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The Godfather II
Graphics: 8
Gameplay: 8
Sound: 8.5
Control: 8.5
Replay Value: 8
Rating: 8.2

Let's not kid ourselves, but the first Godfather game EA put out wasn't exactly great. The PlayStation 3 version was even worse, marred with flaws that were typical in PS3 ports back then. So when a sequel was announced, expectations were low to many of us. But upon finally playing the game, all of that changed. I first had the chance to sample Godfather II about a month ago when EA paid New York City a visit and I liked what I saw. Now, the final game is in my hands and I'm liking the game even more.

The story opens up with Hyman Roth assembling an assortment of crime families in Cuba. Roth has struck a deal with Cuba's former President Fulgencio Batista, to allow them to establish businesses and run parts of the country in peace and spread it up between families. On New Year's 1959, the families are celebrating this massive accomplishment, until Cuba's President announces his sudden resignation to Fidel Castro and sends the country into chaos. With orders from new Dictator, the crime families are now the targets of locale police and you'll have to make way to the airport in an attempt to return back to New York City and protect your partners. This is essentially the first 20 minutes of the game, and it's a damn good 20 minutes, at that.

You control the role of Dominic, and before starting the story mode, you'll customize your character to your liking by changing his face, hair, wardrobe, and etc. After certain events that transpired during your escape from Cuba (which I won't spoil), you will become the boss of a crime family, and begin your rise within the in-game world. You will be given the chance to recruit "made" men as you build your faction and family. This recruitment mechanic will allow you to recruit the men you want, by interrogating them and finding out what their background and specialties are. You can assemble a family of diverse individuals where one is a demolitions expert, the other an arsonist, a bruiser, a safecracker, and so forth. Diversity within your ring of men is key to succeeding.

The action is completely third-person, with gun battles as well as hand-to-hand combat. I must say, I was pleasantly surprised by the hand-to-hand mechanics in the game, they feel very natural, fluid, and easy to use - I was knocking guys down left and right immediately. Your arms and legs will play a vital role in the game and its breaking point mechanic, where you'll have to show your enemies who's boss until they give in. Interrogation is a pivotal aspect to the game, and you'll often get physical when someone refuses to co-operate.

For example, much of the game involves control and controlling businesses such as stores, shops, bars, clubs, and etc. If you've blasted through the front doors of a shop, laid out the rival family's guardsmen and approach the shopkeeper he'll be pretty scared, but will likely refuse to give the shop up to you. You can do one of many things: you can rough him up and ask again, you can set something on fire and ask again, or you can smash up the place and ask again. Some owners are more resilient than others, so they'll require a bit more 'persuasion', and that's what I love most about the game.

Traveling around, securing one spot after the other, roughing up business owners feels rewarding and a ton of fun. The game does a good job of really conveying the sense of what it's like being a mafioso - hell, you can even pay off the cops so they leave you alone. There's even a strategy aspect to it all dubbed "Don's View". Don's View is basically a map of the city you're in (there's Havana, New York City, and Miami), and this map allows you to control the amount of manpower you want stationed at your controlled spots. This tactic is important to use, because even though you've acquired control of a business, rival families will still fight you for it. In fact, the family you've stolen the spot from can plan a vengeful assault and take it back; Don's View is your little tool to prevent that from happening to the best of your abilities and available manpower.

Besides giving you the ability to be tact, the Don's View also allows you to keep tabs on what's going on, by listing your "connections", and the corrupt officials you know or favors you're owed, keeping track of your finances, your crime rings, and places of interest you should look into controlling. The amount of depth in the game is quite high, but never overwhelming, which makes for a very enticing experience.

Making your way around the city can be done by hijacking cars, and thankfully, controlling your autos is a pretty simple and solid task in the game. The car physics feel tight and never wobbly, so you won't be fighting against the car, trying to control it. On-foot controls are also very good, again, bound to a control scheme that is not frustrating to get a hold of. Lastly, online gameplay is good for up to 16 players, boasting four modes: Team Deathmatch, Demolition Assault, Firestarter, and Safecracker. Each one of the last three modes has you in the shoes of a team of experts (demolitions, arsonists, safecracker) and you'll be required to perform a variety of tasks to defeat the opposing team. While not terribly in-depth like GTAIV, the multiplayer mode here is still solid enough.

The graphics in Godfather II are certainly better than the original. The game engine now runs at a silky smooth framerate rendering 720p unhitched. Picture clarity is very clean with not a single ugly quality to be found. Your in game world is split up into three cities, and all three of them boast their distinctive look and feel to them - not just aesthetically, but also in layout. Lighting is very nice, but the textures that make up everything around you can come off looking blotchy on occasion. Also character detail could, perhaps, be a little better, but with so many different characters in the story, it's understandable. Lastly, vehicular detail is very sharp, certainly better than almost any other sandbox game out there, as the car boasts not only damage, but also the blood stains of those who you've run down.

Because this is a high profile license, EA made sure that the voice work is nothing but quality. While we aren't treated to an all star cast of actors that reprise their original roles (for obvious reasons), we're still given a worthwhile experience that is a very good delivery, overall. On top of the voice acting, the game's sound effects are even better, boasting Dolby Digital support that really makes it a pleasure to experience the game's most tense and hectic moments. Although, a custom soundtrack option would've excused EA for a bland soundtrack, and make the car treks bit more enjoyable.

The Godfather II, although a bit easy and not nearly as long as it should be, is still a great sandbox game that fans of the genre will enjoy wholeheartedly. It boasts solid control mechanics, from on-foot gameplay, to fighting, to gun play, and to car control. The missions are always a lot of fun, even if they can be a bit repetitive, because the game does a good job of conveying the life of a mafioso. Plus, you have to appreciate the role-playing and strategy elements of the game, which really sets this game apart from every other. Do yourself a favor and give The Godfather II a look, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with what you see.

4/7/2009   Arnold Katayev