The Godfather II Hands-On

We take rival mafia thugs to the breaking point in this sandbox strategy adaptation of the classic film.

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If you've seen The Godfather II recently enough to remember its story in detail, take a moment to choose which of these genres is best suited to convey its unique portrayal of Mafia drama: third-person shooter, sandbox action, or role-playing strategy. Got your answer? So does developer EA Redwood Shores, and it has chosen "all of the above" for its upcoming video game adaptation of the same name. As you take on the role of up-and-coming Mafia don Dominic Corleone, you'll roam the streets busting heads, you'll charm your way through dialogue trees, and, when your empire begins to take form, you'll need to carefully allocate and manage your resources to make sure it continues to grow. We recently spent some hands-on time with The Godfather II to see how these disparate genres are coming together.

As Dominic Corleone, you'll need to build your own branch of this infamous family.
As Dominic Corleone, you'll need to build your own branch of this infamous family.

To be fair, the Godfather II game doesn't have the same plot as the film. The game tells a parallel story that often intersects with the film's story at critical moments, but for the most part you'll be forging a story of your own. That story begins in Havana, Cuba, on the night before the revolution of 1958. Just as a meeting of Mafia bigwigs is beginning to wind down, violence erupts in the streets, and you're suddenly responsible for guiding members of the Corleone family to a nearby airport so you can escape to safety. Sadly, Aldo Trapani, star of the first Godfather game, doesn't survive this frantic journey. His sudden death is the catalyst that establishes the premise for the rest of the game. Michael Corleone promotes you to Aldo's former position, a role that requires you to form your own semi-autonomous branch of the Mafia.

Once the family returns to New York, you begin establishing your own corner of the family by recruiting a new member into your ranks. Initially, this is as simple as talking to some of the freelance talent already wandering around the Corleone compound, then choosing which you like best. Each potential associate has a unique skill set that you need to take into account. The pair we had to choose from at the game's outset included a gentleman skilled in the art of arson and another who considered himself a talented medic. Each has a mini-bio and personality quirks, too, but these are essentially classes you'll want to keep balanced out in your crew. We went with the arsonist and set out to take over some of the local businesses in order to build our empire.

At the suggestion of Frank Pentangeli, a friend of the family, we set our sights on a local prostitution house disguised as a bakery in order to collect our first money-laundering front. Adding businesses to your burgeoning empire is key to The Godfather II, because to expand your influence, you'll need money and manpower. We took a car from the front of the Corleone compound, cruised through the late-1950s sandbox representation of New York City that makes up the first of three environments in the game (the other two being Miami and Havana), and arrived at the bakery. We began the takeover by exercising some melee abilities on the guard inside the legal front of this two-sided business. Melee is a simple but fun combination of triggers that lets you throw punches, grab enemies, and exercise a wide variety of intimidating moves while they're in your grasp. You can head-butt them, throw them, slap them around, and more. It's an easy system, but one that results in several dozen possible moves.

You'll spend a fair amount of time driving from place to place in this sandbox game.
You'll spend a fair amount of time driving from place to place in this sandbox game.

What's the point of doing this? Every character of interest has a breaking point where they'll start to give you information and access to what you want, but you need to be careful, because just beyond that breaking point is when they fight back, and further down eventually die. As long as you don't go too over the top with the violence, you'll be able to rough up people in a really slick, Mafia-inspired way. In our bakery mission, we began by shaking down the guard protecting the door leading from the legal face of this business to the shady basement where the unsavory deeds occur. This let us gain access without killing him, but the guards inside weren't so lucky. After a bit of third-person gun combat against these watchmen, we finally went into the back office and found the owner. This poor soul had the unfortunate luck of being the last man standing in the joint, so he wasn't exactly in a position of leverage. Nevertheless, we popped him in the face, threw him into his desk, then picked him up and began to threaten more violence. At this point, he gladly handed over the establishment in exchange for his life. Thus the "bakery" was ours.

Once you obtain a new establishment, it's a good idea to jump into the "Don's view" so you can see a visual representation of which properties you own and set a strategic plan for how you'd like to hold onto them. The first choice you'll want to make is how many guards you want to keep there. The more you have, the less likely the tables will be turned on you by a rival family, but guards cost money. However, money is also how you upgrade your stats and those of your immediate crew for more offensive-minded purposes, so you'll need to carefully decide how much to spend on securing your property.

The Don's view is definitely what separates The Godfather II from other action sandbox games. This collection of screens is where the heart of the strategy and role-playing aspects exists. You can look at your property, compare it against that of other families, inspect which properties are most ripe for the taking, and manage your crew to best take on those challenges. Let's say another family is exercising too much dominance over the city and you want to take it down but you don't have the manpower to do it. Using the Don's view, one option is to send an explosives-trained associate to bomb one of the family's properties. Another is to stage a hit on one of its higher-level underbosses. A third option? Channel your energy into making sure your crew is the most fashionably dressed in the entire city. That might not get you anywhere, but hey, it's an option.

The Don's view gives you a strategic layout of the game's New York, Miami, and Havana settings.
The Don's view gives you a strategic layout of the game's New York, Miami, and Havana settings.

As we continued to go around town, hijacking cars and collecting property, we were impressed by The Godfather II's mix of combat and cinematic drama. There's a stark contrast between the stylish executions you can pull off on a wounded enemy and the careful prodding you need to perform on those whom you're trying to pry information from, but it's a really interesting change of pace and speaks to the fact that you're not just out to mow everyone down--you're a businessman, first and foremost. One thing that may turn people off is the driving. Since this is an open-world game, you'll be spending a lot of time behind the wheel. But because the game is set in the 1950s, you'll see a lot of boats out on the road that drive about as advanced as they look (imagine a city filled with the Hermes from the Grand Theft Auto series). However, this only adds to the level of realism and works well alongside the unfortunate 1950s fashion and period weaponry to give you the feeling that you're really in that time period.

Altogether, The Godfather II looks like a very intriguing take on the sandbox action genre. It's hard to think of many games falling under that category that have attempted the level of strategic depth that this game is going for, so we're looking forward to seeing how it all comes together when The Godfather II is released in February.

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