Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Playing The Godfather II is a supremely frustrating experience. Not because of the myriad of technical issues, but because of all its potential that it does nothing with. It features some genuinely intriguing and innovative systems that emulate a mafia lifestyle like no game before it, but its glitches, repetitive nature, and laughable AI ensure that it ends up being nothing more than a few good ideas in a broken package.
While its predecessor wasn't a terrible game, it didn't do too much to separate itself from the legions of Grand Theft Auto clones. It featured the occasional roughing-up of a shop owner and it roughly followed some events from the film, but it wasn't much of a "mafia simulator". This new installment does a lot more to make the gamer feel like part of the mob by placing you in direct control of your own crew. As you progress, you can add more and more members to your crew and upgrade their abilities. Your crew members aren't automatically selected, as you can actually go around town and quiz candidates about their specialties and personalities, and decide based on that who's cut out to join. Each member will have a specialty that comes in handy, and you'll need safecrackers, arsonists, medics and more if you really want to lead an all-purpose mafioso crew.
You can order your men around via basic in-game controls (Square to follow, Circle to move), or through the great "Don's View" map. It's an incredibly functional and well-implemented system, and allows you to direct your men across the city to take care of whatever comes up. You can send them to bomb rival businesses, defend your territories, or attempt takeovers. This all becomes essential as your power becomes greater, as the more businesses and rackets you run, the more turf you have to defend at once. Because of the Don's View and your crew, you can be shooting up a bakery in a takeover attempt at the same time your crew is pulling off a bank heist. The entire system around the crew and Don's View is great, and makes you truly feel in control of a powerful crime ring.
That's about it for the good ideas. The rest of the game is an absolute mess, and the AI is among the worst I've seen in a game. You can blow up the side of a bank, steal thousands from the vault, and stand in the middle of the street only to see cops run back and forth past you without firing a shot. At one point I started shooting my gun, and the cops started running in the opposite direction to search for the culprit even though I was right in front of them. I ordered a crew member to trash a bakery, and it became obvious that "trash the bakery" translated to "kick this one pie for an infinite amount of time".
Battling against shoddy AI is bad enough, but its made even worse by the sub-par controls. Gunplay is cumbersome and unintuitive, forcing you to double-tap on the analog stick to target a different enemy. After cutscenes and seemingly random events, your equipped weapons will be magically deselected, requiring you to either cycle through them with the d-pad again or select them from the wheel that pops up when you hold a shoulder button. When bullying shop owners, you're supposed to be able to slam them into walls or bash their heads into counters with Sixaxis motion controls, but the motion detection is so inconsistent it's almost unusable.
One of the most unintentionally hilarious aspects of the game is the method in which you take out rival family members. It's not possible to kill them by simply filling them with lead or running over them with a car, as they'll magically recover in the hospital no matter what violent method you used on them. Rather, you have to kill them in super-specific ways that will "send a message" to their families. And how do you find out these methods? BY ASKING RANDOM PEOPLE ON THE STREET. You simply walk up to pedestrians that have a key over their head, and ask them if they need any help. They'll ask you for a favor, and if you do it for them they'll tell you the correct way to kill the rival made man. It's an absolutely ludicrous system, and makes no sense at all. My favorite moment in the entire game was when I approached a random pedestrian and said "You look like a guy that could use some help". His response? "If by help you mean MURDER, then yeah!". He then proceeded to give me the proper kill scenario I needed after I murdered his wife with a pool cue.
Nothing works well in the game. Your men will pop up randomly beside you even after you sped away from them at 80mph in a car. You can murder every single human being in a strip club, only to notice they all magically reappeared just because you stepped outside the door for a split second. Cops will forgive you for untold amounts of murder and theft just because you broke the plane of your front door. It doesn't matter if there's a dozen cops pursuing you, they all forget as soon as you get home, and you can even go back outside and walk amongst them after doing so and they won't mind a bit.
The visuals look incredibly dated and glitches and clipping errors are abundant. Cars will be parked halfway through concrete walls, pedestrians will get caught in awkward loops, and large objects will appear and disappear randomly. The on-the-street pedestrian banter isn't natural and humorous like in the Grand Theft Auto series. Rather, it seems like they recorded a batch of dozens of random sentences and programmed the pedestrians to spout them regardless of the situation around them.
The entire package seems lazy, which is a shame because the mob management features had a ton of potential. A good game is more than just a few good ideas, you need to build a solid foundation and workable game mechanics around them. The Godfather II has the ideas, but the execution is atrocious.
First Play: 7.0
Replay Value: 5.0