The Godfather Xbox 360 Review
When it comes to must-see mob movies, almost any movie buff will agree that The Godfather is at the top of the list. Despite a slow start, this legendary 1973 film captures the action, attitude, brutality, and overall lifestyle of the mob that we can all appreciate and love. With legendary actors like Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, and James Caan, this movie brought the talent required to really bring the drama of the mafia to life. Now, almost 35 years later, Electronic Arts has adopted The Godfather into a video game which tries to recapture the original movie's essence with all of the violence intact.
Sadly, EA has only partially succeeded. They built the game around the Grand Theft Auto style of action, where you can freely roam around, carjack anyone, and attack anyone you see in the streets, but other than the story and an admittedly large number of fairly boring side missions, there are only a few activities to do - over and over - and it will likely get tedious after a while.
The Godfather takes place in New York City in 1946, with the city broken up into five neighborhoods. You'll start out creating your new mobster with a very slick character creation system, allowing for a pretty nice range of mostly-Italian-descent gentlemen. You can even add moles and other things that give your guy some interesting bits of character, and many cutscenes during the game will allow you to see his face pretty clearly. After an interesting intro sequence that teaches you basic fighting, you'll start out as a young guy who's only barely connected to the Corleone family. Don Corleone sends Luca Brasi to rescue your character from his random acts of thuggery and bring you into the life of organized crime. The Don is voiced by Marlon Brando himself, who recorded his lines for the game before his death a couple of years ago.
You'll learn how to really fight this time - you can slam enemies against walls, throw them around, or continue holding them and just repeatedly punch them - and then Luca teaches to you one of the most important and most fun parts of The Godfather: extorting local businesses into paying protection money. There are dozens and dozens of shops all over New York, and one glance at the map makes it obvious that the Corleones are not the major players here. You'll have to start out in Little Italy, figuring out what really scares each business owner the most (smashing up their place, hurting the innocent people in the store, hitting the owners directly, aiming a gun at them, or just shoving them around a bit) and making him or her agree to a sizable payout each week. Don't push them too far, though, or they'll break, refuse to pay anything, and just fight you to the death if need be. You might also have to deal with other mob families who often consider the stores you're pressuring their turf. Sometimes they'll be standing around outside the store telling you to screw off, and other times they'll be in the back room of the store, ready to pour out when they hear a commotion out front.
Then there are the back room rackets. Some otherwise legitimate businesses will have various illegal activities going on in the back, although when you walk in it's not always obvious what the racket actually is, with a bunch of guys standing around next to some crates or something. Either way, if you kill off any hostiles, you can find the guy running the racket and buy him out - then he'll produce money for you each week. On top of this, you can help take control of the city by hijacking trucks with illegal stuff, taking over warehouses run by other mob families, and a few other bits and pieces that usually work pretty closely to the basic Racket game.
With the money you make, you can buy upgraded weapons, new apartments to save your game and lay low from the cops, or other things like Molotovs, dynamite to blow safes open with (important for when you want to go on a bank heist with your crew!), and other bits and pieces. You can also buy new clothing which actually has an effect on the game, as more expensive clothing gets you more respect. It's only a small effect overall, though. And then you also can level up as you progress throughout the game, taking over businesses and completing the story. There are five areas in which you can spent skill points from level-ups: Fighting, Shooting, Health, Speed, and Street Smarts. Each improves a specific area of your character as you add skill points, and Street Smarts gives you special abilities like stealing parked cars without any additional "Heat" from the cops or increasing your inventory capacity for explosives. All of these elements give the game more depth and make you really feel like you're a tougher and more powerful guy at later stages of the game.
It's inevitable that you're going to get into plenty of fights with rival mob families. You'll often be fighting many of them at once, but at the beginning, the game usually goes easy on you and lets you beat them down one at a time. That is, at least, until the point in the game where you can hire your own crew to roll with you and help you, and then you'll find that the difficulty increases somewhat to give you and your boys a challenge. There's also a nice arsenal of guns you can take with you and a fairly decent system that lets you stand or crouch behind cover and pop out to target and shoot specific areas of an enemy's body (while still mostly allowing you to use a pretty decent auto-target system), but you'll often find that the mob does whatever you're doing. Bringing out the fisticuffs? Get close to a guy with no weapon drawn, and he'll usually put away his gun and fight you fair. But if you pull out a gun, you will most definitely have a firefight on your hands and the enemy will hide behind cover just like you. During the early game, you'll want to stick mostly with fighting rather than shooting, but you'll quickly find that you'll get forced into plenty of firefights in the later game.
The problem with this system is that it doesn't always play fair. Sometimes you know you'll lose a firefight so you decide to go in with fists flying. But one mobster will stay back and just plug you with a full clip from a Tommy gun, killing you almost instantly. Sure, you can grab one of the other guys who you are close to and try to use him as a shield, but everything moves so quickly sometimes that you simply don't have the time - and even then, once your "shield" goes down, he might just fire at you some more anyway, as your enemies seem to have unlimited ammo. It kind of feels like the developers wanted enemy mobsters to fight fair, but just couldn't balance when they should keep their guns out and when they shouldn't. It often ends in frustration for the player.
Another element to The Godfather is starting a mob war. If you kill off enough of one family in a given amount of time, that family's "Vendetta" meter will fill up and you'll be faced with a full-on war. They'll be shooting at you from cars, blocking the road, and bombing your businesses until you can successfully bomb one of theirs or bribe an FBI agent to cool the whole thing down. It's a pretty fun system, but if you get caught stuck in a mob war at the wrong time it can be pretty frustrating - damage is somewhat realistic in this game, and a few bullets up-close from one of the many Tommy guns these guys have will finish you off.
As you progress, you'll be given opportunities to not only do side quests (called "favors"), but you will get to progress the game's story - which tries to follow the movie's plot for at least a while. Obviously you'll know what's coming if you've seen the movie, like Luca Brasi's untimely demise or the Don himself nearly dying from being ambushed in the street, and the game does shuffle around the facts from the movie a bit to give your nameless character a chance to be a part of the action. Eventually the game diverts from the movie in that you can become Godfather of New York City yourself, but it's probably a good way to go since the game really does need to go beyond the scope of the movie if you're not going to be playing as one of the major characters yourself. At the very least, your character does seem fairly fleshed out with an actual voice and some nicely done animations during many cutscenes.
Unfortunately, The Godfather comes up short on several counts. They spent a huge amount of time and effort on the faces and voice acting, but they were not able to secure Al Pacino's likeness or voice for the part of Michael Corleone. This will be a deal-breaker in the future if EA still can't get his approval for a game version of The Godfather II (since Michael plays such a large role there), but here it's mostly just a really weird annoyance in this game. The character they created to replace Pacino doesn't even look or act anything near close to him, so it's really jarring and kind of kills off any movie authenticity that EA built up prior to his introduction into the game. This probably has something to do with the fact that Pacino's likeness will be used in the Scarface game which was just released.
The other sad part is that on the Xbox 360, all they did to improve the Xbox/PS2 versions' already mediocre graphics was to increase the resolution and polygon counts on some objects and textures. The city still feels very barren in some places with few of the finer details, and most of the back alleys look hideously bare and, for some reason, really clean as well. I didn't think the Xbox version of The Godfather looked like much, and on the 360 the increased screen resolution and other small enhancements aren't nearly enough - considering this is next-gen, I think the 360 version looks worse than its peers (like Saint's Row) than the Xbox version did to its peers (GTA San Andreas). Hell, the windows on all the cars are still completely opaque! I do like the fact that there aren't any loading screens as you travel through the city or go in and out of the game's many, many buildings, but it's still frustrating to see mostly PS2- or Xbox-quality graphics on the 360.
At the very least, EA has added some new content for the Xbox 360. There are a couple dozen new missions (most of them are done on the side, rather than being a part of the story) and you can now hire a crew to roll with you. You can also take out the city's many budding narcotics warehouses, something that the Corleones refuse to deal in themselves. Still, if you've already played the PS2 or Xbox versions, which were released six months ago, then there's little reason to pick up the 360 version which is priced at a full $60.
The Godfather has a few real strengths: the movie scene tie-ins, the overall 40s mob atmosphere, and the whole mechanic of extorting businesses to work with the Corleone family all make this game unique and much more than just a GTA clone. Unfortunately, the iffy graphics and unstable frame rate (which I find unacceptable on the Xbox 360), lack of Al Pacino, and vague feeling of emptiness of the world are to me what hold this game back from being worthy of the name The Godfather.