I started out with no respect for The Godfather II. In The Godfather: The Game, classic scenes from one of the world's greatest movies were fumblingly recreated with a videogame engine, and the gameplay never coalesced into a coherent experience. With things tending in that direction, I thought that a videogame sequel named after an even better film could only get worse.
But after the first few minutes, I realized that The Godfather II was leaving the movies far behind. Sure, there were a few characters that made the awkward transition into the game world. And the basic scenario takes its cues from The Godfather Part II. But for the most part, the videogame sequel concentrates on tweaking the core gameplay that the first game established.
The Godfather II is, at heart, a game of mobster Monopoly. Even though it affects a Grand Theft Auto III style, most of the game is about building and operating a mafia empire. There are occasional car chases and plenty of shootouts, but The Godfather II wisely limits the number of "drive around" missions, and concentrates on team-building and business operations. It's all about managing the turf and making money from whores, junk and dope.
I select my crew and start building my family from a gang of greaseball wannabes. Arsonists, demolitions experts, and safecrackers become my confidantes. They even take my advice on what to wear. With them at my side, I can walk or drive around my cities without fear. But I'm much better off examining the territory from the "Don's View"-a 3D model of the city that tells me who controls what. It's slightly awkward to navigate and decipher, but it's easier than driving.
I also spend a fair amount of time examining the books and watching the bottom line. And if I start running short of cash, there are always a few safes to crack or a bank to rob. As a strategy game, The Godfather II makes business management about as immersive as it can get. If this trend continues, the next Godfather game may actually be better than the third movie.
THE GOOD: Combat is visceral, making generous use of the analogue sticks and the environments. I pull the controller's triggers to deliver punches and kicks, and swivel the thumbsticks to bash heads against cars. To choke, I just press down tight with my thumbs. And since a live person pays better than a dead one, I'm as likely to dangle someone off a ledge as I am to pummel them to a pulp.
THE BAD: The characters move with the grace of Ken dolls. And the characters lack, well, character-they're reduced to slick-smooth figures in oily hair and silk suits, trying to disguise themselves as honest Americans.
THE BOTTOM LINE: There's not much mayhem, but there's a decent amount of business in da bidness.
The Beta: Madden 10 Cover
EA Sports announced this week that Arizon's Larry Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu will be the faces of the NFL when the game maker releases the latest version of its Madden franchise in August.
It's the first time that two players have shared the Madden cover. But as football fans know, the honor can be a double-edged sword. The so-called Madden curse is apparently alive and well. Last year's cover boy, Brett Favre appeared in a Packer uniform only to uncork a huge comeback drama that saw him traded to the Jets. Where, after a hot start, he lost four of the last five games and both the Jets and Packers missed the playoffs. Meanwhile, Chad Pennington who was chased out of the Meadowlands in favor of Favre led the lowly Dolphins to the playoffs (by beating the Jets in the final week of the season.) Good luck Steelers/Cards fans.