If The Godfather II had been a mediocre, mindless action flick, the game of the same name could at least be considered faithful to its source material. As it is, though, Coppola's Mafia-themed masterpiece has been reduced to an uninspired, repetitive open-world action game with out-of-context movie quotes and a handful of recognizable characters sprinkled throughout its forgettable story. To make matters worse, The Godfather II has clearly been released in an unfinished state and is riddled with performance issues and bugs like they've been fired from a Tommy gun.
You play as Dominic, an important member of the Corleone family who somehow managed to make it through the epic movie trilogy without ever wandering into camera shot despite apparently being involved in a number of key scenes. As one of Michael Corleone's most trusted men, you've been groomed to head up your own family, and after a brief introductory sequence set in Cuba, the game proper gets under way in a diminutive New York where you're instructed to set about making a name for yourself. From this point on, much of your time is spent seizing and attempting to retain control of businesses run by rival families in order to make money and, ultimately, force said families to retreat into their compounds where you can eliminate them entirely. Unfortunately, killing rival mafiosi and intimidating business owners gets repetitive quickly and isn't much fun to begin with.
That's largely because the gunplay in The Godfather II is neither challenging nor satisfying. You have an impressive arsenal at your disposal, and weapons like the Magnum and the shotgun really feel like they pack a punch, but the enemies you're using them against rarely seem too interested in self-preservation. Too many of them simply stand their ground or charge at you and, if they somehow manage to get close before you put a couple of bullets in their heads, can easily be grabbed, punched, strangled, or head-butted into the afterlife. With that said, the made men working for rival families are geniuses compared to the clowns you get to recruit into your own family. They have their uses, but even having them do something as simple as walk through a doorway ahead of you or climb into one of the game's many slow but slippery cars with you can take some work. Predictably, things don't get any better when they're put into combat situations or are asked to perform the very specific tasks that they supposedly each specialize in, which include cracking safes, committing arson, and kicking down doors.
The problem isn't that they're unable to perform those tasks; it's that walking from A to B is rarely straightforward for them. When they're not failing to get into cars with you or running rings around one another at superhuman speeds, your guys can often be observed wandering off in the wrong direction or just remaining stationary while appearing to ponder their next step. Doorways are especially problematic, regardless of whether you're leading the way or are trying to send your guys in ahead of you to soak up some enemy fire. When you're in front, it's not uncommon to open a door, step into a room, and encounter the guys that were right behind you already standing around waiting for you in there. Other times they prefer to enter through different doors while running backward, or perhaps crash through a window for an entrance that really gets them noticed. If you turn your back on them, though, they'll be warped instantly to your side, sometimes.
Initially you get to recruit only one of these laughable soldiers for your family, and you get to choose between a demolitions expert and a medic. The former can create shortcuts through walls and blow up buildings, but like most of the crew abilities, these can be used in only very specific locations. The latter is arguably the most useful guy you'll ever meet, because if you or any other crew member gets killed, he can bring you back to life with full health just by sticking a needle in you. Ultimately, you can recruit up to seven made men for your family, and as they prove their worth, you can spend money on attribute upgrades and better weapons for them and even promote them so that they can specialize in more than one field. It behooves you to take the maximum allowed three crew members with you on every mission that you accept and to every business that you make a move on, because location layouts are generally so contrived and architecturally improbable that, for example, the only way into a building with seemingly easily accessible doors might be to blow a hole in a wall or to have your engineer cut a hole in a fence. Annoyingly, there's no consistent rule set in the world of The Godfather II, so while some fences can be cut through in specific locations, other, identical-looking fences, are impenetrable. Doors are another example; some can be kicked down, some can be lock-picked, and others can't be opened even with dynamite. You can't even predict which waist-high walls you'll be able to vault over until you get close enough to try, which is incredibly frustrating if you're fleeing from the cops on foot.
Businesses that you control after successfully negotiating all of the aforementioned problems don't just earn you money; they can also unlock special perks for you if you claim every business within a crime ring. Controlling both of New York's prostitution rackets will get you brass knuckles, while three diamond smuggling operations in Florida will earn you and your crew bulletproof vests, for example. These crime-ring bonuses add some small degree of strategy to the proceedings when it comes to planning your next move, not least because rival families can benefit from the same bonuses that you can, but none of the bonuses significantly impact the difficulty of subsequent actions--regardless of who has them. Rivals will often attempt to reclaim or bomb businesses that you control, denying you your bonuses if they succeed, so it's important to hire guards to protect them. The guards aren't always up to the job if a rival family decides to send soldiers and capos along, but at the very least they'll buy you some time until you can send members of your own crew there via the "Don's View" map screen or go and join the fight yourself.
Rival families can be eliminated only when they've lost control of all businesses and have retreated to their fortress-like compounds. At this point, the compounds become unlocked so that you can get into them and fight your way to wherever it is that you need to place a bomb. In theory, you shouldn't attempt this kind of operation until you've weakened a family by assassinating a number of its made men, but in practice, the only real difference between those guys and the regular guards is that it takes more bullets to put them down. Interestingly, the only way to permanently kill a made man other than to bomb his family's compound is to do so in a way that sends a specific message to his family, and you can find out which message needs to be sent only by doing favors for people you meet on the street. Remember how Vito Corleone was unable to turn down any request from a friend on his daughter's wedding day in the first Godfather movie? Well, this is nothing like that. Rather, you approach complete strangers and tell them they look like they need help, at which point they tell you who or which building they want attacked. Do them the favor, and they'll tell you where one of your enemies can be found and that he can only be killed with a Molotov, with a shot between the eyes, with a fall from a great height, by being run over with a car, or something similar. Not only is soliciting murder advice from random pedestrians totally absurd, carrying out these contrived actions is more trouble than it's worth, so you'll probably end up just bombing the compound every time.
Once you take down all five families, you're about done with the single-player portion of The Godfather II. Multiplayer modes designed for up to 16 players include Team Deathmatch, Demolition Assault, FireStarter, and Safecracker. You play as one of the members of your crew from the single-player game, and as you earn honor points online, you can use them to upgrade your guys' weapon licenses so that they're able to use more-powerful guns both online and off. Your choice of crew member will likely be dictated by the game type that you're playing because, in case you hadn't guessed, those last three modes favor players with demolition, arson, and safecracker skills, respectively. Unfortunately, The Godfather II's multiplayer isn't much fun. Targeting enemies without the lock-on feature feels too imprecise on consoles, completing objectives on the non-deathmatch modes doesn't earn you as many points as just killing people, and most of the maps are too big for just 16 players.
One of the more interesting multiplayer features, regardless of the fact that it's functional rather than fun, is the option for one player on each team to play as the don. As the don, you don't play as a guy on the ground at all, but as a disembodied camera flying high above the map and able to relay information to teammates about enemy locations and the like both with voice chat and by dropping waypoint beacons. When your team captures strategic locations on the map, you can also reward them with bulletproof vests and other perks, which is great for them but as boring as it sounds for you. Worse still, you can only fly around freely at a fixed altitude, so although you have the option to jump between players and key locations with a couple of button presses, your movement still feels oddly restricted. It's possible to make money as the don by betting on the outcome of games, but money's unlikely to be an issue once you near the end of the single-player game, so it's hardly compelling.
Questionable design choices aside, the problem with almost every aspect of The Godfather II is simply that it feels unfinished. Dated visuals, voiced lines of dialogue that seemingly play at random and often inappropriate times, dead bodies falling through scenery, a car hovering in the air about half a mile off the Cuban coast, being able to snipe enemies through walls and doors that haven't popped into view yet, guards who fail to recognize you as a threat when you walk into a federal building and crack a safe, cars and pedestrians that appear and disappear long before they leave your range of vision, getting stuck in an animation somewhere between a regular walk and a crouch after vaulting through a window--these are just some of the problems we encountered in the 13 hours or so that it took to play from start to finish. Even looking past these anomalies, all you're going to find is repetitive, unsatisfying gameplay in an illogical, inconsistent world. The Godfather II should have been an offer impossible to refuse, but like Michael's brother Fredo, this one will break your heart.