The entertainment industry can be its own worst enemy. When this era is looked upon in hindsight some years down the road, it is surely to be seen as a period of virtual cultural bankruptcy. Our music has become banal and corporate driven, our television has become insultingly moronic, our film industry has taken to cannibalizing the talents of eras gone by with inane remakes and our youngest, most interactive form of creative expression, video games, are well on their way to permanently inheriting the bad habits of their parents. This latest example, The Godfather II from Electronic Arts, is yet another attempt to cash in on a proven work of art by tarnishing its image with an unnecessary extension of its characters, themes and storyline. There is a perfectly valid reason why the Godfather and Godfather II films should and will be preserved forever, and an equally valid reason why the Godfather and Godfather II video games will spend the majority of their existence in the bargain bin.
Grand Theft Auto III is to blame. It was such a ridiculous (but deserving) success that all the “me toos” ran scrambling to find their own criminal avatars to unleash. Some have tried to create their own worlds and cities (Saints Row, True Crime) and some decided to take the easy way out and license well-known film icons (Scarface, The Godfather). Godfather II, naturally, falls into the latter category and from the moment “Start” is pressed it feels like the easy way out was taken in every aspect of the title's creation. Some effort is made to offer a whole layer of strategy and planning in this game (as opposed to only running about and pummeling people in creative ways), but it falls short in every possible way in its execution.
Players assume the role of Dominic, a previously unheard of underboss who Michael Corleone promotes to “Don” of New York at the outset. From there you embark on many of the late 1950s events that took place in Godfather II, in a sort of “Forrest Gump” bystander way. The goal is to build your empire for the Corleone family by taking over every racket controlled by the other families (by killing everyone in sight, of course). All your usual mob-controlled vices apply. The game becomes a droning cycle of selecting the family, racket and location and then heading to that location to wipe everyone out within it. Rinse, repeat. Bit by bit your organization grows with those you have personally chosen to be your followers. As rackets are taken over and controlled, they start earning you a daily nut. Much the same way you take over a racket by killing every guard in sight, you will have members of other families attempting to take over your rackets by killing your guards. It's a concept we've seen before in GTA and Saints Row, and it would be fun enough if it weren't for the fact that almost every area looks and feels exactly the same. Players earn new weapons and upgrades for the family with each new territory they complete, and it is up to you to select trusted “family” members to accompany you on your endeavors or go off on a mission alone. And that is where the wheels fall off the whole experience.
Your AI controlled “paisans” are incredibly stupid and frustrating to deal with; they will often act in a completely erratic and counter productive way. They seem to have incredible troubles just walking through a door or getting into a car. The best bet is to use them as human shields when you can by walking behind them into a fray of gunfire, but even that seems hardly worth the effort. Once you're in full swing gameplay mode you have seen pretty much all there is to see. It's like the title stops evolving around the 40% mark and then suddenly it dawns on you after many hours of empire building that the game has not presented anything new for a while. Sadly, the rest of the game becomes a flat-tire coast to the end credits.
The list of graphical, sound and gameplay issues experienced while playing this game is as long as an underboss' rap sheet. The visuals look choppy and dated, the sound seems to have trouble knowing when to start and stop (dialogue as well!), and the voice acting is garden-variety. The only one of the film's cast members to appear here is Robert Duvall, and every word spoken sounds like he was reading it while doing his taxes. The members of the Godfather cast who appeared in the first game knew when to 'git while the gittin's good' it seems.
Had the film this game is based on been a Steven Seagal action vehicle, it could be said that this game serves it well. However, since Godfather II was such a masterpiece of storytelling and film making, the point made in the first paragraph of this review becomes clear. Blood money, dear friends, leaves a stain on your hands that is impossible to wash off.