Running around the grounds of a multimillion-dollar mansion with a tommy gun in tow, riddling bullets into anything that moves, is pretty fun. Doing so in a Day-Glo blue polyester suit? Well, friends, that's just classy. EA's upcoming third-person action game, The Godfather II, is full steam ahead for a February release, and earlier this week we had a chance to try out the 16-player online multiplayer mode at a press event in San Francisco. While the combat action itself might be pretty straightforward (apart from the questionable fashion choices), what sets online play apart in Godfather II is how the single-player and multiplayer modes affect one another.
Throughout the single-player campaign in Godfather II, you'll be playing as up-and-coming mafioso Dominic Corleone in an adventure that doesn't follow the plot of the classic Francis Ford Coppola film from 1974 as much as it intersects with it. In a story that takes you from Havana, Cuba, to New York City and, eventually, Miami, you'll be earning your reputation as a mobster and recruiting members to your "family." Each member of your crew will have specific specialties--some will be skilled with weapons, others will be good with demolitions, and so on. Offline, you'll use those skills for your own private interests; you know, the usual mob routine: shaking down businesses, screwing over your rivals, and making life miserable for all the innocents who get in your way.
That same crew you recruit in the single-player game will carry over to multiplayer matches as well. In fact, after completing the first mission in the game, you'll earn your first crew member (in addition to your main character). While you only play as Dominic in the game's story mode--dispatching crew members to assist you on specific jobs--you can choose to play as any member of your crew in multiplayer. Maybe you'll want to choose the guy with the high demolition rating, or the guy who has a license for a high-powered sniper rifle; if you choose to take him into the fray, you'll be able to use all of his attributes and skills to your advantage.
Wait. Back up. What's this about having a "license" to use a particular weapon? Isn't this a game about free-wheeling, mustachioed ne'er do wells, the kind of guys that are more apt to slit a throat than shake your hand? Well, yes, but the game's use of licenses for weapons isn't really a nod to firearm regulation; rather, it's a rudimentary mechanic for leveling up your gear in the game. By playing in multiplayer matches, you'll earn both money and "honor points," which your characters will carry over into their single-player game. You can then cash in that honor for upgraded licenses for more powerful weapons.
For our multiplayer time with the game, we had several crew members to choose from, several of which were maxed out in terms of their skill sets. After choosing a crew member to play as, we also chose our starting weapon from a list that included pistol, shotgun, machine gun, and sniper rifle. A handy tip: Starting a multiplayer match with a puny little Ruger pistol is an excellent way to lose. That said, even if you start a match with a gun you dislike, you'll find numerous weapon and item drops strewn around the maps.
Godfather II's multiplayer modes run the gamut from straight-up team deathmatch to more involved campaigns that involve specific objectives. There's Assault, where teams try to invade their opponents' base and blow it up; Fire Starter, where the goal is to set ablaze and destroy as much property as possible, scoring points in the process; and, our personal favorite, Safe Cracker, where opposing teams try to reach and crack safes spread throughout the map--opening a safe will earn the team cash and points.
All of the skills your crew members have earned in the game can be used in these various modes. For instance, a player with an elevated safecracking ability will be able to open up safes quicker than a player with an average rating. The same goes for abilities like demolition and fence-cutting--all of which are activated simply by walking up to the item you wish to interact with and holding down the Y button. The higher the ability rating, the less time it will take to pull it off.
There was a deliberate decision to make the multiplayer maps in Godfather II as symmetrical and fair as possible. As the developers told us, they made the conscious decision to find some of the best spots in the single-player game--places that would make the most sense for multiplayer chaos--and then do their best to make sure that the map was as fair and balanced as possible. As a result, there's no advantage to starting on one side of the map as opposed to the other. That said, there's still plenty of room for diversity; in our time with the game, we blasted it out on the grounds of a millionaire's estate, shot sniper rifles at foes amid the towers and scaffolding of an oil reserve, and had breakneck close-quarters battles on the narrow rooftops of an urban cityscape.
Controlwise, Godfather II feels a bit like a less intense Gears of War. The third-person action perspective gives you a good view or your surroundings, but the character you're controlling isn't necessarily as responsive as you might like. You aim with the left trigger, fire your weapon with the right trigger, and sprint with the A button. Swapping weapons is a bit clumsy--you can cycle through your weapons by pressing left or right on the D pad, or you can hold down the left bumper to bring up a menu wheel, where you can then choose the weapon you want by pointing to it with the right stick. Neither method is as quick as you might hope, especially as the weapons and items (including up-close weapons like baseball bats and garrotes, or explosive items like the ever-popular Molotov cocktail) pile up.
That said, the weapons themselves are pretty effective in terms of being fun and being indicative of their time; the tommy gun, for example, is completely inaccurate at long distances but has a distinct, almost antique feel to it that makes it seem very much a product of a bygone era. The base-level sniper rifle we used demanded headshots to be truly useful--here's hoping the upgraded rifle you earn with the licenses is more effective even if your aim isn't. Finally, we have to make a special mention of the fire and explosion effects that are in the game. Toss one Molotov and watch it go up in a blinding, white-hot flash of blasting fire, and you'll be hooked. Now put those firebombs in the hands of 15 other friends and foes, and you've got a recipe for fiery chaos.
The game will have some decent character customization options so that your mobster of choice will have the suitable amount of '70s seediness, and at any time if you're unhappy with one of your crew members you can "mark him for death." Then, once you take him into a multiplayer match and he's inevitably killed, he'll be out for good, giving you the chance to replace that open slot in your crew with a more suitable choice. Yes, it's harsh, but that's the life of a mobster. You may as well enjoy it while it lasts. Godfather II is due for release in February of 2009.