Whether or not you agree with its high position as IMDB’s third greatest film of all time, The Godfather II is a license that no developer outside of Rockstar North could even come close to fulfilling. Other than Grand Theft Auto IV there hasn’t been a sandbox game that has even promised to match The Godfather II’s tone, quality and vision. The finished Godfather II game lives in the shadow of the film; we know it, you know it and developer EA Redwood Shores knows it. But the surprising bonus is that there’s enough content behind the ugly exterior to give Godfather fans cause for celebration.
The game begins halfway through The Godfather II’s 50’s timeline. It’s New Year’s Eve on a balcony in Cuba, and Michael Corleone and Hyman Roth are discussing territory. The party is soon cut short, however, when rebels start fighting in the streets, and as you’re herding the Corleone family onto an awaiting plane the first game’s protagonist, Aldo, is shot dead.
Creative license has been used to good effect: although Michael and Fredo escape Cuba in your company, and Frankie Pentangeli is garrotted in the bar well after the Cuban incident, The Godfather II still feels close to its source material. Monstrous physical features aside, lead character Dominic fits into the world almost seamlessly. He’s a little green to be given his lofty position admittedly (especially given the knowledge of the grunts around him), but that’s just part of the fun of learning the game’s mechanisms. And what mechanisms they are. Most sandbox games would throw you into a world as just another schmuck and ask you to work your way up. Not The Godfather II. Here you’re the man in charge from the get-go, and you’re given all the options that come with the territory.
It transpires that owning a city is easy as long as you’ve got the muscle to defend your turf. As a start-up Don you’re allowed to recruit one follower into your family. The initial choice between medic and arsonist is restrictive, but it’s not long before you’re allowed to hire more goons with more skills. Your gang not only dictates how successful your Donship will be, it defines how you actually play the game. Want to smash down doors and blow holes in walls? Bruisers and demolition experts are key. Would you rather sneak in, cut the power and quietly take over? Engineers and safecrackers are your men. Most places you need to overtake have a couple of options to exploit, so choosing the right men for your gang’s preferred method of attack is critical.