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Shrouded in secrecy for almost two years, we can’t quite believe how open everyone is about Godfather II. The game is being developed in the heart of EA at the romantically named Redwood Shores just outside San Francisco. The name alone conjures up images of a relaxed life, a sun-soaked resort and a place to escape the stresses of modern life. Like EA’s new-found approach to gaming, Redwood Shores is a fantasy. Behind the pumping music of the mid-day BBQ and somewhere between the team of programmers relaxing with a game of football and the two chunky devs hurling the ball is the sun-kissed reality that drives EA’s fantasy.
“Things that fulfill a fantasy stand out in the market place,” says Godfather II’s senior producer Hunter Smith as we settle down to play through the game. On the way into our pokey demo room, walled by more TVs than your local Best Buy, we passed row upon row of design documents, story panels, plot trees and character sketches, generally all the good stuff that devs like to sit on and keep tightly under wraps. Not so Godfather II. We even caught sight of the final act, where you get to play out one of cinema’s most harrowing scenes… but unusually for a movie tie-in, Godfather II isn’t solely about the license, after all, we all know Fredo gets shot on the lake.
“There’s no value in retelling a story in great detail that’s already been told as well as it has been in The Godfather movies. Rather, it becomes a handy frame of reference. When you’re transferring one idea from one medium to another you have to ask: ‘Why is it coming?’” Smith explains excitedly as he finally gets to divulge the concept behind Godfather II. “Is it because you can enhance it? Some people just want to slap the name on the front of a box and sell copies, but our belief is that we want to make a great interactive experience with this concept, and The Godfather license is an invaluable tool to help us deliver on that promise.”
So what’s behind the Godfather II? What’s behind those classic scenes? What’s the fantasy that’s behind this idea? These are the questions that drive the development of Godfather II. The game does follow the story of the Coppola movie: you’ll begin the game in Cuba as the heads of the Families meet to carve up America’s organized crime syndicates. The revolution starts and in the chaos Aldo (the playable character from Godfather) dies and hands over his Family empire to you. From Cuba you move to New York and finally to the sun-bleached ocean-front hotels and the swaying palms of Miami. Imagine a Sixties-set Vice City with warm sunsets, pink Cadillacs and Motown on the radio. Interestingly, the structure of the game means that you are able to flit between locations throughout the story; you will be able to buy a plane ticket in Miami and fly to New York to take care of business. EA’s Smtih even hinted that a trip to Sicily is on the cards to revisit the Mafia homeland and develop the game’s backstory – chances are, this could be a bonus map unlocked later in the game. The story is here, but as Smith earnestly stresses, there’s so much more to get from The Godfather II fantasy.
This game aims to put you in the sharp suit of the Don. It gives you a cosy Family chair to slouch into and asks: can you make it? The game is split between classic GTA-style on-the-streets action and a deeper strategy section. Not so deep as to confuse and send you running for the inlay instructions, but just enough to give purpose to the explosive action. You finished GTAIV and had $1 million sit in your virtual bank, but nothing to spend it on. Not so with Godfather II. The finance system and core goals of building a crime empire mean that all your cash is sucked back into funding your army of Made Men, arming your goons to the teeth and bribing the crooked local DA. Any spare change you have left can be spent on some swanky new clothes.