Solo Gamer Review: The Godfather II
Solo Gamer Reviews are dedicated to the gamer who does not play well with others, doesn't care about multiplayer modes in his or her games, and who absolutely despises things like multiplayer achievement points. These are reviews for guys and gals who prefer to play with themselves, and thus games will be penalized if developers spend more time on slayer deathmatch options than on the single-player experience. We solo gamers prefer a well-thought-out story, an immersive universe, and hours upon hours of enjoyment without having to shoot an endless horde of twelve-year-old punks in the head over the Internet. So throw away your WiiSpeak and your X-Box Live headset, and all hail the solo gamer!
It is generally considered a fact that, in movies, sequels are never as good as the original. In video games, the opposite tends to be true, as game developers improve upon the ideas of the original without sacrificing the magic that made the original a good game. With both rules, however, there are exceptions. For example, Francis Ford Coppola's celluloid masterpiece, The Godfather, spawned The Godfather, Part II, an opus that is arguably better than the original (see my previous post on the Top 5 Best and Worst Movie Sequels). Interestingly, The Godfather also spawned a rare abberation, a licensed video game--based on a movie--that is actually a pretty well-made game. What does all this say about the video game based on The Godfather, Part II? Does it hold true to its cinematic counterpart and the rule of thumb about video game sequels, or does it amount to another exception?
Unfortunately, the answer isn't so simple. The Godfather II does make vast improvements over The Godfather: The Video Game, but it oddly takes some of the polish away at the same time. Many of the things that made the original game so notable are missing in the sequel, so the improvements are bittersweet. This does not necessarily mean that The Godfather II is worse than the original, but it's also not better.
From a plot standpoint, The Godfather, Part II is much harder to adapt than The Godfather. The movie flashes back and forth between a young Vito Corleone and Michael's challenges in the 1950's. The Michael Corleone half of the story jumps between several different locations, and the plot is more complex. Conversely, the Vito story is incredibly simple. Game designers for The Godfather II wisely decided not to cover both halves of the story, and once you make that decision, it's easy to pick the Michael Corleone story over Vito's, because there is so much more going on and the time period allows for better environments, weapons, vehicles, and the like.
Alas, though the designers clearly tried to put the player into the story as immersively as they did in the first game, it doesn't come off as successfully. Events happen out of order and only occasionally intersect with the movie, and there are powerful moments from the movie that are pathetically reinacted with short, unemotional cutscenes. In the movie, for example, when Michael finally confronts Fredo, it is one of the most important and heartbreaking scenes in the entire Corleone story. In the game, it happens with a third character (you) in the room, and it is all covered in three or four lines of shortened dialogue that feel deeply out of place.
|It's fun to choke people, but don't expect it to actually mean anything|
You also don't feel the sense of accomplishment invoked by the first game. Your story seems completely tangental to Michael's, and it doesn't hold the same amount of weight. Only once in a while do you intersect with Michael's story, and those rare moments definitely feel like they're put there just because they need to be there; they don't have the cleverness or importance of the original game's story.
Additionally, you aren't given a story of your own that bookends the plot. The original game had you rising through the ranks and seeking vengeance for the death of your father. Your character has, well, character. In the sequel, however, you could be anybody, and your only reason for doing the things you do is because you're a mob boss. There aren't any stakes, betrayed friends, or murdered dames. You just do what you want, and progress through the plot because there's no other way to beat the game.
There are a couple of moments in the story worth mentioning, however, for being brilliant. The game opens with you escaping the Cuban rebellion, and one of the missions you undertake when you return to Cuba (much later in the game) is really cool. There are also one or two interesting characters thrown in, but these occasional flashes of brilliance are few and far between. Most of the game's story is bland, and the few twists that are there are twists any fan of the movie will know about already.
The gameplay, on the other hand, is a vast improvement over the original game. The big gimmick is the "Don's View," an overhead map that allows you to micromanage your exploits, send your men to defend or attack businesses, and get a glimpse of how many guards can be found at an enemy location. This is a pretty cool idea that works well, but it's ultimately shallow. There isn't enough micromanaging to be done to justify the gimmick, but as an in-game map, it is both pretty and useful.
|Don's View is an awesome map, but little more|
The on the ground control--like running, shooting, beating people up, bashing in a few televisions with a baseball bat, and such--are definitely better than in the original game. You can do a lot more, and the intuitiveness of the controls is greatly enhanced. There is also the welcome addition of a basic cover system, which is more useful than you might think. If this game makes its way to the Nintendo Wii, I'd consider buying it again for the blackhand controls.
But I know what the solo gamer is truly worried about. One of the selling points of the game is the improved crew you take with you on your exploits. You could have a crew in the original game, but they get in the way more than they help out, and there is never a moment where they are truly necessary. This game, though, forces you to have a crew on you nearly all the time, because your men have specialties that allow them to do useful things like heal you when you're down, light hedges on fire, crack safes, blow up businesses, and cut through fences.
Luckily, I'm happy to report that the crew never feels like a crutch. They don't get in the way, they have good A.I., and they hold their own in a fight. You can potentially get attached to certain crewmembers, and you can upgrade them as well as promote them through the ranks of your family (though promotions are unlocked throughout the game, which is kinda stupid). My only complaint about them is the repetative incidental dialogue. I swear if I hear "Hey Boss, let's hit a bank" one more time, I'm going to break something.
Other drawbacks in the gameplay do exist, though. The game never once feels challenging, because you are always ridiculously more powerful than your enemies. There are perks to owning crime rings, which is itself an awesome idea, but those perks make you invincible; you can get bullet-proof vests for yourself and your crew within the first two or three hours of the game!
|Thankfully, having a crew does make the game more fun, because they're not controlled by real people|
Also, one of the things that was both necessary and fun in the original game--bribing cops--is more difficult to do and a lot more pointless. You can always outrun the cops, and if you do favors for police chiefs, you can call off the cops at your leisure from the Don's View rather than having to evade them while you make your way to the police chief.
As for the favors, they are also a weak point in the game. It's fun to be able to do favors for people in order to get the skinny on your enemies or just make a few bucks, but after the twentieth request to beat somebody up or sabotage a business for ludicrous reasons, the novelty has completely worn off. The tediousness and pointlessness of it will probably have you deciding to stop doing favors altogether.
Lastly, a word about the upgrade system. In the original game, there is a large list of upgrades you can earn, though you can't possibly earn them all. You can thus tweak your character to your style of gameplay, and it gives you a lot of incentive to keep playing. In the sequel, though, there are only a handful of upgrades, and rather than earn them, all you have to do is buy them. They make little difference, and there are so few of them that you can have them all very early in the game. That's just stupid.
Graphically and musically, The Godfather II isn't much of an improvement over the original. The textures are a little blurry (especially in HD), the music is repetative, and there are occasional framerate issues. All of this can be forgiven, though, because the look and feel of the game are awesome. They put you in the time period and give you plenty of room to play, and the different locales are all unique and interesting, though they never feel as enormous as New York does in the original game.
|I don't care what they say; that is NOT Michael Corleone!|
The voice-acting is also top-notch. Some actors reprise their roles from the movie, but the vast majority of characters are voiced by excellent impersonators. Unfortunately, Al Pacino declined to offer his appearance or voice to the game (again), so the Michael Corleone character still looks out of place amongst the sea of familiar characters.
As a sandbox game, though, there isn't a whole lot to do. Aside from exploiting businesses, doing favors, taking over rival families, and robbing banks, there isn't anything else to do. Anyone who has played Grand Theft Auto IV knows how far a few fun extras can go, but this game really doesn't have any. Sure you can spend a little bit of time grinding to get all the safes or execution styles, but once you have the achievement points, that's it. You'll never be so immersed in the sandbox that you forsake the story, and that's a shame. The locations and time period would make for a great sandbox if there were more things to do (think drive-in movies, fast-food joints with girls in rollerskates, etc.).
SOLO GAMER SCORE
The Godfather II has a multiplayer option, and it's as dumb as you think it is. Not only is it dumb, but it requires you to have a separate EA online account to play it, in addition to your X-Box Live or Playstation Network or Poop-on-a-Stick DSL or whatever. Luckily, it's an afterthought, and you don't get the impression that the designers sacrificed anything from the single player experience to make it. Plus, there aren't any multiplayer achievements, so rejoice in the knowledge that you can get 1000 points without having to interact with another human being!
|Multiplayer is for dweebs and twelve-year-olds|
One major, piss-you-the-bleep off thing they did, however, has something to do with "weapons licenses" for your crew. In effect, if you hire a crewmember who has a bad license, that crewmember can never use a good weapon unless you improve his "license," which of course can only be done online. The solo gamer is forced to only hire crewmembers with "expert" licenses, which is tedious and stupid. Also, since you only have limited space in your family, if you hire somebody with a bad license, you have to get rid of him before he can be replaced.
Naturally, you can't just fire him. You have to hit an option in the Don's View that allows him to die and then you have to either kill him or wait for him to be killed in battle. This is just retarted, and beyond pointless. Seriously, if I wanted to play online, why would I want to have crappy weapons anyway?
Finally, as an added insult to us solo gamers, once you have beaten the game and killed all the rival families, the game continues to run, even though there is absolutely nothing left to do. Then a message pops up that invites you to continue your experience online with your friends. Screw you too, game designers!
[Solo Gamer Score: 7/10]
SOLO GAME SCORE: 7
TOTAL SCORE: 6.0
While still fun to play and containing several good ideas, this sequel isn't as fresh or exciting as the original.
-e. magill 07/06/2009