In the game of Godfather, based on the infamous mafia flicks, the player assumed the role of a new character, Dominic, serving as a don's right hand man as he pummeled, shot, and strangled any sign of opposition. This is the sequel to the game and not the movie that shares its name. The movie references in general are a bit thin this time around, and in their place is the story of Dominic's rise from enforcer to ruler of a criminal empire.
I rarely mention this sort of thing, but parents don't let your kiddies play this game, and not just because of the poorly rendered naked breasts. Godfather II is brutal in a way that makes the over-the-top gore in games like Gears of War feel like a shallow parody. Few titles have managed to convey the raw power of your arsenal the way this one does. The Magnum kicks, the Tommy gun rattles, and the sniper rifle pops. If this weren't enough, you can always stick the barrel right in a guy's mouth for a wince-inducing execution. If anything, the melee is even more painfully realistic. The solid punches have the weight of a boxer behind them, an arm break is a sickening crack, but nothing else comes close to holding down both triggers and stick buttons for a deadly squeeze. This has been made purposefully slow compared to other kills, watching the life drain out of your victim as his struggles fade and knowing all you need to do to end his suffering is simply let go. It's a powerful moment only a video game could deliver.
How well you manage your men and resources - as well as not getting shot - will determine how challenging Godfather II will be.
After an hour-plus tutorial spent cleaning up New York, it's time to jet off to sunny Florida where the real fun begins. There's a convoluted storyline conveyed with superbly detailed character expressions and perfect tough guy voice work, but it's really a simple tale of mob families tearing each other apart for the sake of money and power. The player hand picks his muscle, eliminates the top guys in other outfits, takes control of their businesses, and finally wipes their compounds off the map. The warm-up is in the little tasks the average Joe will give you for info on enemy capos, like someone needing to be roughed up. Hunt down this mobster, kill him the way the game prescribes, and he's out of the picture for good. That leaves you free to burst into one of his rackets, kill anyone who so much as looks at you funny, and threaten the owner until he breaks. Thanks to some tense shootouts and multiple entry points, these missions never get old. There's nothing like blowing a hole in a wall, and strutting in nonchalantly as your boys create a bloodbath.
Take over all the right places, and you'll have a ring producing more money and a little something extra on the side, like bullet proof vests. The other mobs aren't going to like you flaunting what was once theirs, however, and will launch a counterattack at every opportunity. You can rush to defend the place yourself, but most of the time you'll be on the other side of town, or in a completely different town. That's when you send in your men to clean up the mess. If you've chosen them well and spent the cash to upgrade their abilities, they'll make short work of an outside push, though they tend to struggle with taking over a new place all by themselves. How well you manage your men and resources - as well as not getting shot - will determine how challenging Godfather II will be. The strategy aspect is on the shallow side, but it's essential for making the big green, and putting your enemies out to pasture.
But it's not all sunshine in the Sunshine State. Outside of character faces and seriously harsh lighting, the game's visuals feel a generation out of date, littered with cut-and-pasted, low-poly environments where not even the brickwork is given a bump map to bring it into 3D. Interaction with this poorly rendered world is limited at best, where benches turn to dust instantly and palm trees are made of concrete. It's also a small pond. The sum total of the locations amount to about half a single island of Liberty City, though this can be seen as a blessing since the car handling is pure agony. No matter what vehicle you decide to make off with, they all control like sailboats on ice. Running might take you longer to get there, but it's a whole lot less painful.
The online portion seems to have been done with the best of intentions. Not only are there modes beyond the standard deathmatch, where skills like demolitions and arson can be put to sinister use, but there's also the option to be an all-seeing don to aid your allies indirectly with perks instead of gunfire. No one wants to be the don though, and with the game modes designed around it, they all suffer a little in his absence. For example, if you enter a game mode you don't have the right skills for, there's no way to change them without his help. There's also a horrible catch-22 at work, since the only way to upgrade your mob's weapon abilities is online, but if you aren't able to use the good weapons there you will be absolutely slaughtered, and consequently have no fun. Also the game's basics just aren't suited for online. People either die too quickly for medics to be of any use or they'll get hit once and be stuck in the waiting-to-be-executed pose, longing for someone to put them out of their misery.
Still, the single-player alone will run you about fifteen hours, and you might squeeze a few more hours of enjoyment out of online with the right teammates. Godfather II has some great core gameplay and cut scenes you'll never want to skip. It's only in the details that it falls flat on its chiseled face. So as long as you don't expect another Grand Theft Auto IV, it's not going to leave you wanting.