This article was originally published at Kombo.com on April 8, 2009. It is a streamlined version of the mini-review published at PTB. Ironically, the so-called mini-review is longer and covers more material than the full Kombo review! Kombo's review guidelines at the time did not encourage heavy details and I enjoyed this game enough to say more about it on my own terms and turf.
This sequel picks up shortly after where the first Godfather game left off. Players are cast as Dominic, a newly made Don of his own family within the Corleone organization who has taken over for the previous game's lead character, Aldo. Don Vito Corleone is just a memory now, as the family is run by his son, Michael. Michael, Fredo, Tom Hagan, and other characters from the original film help guide Dominic as he builds his family and expands his grip into the underworlds of New York, Florida, and Cuba. While the game does not follow the plot of the film closely, several iconic scenes from the movie are integrated into the game's storyline. Watch for memorable moments such as the blackmailing of a certain senator and the famous "You broke my heart" speech delivered by Michael. The plot unfolds as key events are completed, but there are plenty of opportunities to meander from the script. Plowing through the story is possible, but it's best to take one's time to expand an empire and consolidate power by taking over the businesses controlled by rival families.
The last Godfather game involved a business control element, but now players must pay extra attention to the businesses spread around the game's cities. Businesses fall into one of several categories such as prostitution, drug smuggling, money laundering, and other such things. Take control of businesses by staging armed raids on the competition to eliminate a location's guards and intimidating the owner. When all of the businesses of a certain kind are under the control of a single family, the game offers up special bonuses. Control the construction racket, for instance, and whenever a rival family bombs one's business, it is rebuilt quickly. While most of the game involves the action/shooting dynamic, an in-depth map screen provides access to The Don's View, a 3D overview of the various cities, the businesses within it, locations of objectives, favors that need to be paid, and so on. The Don's View also allows players to check the status of the family, upgrade family member skills in exchange for cash, assign low-level grunt guards to businesses, review favors, and the other trappings that set this sequel apart from its predecessor. An online multiplayer mode rounds out the experience.
While the game doesn't nail everything it sets out to do, it's one of the more entertaining action games I've played in a while, and I believe it's the strategy element that helps set it apart from other games in the genre. Racing into a room with guns blazing may work early in the game, but as more guards and dispatched to defend rival families and the environments become larger, reckless combat often leads to a quick death. It's important to have a plan before going on a raid. Cut the power so that the police do not interfere. Blow open a wall or sneak through a locked back door rather than walk in the front entry as an easy target. Intimidate business owners to increase your share of the extortion income. Succeeding in The Godfather II requires one to think a few moves ahead as if playing a bloody game of chess. Planning a proper raid is usually just as much fun as carrying it out.
Returning from the previous game is the MobFace feature in which Dominic's appearance can be altered on demand through an extensive amount of menu options and prompts. I was able to turn Dominic into a digital doppelganger of myself, and honestly I think he looks a lot like me (right down to his wardrobe, facial structure, and approximate size — he's even wearing one of my shirts!). Seeing "myself" make my way through the story has me tied to Dominic's fate in ways that I do not feel when controlling Mario or Lara Croft. I care about his fate and only want what is best for him.
The game's cities are not as "alive" as other cities in other open world action games. Liberty City in Grand Theft Auto IV was practically a character itself with its many quirks and little extras that went towards giving the city its own personality. There's not much of that here. If anything, the locations feel more like a large game board (an opinion strengthened by the board game-like interface of The Don's View). That's not to say that the world is completely dead. Passerbys talk to one another sometimes and usually have something amusing to say. The game is set in the 1950s, so I got a kick out of overhearing a random person on the street singing the praises of the new 8-Track technology and how it'll be around forever.
Past the core gameplay elements, there were a few glitches and odd things I noticed while playing the game. Sometimes characters suddenly vanish for seemingly no reason. The triangle button is used to both talk to other characters and vault through certain windows, so you can understand how easy it was for me to attempt to speak to Michael Corleone and take a crashing leap through the window he's standing near instead. Most bizarrely, sometimes when Dominic uses a pay phone, he somehow picks up the receiver from out of thin air if he goes for the phone while turned away from it. Most painful of all, the game did not award one particular silver PlayStation trophy once I had completed the requirements to earn it. These are strange little things that do not break the game, but they were noticeable and I felt they were worth a mention.
While it can be repetitive to raid business after business, each encounter is a little different and can be accomplished in several ways depending on the skills of one's family, and as the story progresses the businesses grow in size and complexity from a small bakery to a large cement factory loaded with multiple levels and facilities. I recommend The Godfather II to anyone looking for a solid 3D action shooter game, but remember that strategy skills are required to succeed. Fans of the previous game should definitely give it a look, and it's worth at least a rental for those curious about Dominic's rise to power. Electronic Arts has made another offer that you cannot refuse.