Review by wannabepunktony

"Not an offer you can't refuse but an offer that may pleasently surprise"

Sitting atop a throne built from the remains of countless imitators and wannabes, The Godfather (most notably in movie form) encompasses what many of us consider to be 'the mafia'. With a star-studded cast, filled with the likes of Marlon Brando, James Caan and Al Pacino, as well as original author Mario Puzo's and director Francis Ford Coppola's phenomenal script, the characters and their lines have transcended their original context, cementing themselves forever into America's pop culture. The soft spoken leader Vito Corleone, the Don of New York, and his legendary line "I'll make him an offer he can't refuse" alone has been replicated in everything from children's cartoons to video games and movies, so much so that he has become the stereotypical mafia boss [Like in the Simpsons episode Homie the Clown, when the Don admits, "I'm just an old Italian stereotype!" Ed.]

Despite the celebrated status that the Godfather movie trilogy holds, its status as a videogame has strangely been kept dormant, with its only appearance coming in the early Nineties in the form of a shoddy arcade-style game developed by U.S. Gold. Looking to add to their already large movie license repertoire, Electronic Arts pounced and acquired the rights to the Godfather franchise from Paramount Pictures (much to the supposed ire of Coppola). Initially released for the current generation of consoles, a warm reception there led to the enhanced Xbox 360 port. With a slew of additions - new missions, new graphics, new features and new A.I. - this Godfather, while still carrying the same unattended to wounds of its first release, packs a bit more brass in the pants. Is it $60 worth of additional brass? Well, that depends on how deep you bought into "the Family" the first time around.

Based almost entirely within the time span of the first movie, Electronic Arts' The Godfather puts you in the shoes of an up-and-coming player in the Corleone family business, who is seeking revenge on the Brazini family for killing his father. After you create your character, using a limited version of the Tiger Woods create-a-character system dubbed 'Mob-Face', you are placed into New York circa 1945. Using a sandbox style progression, you move through the game at any pace you desire, pursuing the two story arcs or any of the countless side quests in any order you see fit. Freedom is the name of the game here, but with the help of excellent pacing and quest placement, as well as the ability to view your current objectives with the press of a button, you'll never feel the anxiety of undisclosed or unspecified possibilities. With a gameplay area spanning countless miles and five neighbourhoods, always being knowing what you can do at any given time is a necessity.

The main story, unravelled throughout the game, can be broken into two arcs. The main arc is a retelling of the events in the movie through the eyes of your created character. Starting with the opening scene of the movie - the wedding of the Don's daughter, Connie - the majority of important moments from the movie are represented in some form or another. But instead of simply rehashing those moments, EA has reworked these scenes to include your character. Surprisingly, the movie lends itself perfectly to this, and while your character's role is almost always the (most times previously unseen) support, it still works as an interesting catalysis. An example of this is that instead of simply assuming that the undertaker's request for revenge at the beginning of the movie is taken care of, your character is brought into the Corleone fold by Luca Brasi to assist in caring out the favor. Another example can be seen a little later in the game; your character, along with Fredo Corleone, drive the gunned down Don Corleone to the hospital; when assassins come to kill the injured Don at the hospital, your character helps Michael Corleone protect his father. From Paulie's murder to planting the gun that Michael uses in his assassination plan to snuffing out the mob leaders, there is no major scene that happens in New York City that is missing, making this a real treat for fans of the movie.

The second arc is exclusive to the game and revolves around your created character, whose father was gunned down right in front of his eyes by the Brazini family when he was only a child. Don Corleone, who was in the area, told the distraught child that his time for revenge was not now, but would come in the future - a promise the Don would not forget. After finally being brought into the Corleone fold, you make your way up the family ladder, gaining respect within the family from your deeds and actions. This second arc is very small in comparison to the main arc, encompassing very little playing time. It doesn't hurt your character though, as being the main focus of both arcs gives him all the exposure he needs. The supporting cast of the second arc suffer greatly from this lack of attention, however. When Death takes away many of these characters, it is hard to push forth a reaction of any kind. It's just like, "well, I guess that sets up my next mission."

Normally I would worry about story spoilers when writing about a game's story, but The Godfather is different. If you have never seen the movie then do not do yourself the injustice of playing the game without that experience. Even if it has been a few years since your last viewing, I would still recommend watching it beforehand; there is very little in the way of character and story development here that can stand on its own without the movie, and no amount of poor quality video clips from the movie can change that. EA may have gone to great lengths to attempt to capture the essence of the movie by securing the faces - which are mapped on with haunting detail - and voices for the majority of the cast, and by hiring Mark Winegardner (author of the novels The Godfather Returns and The Godfather's Revenge) to help with story editing and insight, as well as sending a team on a supposed week long visit to Coppola's personal winery to study his wealth of material, but there is still the feeling of something missing - and that missing element is humanity. EA have completely failed to capture the emotion, humanity and soul of Puzo and Coppola's opus. Characters move and react like wooden puppets, their eyes constantly looking off in odd directions. The dialogue is generally solid, though at times uninspired, but when the voices don't always line up with mouth movements (I have read through an entire subtitled exchange, with mouth movement, before voices have even been cued up, on multiple occasions). Cut scenes lack the artistic touch that a director of Coppola's caliber brings, generally consisting of the bare minimum of angles, pans and editing, tearing the heart out of pivotal scenes. It feels too often that the game is simply about human characters, who have bodies and brains but no real humanity or depth, who spend their lives talking and killing - a complain that Coppola himself made after playing an early build of the game.

What this game dearly needs is a huge dose of humanity. One way this could have been addressed would have been asking the character to interact with the world in a non-violent way at times. There are really no moments like that, where you aren't off to engage in illegal activities - and don't give me the excuse that 'mundane' life details don't make for interesting gameplay - classics such as Bully and Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion have proven that statement to be nothing short of false. Another way would have been the addition of at least a couple prominent female characters. The main women from the movie - Connie, Sandra and Carmella Corleone, and Kay Adams - are all absent except for the small, stereotypical old lady cameo that Carmella's character makes. The addition of Francis "Frankie" Malone, someone your character falls for, is simply to push forth a plan for revenge when she is later murdered after little build up.

I understand that EA may have been hesitant to take anything more than minor liberties with the original material, n respectable attitude to have, but it feels almost as if they let that overtake their judgment. The story and script are solid enough, at the very least providing the necessary amount of entertainment, even if they can't stand without the source material - but more attention to character development and storytelling and less on simply using cut scenes to set up missions would have created a game with a stronger lasting impression. There is also mishandling of two of the biggest points of the movie - Michael's 'trip' to Italy and Don Corleone's death - both of which are essentially treated as "mum's the word." This may sound overly harsh, but we aren't talking about some summer blockbuster that will quickly fade into far recesses of our memories; we are talking about The Godfather, widely considered as one of the greatest movies in cinematic history. At the minimum you need to bring whatever it is that sits above your 'A' game, but what we have here lands somewhere between the C+ to B- range.

Despite the flaws in the storytelling, the gameplay is still solid enough that they do not detract too much from the experience. As this is a sandbox game, the expected third person view and basic run-and-gun components are, on the surface, at work here; your standard Grand Theft Auto controls superimposed into the Godfather world. EA could have very easily stopped right there and would have still had a decent, albeit drab, game on their hands, but this is not the case, as fresh and innovative takes on combat, side quests and open world interactivity allow this game to rise above the ranks of mediocrity.

The combat is near impossible to explain in one simple sentence, as many different aspects have been combined. Before going into details though, the very important factor of the enemy A.I. must be addressed, as the enemies here are some of the most realistic reacting foes ever to grace a sandbox game, never slouching off at any point. There were plenty of times I got cocky and approached a mission or side quest with a guns blazing approach, only to meet a swift demise. Enemies always take cover behind whatever they can, sticking their guns out just enough to fire off a few shots in your direction. If you take the defensive too much then they will come after you - and they have no problem shooting you right in the back! By the time you reach the end of the game you're expected to be a master of the combat system - and I wouldn't have it any other way. There's even the ability to recruit other mafia members to join you on your battle in an attempt to ease the difficulty. As you can begin to tell, this isn't your typical combat system and while it can be daunting at first, as the learning curve is fairly high for the first couple hours, the combination of experience and the newly created training videos makes for a rewarding transition.

Hand-to-hand combat is dealt with not by a single button, but by the right analog stick, much like EA's Fight Night Round 3. Holding down the right trigger when close to an enemy initiates a grapple - a key to the entire combat system. Sure, you could just pump wildly on the right stick, but you'd leave yourself wide open for counterattacks and a swift defeat. If, for example, you throw a couple of punches, grab your opponent by the collar, hand out a couple blows to the face followed by a head butt, slam him into the wall and then break his neck, chances are you'll come out on top and unscathed. That is just one possible combo outcome, as the fighting (which includes melee weapons such as bats and lead pipes) and execution system gives you plenty of choices for tackling each situation with gameplay that rewards skill and patience over bravado and one hit kills.

The same is true for gunfights, as running into situations gung ho will turn you into food for the worms before you can 'rigatoni'. Let's start with your choice of weapons, which are basically torn straight off the screen - shotguns, snub-nose pistols, Tommy guns, revolvers and more - are at your disposable and fully upgradeable. Cover is your best friend - you'll be dead in a matter of seconds without it. You can not only hide behind boxes, cars and people, but you can also stick to a wall, Solid Snake style, and shoot from around the corner with the help of either auto or manual aim. Auto aim, initiated by holding the left trigger, has your character locking on to the nearest target. By letting go and pressing the button again, you can switch between nearby targets, although this simple concept proves to be a lesson in poor execution. With middle to long range gun fights you should see little problem, but in close combat you generally end up trying repeatedly to target an enemy right in front of you, and instead target everyone else. Don't even bother trying to fire without the lock-in - it has the same effect as firing straight into the air.

To try and compensate for this, there is a second aiming technique at your disposal; by hitting the left bumper, you bring up a crosshair for manual aiming. This can be quite useful, as there are plenty of times where you will be taking cover and need to make a perfect shot to pick off an enemy doing the same. Or, maybe you want to disable an enemy by shooting out his kneecaps, causing him to fall to the floor, momentarily dazing him long enough for you to close in for a really gruesome kill. Whether you kill from far away or up close, the shooting and execution system work brilliantly in giving you a multitude of patience-inducing killing tools. In a very odd occurrence, there were times I couldn't get the manual aim crosshair to come up, no matter how many times I pressed the left bumper. After some trial and error, I could still not pin down a reason for this, but I have no idea why an important offensive device would not work 100% of the time. To be honest, even these descriptions shed only a minute amount of light on the subject of this combat system; there is a lot left unmentioned, as part of the fun of the controls is to discover new moves, executions and strategies. Though not without flaws or complaints, this is still one of the soundest control schemes in the genre.

What would all these awesome combat skills be good for if you weren't given plenty of fun ways to use them? This is where The Godfather really begins to shine and show you that it is undeserving of the 'GTA clone' tag. Along with money, the other 'point' system in the game is the Respect meter. Just about everything you do in the game dishes out Respect points, including finishing missions, beating up a mugger, killing members of rival families, collecting film reels and more. Once your meter reaches a certain value, you will gain a level and a skill point to be used to buff up your character. The RPG-lite formula works well here, giving you another reason to pursue the tasks asked of you - and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Another way you can gain Respect points, as well as money, is through extorting local businesses for protection money, taking over rackets and rival families' warehouses. The former two use the Black Hand system, a way to pressure business owners and racketeers to give into you. This can be done ten different ways, ranging from simply punching them until they give in, to busting up their merchandise or roughing up their customers. Each owner/racketeer has a meter that represents their health and it reacts differently to the Black Hand system. One storeowner may respond to the fist, while another may need you to throw one of their customers through a window before they listen to reason. As you gain Respect levels, the less persuading you will need to do. With plenty of buildings to take over (that's buildings, not businesses and rackets), simply extorting the entire town should take ten hours or more alone!

Taking over warehouses is a little less technical, but no less fun. Used as shipping hubs for the families, warehouses are vital parts of each business and their destruction can severely damage profits. There are two ways this can be done. Firstly you can steal their moving trucks, which can be seen around town transporting illegal goods. If you see a truck you want to jack, you need to ram it with a car or shoot at it enough to cause the driver to stop the truck and the guards to come out. If you can kill the guards and Black Hand your way to the driver's keys, you can steal the truck. Now you just need to take it back to one of the Corleone's hubs and you can cash in on the goods. Don't expect the original owners to let you off the hook once you take possession of their goods though - you will be hunted down relentlessly until you drop off the truck, making that task a fight against time.

If you want to approach the problem at its source, you can mount a full attack on the warehouse itself - one of the biggest thrills in the entire game. Consider these as one man against the world battles to the death. Each warehouses is a fort, guarded inside and out by the best men the owning family has to offer. Do not even bother to confront one without enlisting the help of one of your fellow family members - the enemies bring their top game here. This visceral, heart-thumping action, as you duck behind a crate while being fired upon from all angles, brings the fire fight home in a way very rarely seen in a mafia game. Once you plant a bomb to blow the place to bits and run out, action-movie style, that accelerated heartbeat will let you know you are alive!

One of the major changes between the Xbox 360 version and the versions to come before was in the presentation. Going back into the game, EA updated much of the graphics, adding and enhancing where they could. This turns out to be a very mixed blessing. There are plenty of impressive details exclusive to this build to observe, including the hauntingly accurate faces of every character based on a real person, the ever-changing weather system and new lighting effects. Shooting a flaming garbage can and watching the fire soar in the air, flickering with vibrancy, before landing on any nearby people and igniting them instantly is a cheap, visceral, feeling I couldn't get enough of. But for every new detail, there seems to be an element left in limbo. Your character's face has nothing in common with the majority of the people he interacts with, appearing as if he is from the wrong game altogether - a very jarring effect that you never really get used to. The textures used to create the environments have been cleaned up, but many still lack the detail and clarity expected in a Xbox 360 game, taking a very distinct "we weren't built for you, we came from another system" stance. That adds another injury to the buildings you can explore, which are already suffering for the rehashing of the same few layouts, even with some of them seeing layout changes for this version; there are just far too many déjà vu moments. Slowdown hits at times, especially when driving around, giving off a jagged feeling of movement as the game skips frames - thankfully this is rarely seen during non-vehicular combat.

If there is one realm where the quality of this game takes a non-EA quality change it is in the audio department. And no, I don't mean the aforementioned voice acting, which isn't the best you'll ever hear, but is still very good, especially considering that many of the voice actors either had to return to characters they haven't voiced in over fifteen years or were impersonators. I am talking about the music. You'll mostly hear the themes present in the movie, which have been faithfully reproduced here. During the cut scenes, they are implemented without a problem, cuing up at the right volume and times. During the rest of the game though, the music never seems to know what to do with itself. "Should we cue the music in now - okay… wait, cut it, too early, okay, go now… damn, we missed the mark and came in too late. Who wants to ditch work and catch a movie - everyone? Awesome." As you can tell, if the music even makes an appearance, it will most likely miss the obvious cue. I don't know if this a problem linked directly to this version or if it plagued all versions, but I wouldn't expect this type of obvious flaw from a company like EA.

When it comes to lasting appeal, sandbox games generally take the cake with the sheer amount of things to do and items to track down. Outside of the lengthy main story, which clocks in around twenty to thirty hours, you will find more than enough reasons to extend your stay in The Godfather to well over the forty or even fifty hour mark. There are a plethora of side quests, favors and hits to take up and, thankfully, only one hidden item set to collect. There's a leaderboard for all players, tracking their game scores and ranking them accordingly. But when they sell certain decisive factors on the leaderboard, such as cash, through Xbox Live, I have to wonder just how good the top player really is.

The Godfather, despite a list of shortcomings, have proven to be fully capable of overcoming them to become a critical success, both with the press and gamers (the PS2 version just became a Greatest Hits title). As the game continues to move up the system ladder, each with its own host of changes and improvements, a new problem is developing - fans will never have a definitive edition. This version is the best currently on the market, but will the upcoming PS3 and Wii versions top it? That is yet to be seen. Unless either of those two options intrigues you, and you aren't already the proud owner of an earlier version, let this game make you an offer you can't refuse (how can anyone write a Godfather review without using that line?!) especially if you are tired of the sandbox genre, because The Godfather just might surprise you.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 03/06/07

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