The Godfather II is a tale of two games, a blend of sandbox action and strategic resource management. The low-level mobster in you will want to parade around 1950s-era depictions of New York, Miami, and Havana causing as much wanton destruction as you possibly can, but you'll need to get in touch with your inner Mafia boss if you want to successfully progress through the story. Taking over and managing various rackets and crime rings is key, but so is keeping an eye on your own family and those of other organizations. We've had only a taste of what sort of strategic depth The Godfather II might offer in previous looks at the game, but we've recently been spending some time with a nearly complete version of this EA Redwood Shores-developed game to see how far we could dive into the Don lifestyle.
For a bit of background on the story told in The Godfather II, you'll want to have a look at the hands-on impressions that we posted yesterday based on a UK press event. It'll give you a good idea of what happens at the beginning of the game, including the myriad names and faces that are introduced during the course of the game's first act, set during the eve of the Cuban Revolution. Suffice it to say, things go sour and you quickly return to New York, where you're thrust into the position of building your own wing of the Corleone organized-crime family. The first item on the agenda is recruiting an associate, the bottom level on your family tree.
Each potential associate has a unique background and specialty, which determines his personality and class-based abilities. To give you an idea of a few specialties that exist out there, you can hire a medic who will revive you whenever you get taken out during combat, an arsonist who excels in making impromptu doorways in the sides of buildings, a safecracker who can get you some extra cash whenever you break into a business, and a bruiser who will reduce your odds of having the police called on you for random acts of violence on the street. You'll eventually be able to recruit more associates, and subsequently promote existing ones up the ranks from associate to capo to underboss. If you really want to get into the spirit of things, you can even customize each family member's clothing to give your group a signature look, like our collection of thugs clad in periwinkle leisure shirts.
Once you get your first associate, you'll need to take over your first racket, which are critical because they let you launder dirty money through a legitimate business. This usually entails finding a business controlled by another family, taking care of all of their guards, and then shaking down the owner. The last bit is especially fun because you need to rough them up to the point where they'll give in, but not quite fight back or die. Once you control a racket, you can seek out others like it for a crime-ring bonus. For example, if you control all of the prostitution rackets in New York, you'll get brass knuckles for all of your family members, and if you control all of the drug-smuggling rackets in Miami, you'll double your daily income. Each racket you own needs to be guarded against takeovers, but guards cost money that you might otherwise spend on upgrading the abilities of you and your crew, so there's a lot to consider.
Of course, you're not the only one managing the operations of a family filled with thugs and criminals; there are plenty of rival organizations out there looking to cause you trouble. Early in the game, your primary source of conflict is the Rosato family, the crew that operates the bulk of rackets in the modest-sized chunk of New York City that makes up the game's first act. You begin by taking over their businesses, but as the story progresses and the possibility of a truce becomes less and less likely, it's revealed that you need to do more than cripple their income; you need to take them out entirely.
To do this, you'll need to stage contract hits on the various family members. But it's not enough to kill them however you see fit; you need to know the right kill condition to send the appropriate message. This requires you to do a favor for people of interest, and if you fulfill your obligation (usually an act of violence on an enemy of theirs), you'll learn the kill condition. Some rivals need to be thrown from a building, some choked, and others run over with a car, to name a few.
If that all sounds a little violent for your tastes, it's only the beginning. The Godfather II is an intensely violent experience that routinely surprised us with the level of potential for sadistic combat. At its core, the game is a straightforward third-person action game with a few guns and melee weapons to go along with a lock-on targeting and cover system. But when you wear down your enemies' health, you can execute them in some truly horrific ways. The most gruesome is probably the baseball-bat execution, followed closely by the Tommy gun--both of which involve shoving these weapons into someone's mouth and your inevitable wince in response.
Later in the game you'll move your operations to Florida, and eventually Cuba. The core mechanics of the game remain the same, but the scenery changes from Brooklyn townhouses to pastel-colored art deco buildings and Spanish architecture. The number of rival families you need to deal with also grows as the story expands into a web of shady alliances, corrupt government officials, backstabbing friends, and so on. Although you don't have much control of the story proper, you at least feel pretty invested in all of this crime and corruption due to your ability to strike deals with a number of government officials and keep favors from them until you find the right time to call them in. We'd like to give you an idea of how the story plays out, but with so many turns and twists, almost anything would be a spoiler.
At the heart of all of this is something called the Don's View. This is a screen that lays out the entire city in a fully movable 3D map, detailing all of the businesses, people of interest, and missions available to you. You can manage the number of guards stationed at your rackets, call in strikes on rival businesses, send your made men to defend a racket that's come under attack, and keep tabs of how close you are to controlling an entire crime ring. You can also examine the makeup of rival family trees, examining them before calling in a contract hit. Giving you a lot of ability to stretch your strategic muscles definitely seems to have been a big goal for the developer.
Altogether, The Godfather II should offer a few interesting twists on the open-world action genre that has become so common these days. You can expect to see our final word on it when the game is released on February 24.