Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather Part II is widely regarded to be one of the best films of all time - a gangster epic that arguably supersedes its celebrated forebear. While EA's Godfather II takes a fair amount of inspiration from this masterful source, it's far more of a direct follow-up to the developer's previous game - a surprisingly enjoyable GTA clone. But while there's certainly some fun to be had with this second delving into the underworld of the Corleone family, this is ultimately a sequel that fails to mirror the eclipsing success of its cinematic cousin.
As with the first game, this is an open-world action title in which the player controls a gangster of their own design, a new character named Dominic who works for and alongside the iconic mobster from the films. Last time around your criminal activities were solely constrained to New York, but now you'll also find yourself waging gang wars in Florida and Cuba. That's not the only change either: while the last game saw you shooting and maiming your way up the mafia hierarchy until you reached the rank of Don, this time you begin the game as the head of your own mini-family.
In simple terms, what this means is that you now have a bunch of guys who can back you or go out to carry out your dirty work for you. At the start of the game you'll just have one soldier to follow you around, but eventually you'll end up with a group of seven: one underboss, two caporegimes and four soldiers. Your made men can be upgraded by taking them out to play in Godfather II's multiplayer mode, and all of them have certain specialisms that can assist you in your bread-and-butter activity: taking over properties throughout the three game worlds.
While there's certainly a plot to Godfather II, one that very loosely follows the non-flashback scenes of the film, the vast majority of the game is spent building your criminal empire by seizing property from rival families. As you might expect, these acquisitions lend new meaning to the term "hostile". You rock up at a place of business, perhaps with a few goons in tow, then murder all the guards in the area. Once the coast is clear you have to intimidate the owner into submitting to your protection. There are various ways to do this, from smashing up stock to pointing a gun at the boss' head, but the most fun methods involve hand-to-hand combat. The Black Hand control scheme from the last game makes a welcome return here: by pulling both triggers your mobster will grab ahold of his unfortunate victim, allowing you to dish out a range of unpleasant beatings. The right stick is used to dish out headbutts and knee-blows, while the left can be used to hurl your opponent around - slamming him into furniture, or leaning him out over dizzying drops.
Assuming you don't push the owner too far (or kill him), the property will eventually become yours. There are two kinds of structures in the world of Godfather 2: primary businesses that generate cash, and store fronts that launder your ill-gotten gains. While the latter merely act as a sort of multiplier to your income, the former provide you with a steady stream of funds and eventually grant access to a range of bonuses. Once you control all the properties in a given Crime Ring, you'll be given some kind of related reward - bigger ammo belts, bullet proof vests and armoured cars. Needless to say, these aids make your life that little bit easier.
Unfortunately for you, your rival crime families aren't too happy to go down without a fight. Other mob factions are just as keen to rule the roost, and they'll do their best to take properties back from you. You're able to use your cash to hire guards at each location, but if they get attacked it's not a bad idea to send one or two of your family members to help out the defenders. You could just go yourself, but since you're probably busy it's quite pleasant to be able to get someone else to do your dirty work. Hitting the start button summons the Don's View - a rather smart 3D map screen that shows who owns what. From here you can order your made men to carry out takeover attempts on rival properties, or attempt to have them bombed; this disables the building in question, and can be used to temporarily remove a Crime Ring bonus from your enemies.
Aside from property takeovers, each city is filled with people who need favours. By chatting to these members of the public, you can agree to do mini side quests (kill this man, steal this object) that will either give you hard cash or information on your enemies. Like you, your rival godfathers have families of mobsters who sometimes accompany the rank-and-file thugs on their takeover attempts. Normally if you kill one of these guys, they'll just be taken out of the game for a bit and then later re-appear - but if you learn the unique way to kill them, it's possible to permanently rub them out. A second tier of side quests, dished out by senators and other public authority figures, will give you access to minor favours that can be called in at any time: union bosses will repair your bombed buildings quickly, lawyers will arrest your enemies and bent cops can remove your wanted level when you get in trouble with the police.