Genre: Action Developer: EA Redwood Shores Publisher: EA Classification: MA15+ Release Date: 9th Apr 2009 Platforms:XBOX360
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The Good bits
The Don Control metagame is a great idea.
Open World games aren't dead to me... yet.
The Bad stuff
Silly AI on both sides.
A little bit hammy with its handling of the story.
Three small worlds does not equal one large world.
Why would I want to blow up my own shops?
OK, I understand that communism can do horrible things to a place's economy, but why does Havana only ever have about 10 shops in it? What tragedy befell New York between The Godfather and The Godfather II that caused the city to shrink dramatically?
Honestly, when I first booted up The Godfather II: The Video Game I automatically assumed it was taking the Grand Theft Auto "unlock more of the city as you play", and I was cornered into only a quarter of the city I would be taking over. As it would later turn out Dominic (your character) has interests in Havana, Miami and New York - instead of more of New York opening up these two new cities do instead.
Compared to the expanse of New York in the first game, this three city approach is definitely restrictive. From a practical point of view it's simple to see why they did it - the interiors of buildings are now detailed, somewhat dynamic and the gameplay within is varied. You can blow open walls, pick locks, kick down doors and cut electricity in different places of the various businesses throughout the city - you'd need a pretty hefty engine to run the whole game in the one place.
It's lucky, then, that the game doesn't feature any of the issues which plague many open world games - there's no frame stutter, very minimal pop-in and the draw distance is actually pretty decent - you can assassinate people from fairly long distances with the right weapons.
GFII's problem is that many people don't appreciate these things if the rest of the game is tight - hell GTAIV on consoles suffers from pop-in, stuttering and a pretty shoddy draw distance but barely anybody cared at all. What people do notice is poor AI, crazy clipping issues and nonsensical objectives.
The game emphasises your role as a leader in the game now, having you take three men with you as you murder innocents and lean on shopkeepers. Unfortunately these men can often get themselves killed (making their skills useless and putting them out of commission for 12 minutes) simply because they won't follow orders. They don't move to you when you call them away from explosions (the demolitions guy will often just stand on top of the bomb he just set) and they can't climb ladders half the time.
Further, enemies will often just stand in front of you while you kill them - at other times they'll detect you for no reason. Stealth kills in the game are almost not worth the time when suddenly an enemy will see you through a wall and start attacking you. None of them are especially tough to kill, though you will probably die to shotgun wielders who detect you at the last second.
The clipping issues vary from your car becoming parked in a wall (with you unable to get out) to falling into areas behind crates (you can see over them, but you can't get out). Not being able to jump only becomes absolutely infuriating in these situations.
The nonsensical objectives actually go hand-in-hand with the best part of the game - the strategy metagame. To become the Don of Freakin' Everywhere you need to take over and control businesses throughout the game world. Controlling businesses gives you money - controlling all the businesses of a certain type gives you Crime Ring control, which gives you bonuses like bulletproof armour or double damage weapons.
Beyond that you can use the money from the businesses to buy your team mates new weapons and upgrade their skills. You can promote members of your family and give them new skills, or you can mark them for death to replace them with someone better. You can even dress up your family, if that floats your boat.
Then again, sometimes the game asks you to blow up your businesses. In return you can get cash, favours from officials and - most importantly - the kill conditions for rival family made men. Realistically though you're better off just deleting this missions and blowing up the rival families compound, as that kills everyone in the family.
They have an awesome metagame - a system worth telling people about - and they hamstrung it by imposing illogical objectives and making the game too easy. Other families will attack your businesses in attempts to take back some money - but they never seemed to attack more than one at a time. So I'd send my family over to defend the building and then I'd attack and take other buildings on my own. Near the end of the game I'd split my family into two groups and send them to take over a business each while I took one on my own.
The weirdest thing about this game - I've never had so many gripes and still found myself so incredibly addicted. I played the game all the way through - around 25 hours - in two sittings.
In the end, I put down my addiction to a few things - one; there's something amazingly satisfying about killing mobsters with a wide variety of weapons. Two; The Godfather Part II movie has a great story, and even if they mangled it a little to fit Dominic into things it's still pretty decent. Three; the strategy metagame - even if it is hopelessly mismanaged - is still an awesome idea and something I thoroughly enjoyed concentrating on. I even gave my guys different clothes depending on their rank (Lieutenants wear vests) I was that invested in it.
If you absolutely must have a mobster game now, give The Godfather II a shot. It tries to do too much and it fails a lot - but where it succeeds, it succeeds well. With more time and more testing The Godfather II might have even given Mafia II a run for its money... It's EA - not Take-Two - which has given GFII the concrete shoes. As it is I'm in the curious position of hoping The Godfather III is better than The Godfather II.