flaw comes at the game's conclusion. I will admit to suspending my need to constantly draw reference back to the movies for correlations during my play-through, but the ending, which I will not spoil here, left me feeling wholly dissatisfied; like the game somehow failed to go that one extra small step to really live up to its potential. The Godfather II was a good effort, definitely an improvement, just not quite making the leap to greatness I was so hoping for. Maybe in the final installment (assuming there is one)...

-The Mung Bard, GameVortex Communications
AKA Buddy Ethridge

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