The PS3 finally has its first free-roaming, Grand Theft Auto-style car-crime game, and it's... The Godfather. Again. It's been a full year since the multiplatform mob drama first arrived in game form, and the appearance of The Godfather: The Don's Edition on PS3 means it's officially hit every single platform except the DS and mobile phones (although we're willing to bet The Godfather: Touch Madness and The Godfather: Horrible Mobile Edition are already in the works, somehow).
Still, given that it's been a year, publisher EA knows full well it can't get away with just putting out the exact same game with updated graphics. In fact, The Don's Edition updates nearly everything except the graphics, aggressively retooling the overall experience and adding a bunch of new content while mostly leaving the visuals alone.
The story and basic gameplay remain the same, though - you're still a young hood from Brooklyn, recruited into the Corleone crime family and set on a path that parallels the events of the film. You'll still run and drive around 1940s New York, battling rival mobsters, taking over businesses (most of which are fronts for illegal rackets, which you'll also have to muscle in on) and carrying out every key offscreen event from the movie. Like, say, sneaking a severed horse's head between a Hollywood producer's sheets, or taking down all of the Corleone family's biggest rivals in one climactic murder montage.
It's a strange way to adapt a film, and die-hard fans might not approve of characters like Sonny and Michael being relegated to supporting roles. But the production's backed up by a compelling script and top-notch voice cast, so it works surprisingly well.
As for what's new, The Don's Edition takes all the stuff that was added to the Xbox 360 version - bodyguards you can hire, business owners who ask for violent favors, drug labs to blow up, new cars, etc. - and then throws a bunch more on top of that. There's a handful of new story missions, as well as a new side story that sees you battling Chicago's infamous Purple Gang and pulling off some of the game's most interesting executions in the process.
More impressively, The Don's Edition also features a bunch of new indoor environments to skulk around in. Not only are there now more diverse floor plans for the dozens of businesses and rackets you'll need to raid, but the four Family Compounds - the heavily defended fortresses you'll need to bomb in order to wipe each rival mob off the map - have all been redesigned with unique layouts to keep you on your toes. All the buildings are also now filled with breakable stuff, ranging from throwable bottles to electrical transformers that can fry anyone you throw into them.
And then there are the sprawling new Transportation Hubs - a massive railyard and a docked freighter - that you'll need to clear out if you really want to conquer New York. They're both swarming with some of the strongest enemies in the game, though, so it might be a good idea to call in a hit squad - a hired crew of four beefy Corleone wiseguys with big guns - to watch your back. And if those aren't enough, you can tackle the Corleone Challenges, quickie tasks that let you post your scores to online leaderboards.
A lot of subtler gameplay elements have been redesigned as well. The RPG-style system for leveling up your custom goon now offers more tangible benefits, with the skill upgrades now divided into "Enforcer" and "Operator" subsets. Operator skills will boost your powers of persuasion and enable you to do underhanded stuff like planting car bombs, while the Enforcer path is more direct - stronger attacks, better aim, etc. Spend enough points on one path or the other, and you'll earn the right to do completely new things, like pistol-whipping people to make a point.
There's also the obvious addition of the motion-sensitive Sixaxis pad, and while most games seem to treat it as either a gimmick or a clumsy steering device, Godfather actually comes up with some elegant uses for it. When grappling, you can yank or shove it in any direction to quickly and easily toss around your enemies, slam them against walls or headbutt them (by headbutting the controller, obviously). It's simple, intuitive and responsive, and it might be the best uses of the feature we've seen so far.
Cool controls aside, though, it's worth noting that visually, Godfather is weird. It looks like an especially high-res PS2 game, with decidedly last-gen character models and cars, but at the same time the textures are so sharp that Luca Brasi's individual facial pores are clearly visible at 720p. There are also some nice new lighting effects and noticeable graphical improvements to New York itself, but don't expect anything on the same level as Gears of War. Or, for that matter, God of War.
The Godfather: The Don's Edition might be a last-gen retread, but for what it's worth, it's still one of the better titles available for the PS3 right now. At best, it's the definitive version of the game for those who haven't played it (or those who liked it enough the first time to play it again), and at worst it's an enjoyable half-step while you wait for Saints Row and Grand Theft Auto IV to hit the system. Either way, there's a lot to like here, and conquering New York's underworld is just as fun now as it was last year.