The Godfather II
Can the Mob out-gun the mob? EA Redwood's second crack at being the Don of open-world action stops by for our blessing.
360 (PS3, PC)
EA Redwood Shores
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The Godfather II could have been great, but isn't. I'm thoroughly sick of writing "could have been, but isn't". Seems every other game that comes through the letterbox these days has a nasty case of unfulfilled potential.
In this case, the potential is all in the name. We may be dealing with a GTA clone at heart here ("GTA clone" is another thing I'm sick of writing, by the way), but you're the Godfather, damn it, not some bum who just walked off the boat, and being the Godfather is as much to do with pulling strings as it is stringing people up and posting their finger joints to immediate relatives.
So you don't have to trot up and down the block in person, dirtying your knuckles on the cheekbones of innocent bystanders: there are trash-talking wise guys to dirty their own on your behalf. Nor does your sole source of income consist of whatever's in the pocket of the mug across the road: you can commandeer businesses, terrorising the owner and forcing him or her to pay you a daily percentage. Grab three of a kind (smuggling, prostitution, etc) and you'll have a crime ring, which grants your mob family a general bonus such as bulletproof vests or armoured cars. Persistent police can be leashed by calling in a favour with a corrupt Superintendent, and bombed buildings speedily rebuilt by nudging a bought construction official. You'll have to do your fair share of third-person representin', but floating over the grubby streets of Miami, New York and Havana is the skeleton of a decent mob management sim.
As in the first game, that skeleton can be picked over at leisure in the "Don View", a radiant white 3D map of the cities under your hand which lets you skim the ocean of side and main quests, view the "Favours" - one-shot "world" abilities acquired by doing dirty work for bent establishment figures - at your disposal, set waypoints, manage the defence of your properties and order your Made Men out to bomb or capture those of opposing Mafia families.
"Made Men", upgradeable "hero" NPCs with greater firepower and endurance, are the glue binding this macro vision to the running and gunning which takes place at ground level. You can recruit them at your fortified mansion, but advanced specimens are also available less conveniently on the street or at your businesses. Once recruited, Made Men provide back-up in the field or hang tough back at the compound until called for.
Each Made Man you recruit has a specialism - lock-picking, safe-cracking, arson, demolition and hand-to-hand expertise, among others - which on paper at least decisively alters how you go about depriving another family of their hard-won revenue. Each business, ranging from a bakery with a strip club in the cellar to large multi-levelled factories thronged with crates and metal scaffolding, has a fairly obvious handful of weaknesses, such as locked back doors, explodable walls, fragile electricity boxes, cuttable wire fences and gas mains. Bring along a crew to suit, and you should have a far easier time than if you just breeze up the steps with two handfuls of Tommy gun.
"Pressuring" business owners into complicity is a definite highlight: grab the poor sucker by squeezing both triggers, and implement all manner of hurt with the sticks and face buttons. Identifying which kinds of "persuasion" work best on which individual will speed things up, and net you additional shake-down cash to boot. Some people are terrified by heights, for example, while others crack if you bust up their possessions. A little horizontal bar with two markers in top-right gradually fills with green as you turn up the heat: fill it past the first marker to capture the business, but be careful not to go past the second or your prospective "employee" will flip out completely, obliging you to return later for a second try. It's a touch reminiscent of the psychological warfare in sorely overlooked PC sim Ghost Master.
There's a similar dynamic at play when it comes to bumping off rival Made Men. If you just blast one in the field he'll merely be hospitalised, returning to your opponent's deck after a fifteen minute convalescence. To get shot of these goons for good, you'll need to pay their favourite haunt a visit and kill them in a plot-determined fashion, crushing them beneath the wheels of your Bentley, throwing them into the river or baseball-batting their brains out. Each Made Man has his own preferred cause of death, with some being more particular than others. Wandering members of the public will clue you in on the right approach, but only if you do them a favour or two first.