It was a very tricky idea. Lightning struck twice for Francis Ford Coppola when his Godfather and Godfather II films became such unstoppable successes. Rarely does a sequel’s acclaim surpass the original, but in this case it had happened. Both films were such critical successes, in fact, that several scenes and phrases from various characters has become an indelible part of the American lexicon. It is this very acclaim that made further exposition of the cherished characters very tricky business, as most felt that the series had reached such a high level of respect that any further attempts to expand upon it would only end up cheapening the original (Godfather III proved that very point). How this cornerstone of American cinema became a console game defies all logic and belief… Electronic arts most certainly must have laid down (wait for it) “an offer they couldn’t refuse.” (You knew there was going to be at least one of those in here.)
That is not to say that the game itself is poor… it certainly is not. It does, however, have its share of annoying quirks. Some of the controls can be a bit janky and sometimes it becomes difficult to pinpoint an action to a specific object. It’s like driving a used car that always pulls just a bit to the left. Speaking of cars, none of them seem to travel very quickly at all unless you have a long stretch of road, and most of the time the law enforcement and rival vehicles will overwhelm you instantly. Spend twenty minutes playing the game and you will understand that at its core the game is a GTA clone in a Mario Puzo/Francis Coppola wrapper.
Players assume the role of a low-rung mafia soldier for the Corleone family. You can design your character in many subtle ways, as the game uses the character creation tools found in such titles as Tiger Woods or Fight Night Round 3. Once complete you begin your initiation into the family by completing challenges and jobs given to you by none other that Luca Brazi himself. The actual timeline of the game begins during the period covered in the first Godfather film. Your story is one that would place you just low enough to NOT be included in many of the movies key stories, but to be a background figure within the family. It is the same approach Westwood took with their 1997 game “Blade Runner” that placed characters in the “background” of the original movie. This is a great way to continue a side story if done correctly, and for the most part, it is done correctly here.
You start off with relatively simple jobs like forcing local merchants to pay protection money and running rackets out of the back rooms of some of them. Some of the merchants crack easily, some you really have to provoke and coerce. Some will even offer you a part of their business if you complete a task for them. Any one of these things leads to a regular income if you take over their business! You will eventually work your way up the ranks and find yourself taking a role in the much more elaborate story-based missions. Here is where you find yourself “in the background” of a lot of the movie’s main scenes. For instance, you just happen to stumble on the death of Luca by watching it through the bar window… from the game’s perspective, you were there.
All of the movie characters are present and accounted for, and in most cases voiced by the original actors. Even the late Marlon Brando did some dialogue before his passing. The only hold out, Al Pacino, is the only character in the game that doesn’t seem “quite right.” The Xbox 360 version also does an adequate job of bringing sections of New York and New Jersey to life, even though the same shops can be found in various areas. Graphically, the Xbox 360 version is better than the previous gen versions, but only by a small margin. There is nothing really awe-inspiring with the title in terms of its visuals, other than the fact that it brings this world to life really, really well. The wonderful music, which is so much a part of the Corleone’s world, is here as well and wonderfully placed. The sound effects are accurate and the language is exactly what you think you would hear from a Godfather film. All of the epithets, Italian phrases and rough language will fly out of your speakers.
The main gameplay functions just like GTA, with all the over-the-top violence and hot pursuits intact. The use of guns in the game is a little more quirky than it should have been, and aiming can sometimes prove to be a real challenge. The auto aim feature sometimes works really well and sometimes doesn’t work at all, so most players will end up opting for the manual aiming features. There is random violence, police interest levels and payoffs to be made to keep your character progressing as well, just like in every open-ended sandbox game there has been.
There are almost forty achievements to unlock in the game that vary in difficulty (naturally), but offer higher point rewards for more elaborate goals. Can you become the Don of New York City? Fans of the film can accomplish this goal in about thirty hours if they head straight for their main goals, whereas if you take the time to explore and enjoy the sights, The Godfather can easily be padded out to a forty or fifty hour experience.
All in all, The Godfather does deliver on its promise to place players in the world of the films, and to let them rise through the ranks of the Corleone family. The first time a player receives an achievement for bashing a person's face in a certain way they will be hooked. If players can get past the slightly annoying control and aiming schemes, they are bound to have a great time as one of Vito’s soldiers.