Any review of The Godfather The Game would be remiss if it didn’t mention Grand Theft Auto 3. The king of all sandbox games has inspired many “me too” games of late, The Gofather being one of the few that’s actually a suitable substitute for Rockstar’s controversial series. It certainly isn’t suitable in the family-friendly sense; like GTA3, it takes place in an F-bomb-dropping, whore-slapping, violent world. Rather, it’s suitable in the sense that its open-ended structure, carjacking concept, “heat” levels with police and use of safehouses provide just as much entertainment value as Rockstar’s games.
Like The Godfather movies, The Game is driven by a story that hinges on family, respect, loyalty and revenge. But unlike other sandbox games in which the plot is generally an afterthought to the free-roaming aspects, the story in The Godfather The Game is actually worth your attention. In addition to setting the stage for your eventual control of New York City, the plot brings romance to the main character and encounters with many key characters from the films, with many developments actually inspiring some “crap, what happens next?” moments.
As you make your way through the story and missions, you gradually earn respect, rank, money and weapons. The purpose of most NPC interactions is to gain control of a store, which also grants you control of the illegal rackets going on in the back room. In turn, controlling the store and rackets gives you greater control over each neighborhood and gives you a weekly income (part of which you repay to the Family as a tithe). Sounds simple enough, right? In a sense, yes. But the actual gameplay mechanics of doing all this are surprisingly fun.
Rather than simply beating shopkeepers until they coalesce to your offer of “protection,” you can use what EA calls the BlackHand. This clever system balances each NPC’s life with his (or her) intimidation factor. Rough them up a bit, and you’ll reduce both their energy and their will to resist. It’s not always a hands-on affair, though, as you can choose instead to destroy items in their shop, be it a display case, bookshelf or cash register. If the store is controlled by an opposing Family, you can also boost your intimidation factor by surviving a shootout with Family members who rush in to try and stop your hostile takeover. The more you slap and destroy, the more money you get, which makes you and the Corleone Family happy.
But slap too much, and you’re out the entire cache. While each shopkeeper has a breaking point, he or she also has a point of no return. Rough them up too much or break too many items, and you’ll cause them to go into what can only be described as a “going postal hissy fit.” They’ll shoot you, beat you, call for the cops, and all in all make life hell. And if you push them to that point, the owners will never grant you control of their stores. There’s no science to knowing each owner’s tolerance for violence, so using the BlackHand is a minigame in and of itself. “Can I get more outta her?” “Should I stop slapping him around?” These questions race through your mind as you try to balance intimidation with mercy, and it’s easy to get visibly upset when you push the limit a bit to far.
Bringing more stores and rackets under your control adds to your respect level, as does carrying out hits and achieving various objectives (finding hidden movie clips, executing enemies in different manners, etc.). As your rank increase, so does your level, which in traditional role-playing fashion earns you points to spend on attribute upgrades such as your shooting accuracy, speed, street smarts and melee strength.
In many respects, The Godfather The Game feels as much like Activision’s Spider-Man 2 as it does Rockstar’s GTA series. This is partly because of the decades-ago setting, partly because it takes place in New York City, but mostly because the game doesn’t end when the missions are complete. Finishing the story can grant you control of your own Family, but it’s the stores, rackets and side missions that really bring the city (and game) to life.
Where The Godfather slips up a bit is in the variety of those side missions. Using the Spider-Man 2 example, our web-slinging superhero had many different tasks from which to choose, be it rescue missions, races or several other diversions. In The Godfather, though, the side content is generally relegated to taking control over stores, which starts to feel old after a neighborhood or two, and carrying out hits. You can also hijack cash-carrying trucks, destroy 100 scattered safes and heist six banks, but generally speaking those aren’t all that intriguing. I don’t suppose it’s fair to expect diversions on the grand scale of something like Oblivion, but a bit more engaging interaction on the side would’ve extended the game’s longevity. Maybe EA’s saving that for The Godfather Returns The Game.
In any persistent world game, you’re bound to expect some image popup and fog, and those items are definitely in place in The Godfather The Game. Compared to other sandbox games, in fact, the fog and popup seem a bit prevalent. What it comes down to, though, is probably the fact that the characters, environments and vehicles are all a bit more detailed than the other sandbox games, so EA had to sacrifice draw distance for detail. The character animations are especially good, and although they (along with the character models) incessantly repeat within each Family, the main characters in The Game are impeccably detailed. By sandbox game standards the camera also works quite well, although it’s not completely immune from swinging a bit too much from time to time.
But by overall sandbox game standards, The Godfather The Game is a piece of work. I’ve always respected the GTA series’ technical achievements, but I’ll also be the first to tell you I’ve always thought the GTA series was utter trash from a values/morals perspective. I generally feel much the same about The Godfather, although not quite as strongly about the violence. I know The Godfather was a violent movie, and I know the Mob doesn’t exactly inspire warm fuzzies; in that sense, the continual beating-up of shopkeepers and execution of opposing Family members makes sense. That doesn’t mean I agree with it or really enjoy doing it. Still, I can appreciate what EA has achieved with The Godfather The Game, and its BlackHand gameplay mechanic is outstanding. The story and music also deserve kudos, especially considering the heritage for which they had to account. If The Godfather films are among your favorite, there’s no denying you’ll enjoy this game.
- Gameplay: 8
- The BlackHand is a great innovation, but the side missions could use some more variety and ingenuity.
- Graphics: 7.7
- Nice detail on the characters and cars, but lots of popup and repetitive thugs.
- Sound: 8.5
- Gotta love the theme song, and the rest of the music fits, too. The voice acting is quite good as well.
- Replay: 7
- It’s a sandbox game without the sandcastle-making toys: the potential is there, but you may not do much.
- Overall: 7.9
- EA makes an offer that non-Godfather fans may actually be able to refuse.