The original Godfather game was controversial to say the least. It was disowned by the movie's director, Francis Ford Coppola, but tacitly endorsed by stars Robert Duvall, James Caan, and the late Marlon Brando, who all recorded voice-overs for the game. A bit of controversy never harms game sales, though, and the first Godfather evidently did well enough to warrant a sequel, which is set to launch on February 24. With the game so close to release, we got to play a near-finished build at EA's UK offices as well as talk to the development team behind it.
In The Godfather II, the game's designers want to make you a don as soon as possible. The game is built around the statement "act like a mobster, think like a don," meaning that you carry out the day-to-day business of a street-level thug while also taking strategic control of your interests. The game takes place during the same period as the second film, so Michael Corleone is still the ultimate don, but after the introduction to the game, he entrusts you to start your own family and recruit members into your business.
Before this, though, you need to create your character, and like many modern open-world games, The Godfather II has customisation options aplenty. For the sake of the script, you have to be called Dominic, but you can customise everything about his appearance, so we gave him the rarely seen combination of a Mafia quiff and a bushy beard. With our character created, we jumped into the game, where we found Dom and Don Michael Corleone hanging out with other members of the five crime families of New York. They're celebrating New Year 1959 in Cuba with Hyman Roth, whose declining health is leading him to pledge property to each of the five families. All appears to be going well; Roth has stopped the infighting, while Cuba promises more wealth than any of them ever attained in America.
As the fireworks blasted out over the night sky, we took control of Dom and headed downstairs to talk to some of the main characters. We heard about how Michael had given $2 million to Castro, while other characters seemed to be more cautious about the country and its leader. The civil war threatens to destroy the dreams of the Corleone family, while protesters and suicide bombers are proving problematic to organised crime. It's quickly proven that the families' belief in the country is misplaced, and as the police break into the club, it's your job to escort Michael Corleone out of the country via their private jet.
The Godfather II's story will be familiar to fans of the movie, and the overall story arc will be the same as the film. That means the game will cover both Cuba and New York, and as we headed back to mainland US in a plane, Michael gave us instructions to set up our own family and start recruiting members. At the beginning of the game, we had the choice of bringing an arsonist or a medic into the fold. The first sold us on his ability to burn down buildings with ease, while the second told us he'd be essential in healing us and the rest of our team. As with most things, it all came down to our violent tendencies, so we hired the arsonist and set out on our first mission.
Like in the first Godfather game, much of the action is about intimidating people into doing what you want. Any old thug can beat people up, though, and it's your job to find a weak spot to exploit in each person. Our first victim, a strip-club owner, didn't react to being hit, but he certainly didn't like being thrown violently around the room. In a demo shown later to us by the developers, another victim was scared of heights, so pushing him towards a ledge high up in the air did the trick.
It's not all about violence, though; verbal communication will also play a part in The Godfather II. When talking to people, you can choose from a number of responses, although we're not sure what effect this will have on the overall story. You can also make strategic alliances with other crime families, while controlling specific key points on the map will give you access to cool upgrades, such as armoured cars. Finally, injured comrades will end up in prison, but if you do favours for the chief of police, you can call in a favour and get your guys out quickly.
The final part of the Godfather puzzle is the multiplayer, and although we didn't get to see it, we did extract a few details from the developers. The game will offer 16-player multiplayer across four game modes. Even better, your character development will carry over from the single-player game and vice versa, meaning that you're always improving your character, even when not progressing in the single-player modes.
We've learned that GameSpot US has a full build of The Godfather II in their office, and the lucky so-and-sos have been playing the campaign this week for a deeper hands-on preview. Look out for their updated impressions, which will be hitting the site very shortly.