Whatever you think of Electronic Arts, you can't argue that they make games that appeal to a large audience. The Godfather was released for current-gen systems and PC earlier this year, and surprised many people by being a very competent GTA clone set within the Godfather universe. Six months have passed since then, and the Xbox 360 version of the game has finally been released, but with games like Saints Row and Just Cause flying the next-gen flag, does an upgraded PlayStation 2 game have much chance of success?
Taking ideas from the movie and the novel, the game follows your original character as he moves through the ranks of the Corleone family. While not a scene for scene copy of the movie, key moments are featured and built into missions, with a fair amount of artistic license being used to flesh out the game. Die-hard fans may see this as unnecessary tinkering, but there's really very little to complain about in regard to how EA has handled the story and the license.
Gameplay is a pretty even mix between third-person action and driving, with the odd bit of stealth, racketeering, harassment and bribery added for good measure. Right from the start you're thrown in the deep end, but the opening sections are also used to help you become familiar with the control scheme and a number of the major characters. Gun combat is pretty standard stuff, with the usual targeting system, manual aim and cover systems that are seen in the majority of action titles. Still, it's handled well, with the control scheme being incredibly intuitive.
Hand-to-hand combat, however, is an area where The Godfather tries something a little different. Instead of pressing buttons to punch and kick, the analogue sticks are used in combination with other buttons, making for a system that feels a little like Fight Night's Total Punch Control system, except a lot simpler. It certainly feels clumsy at first, but actually allows you to perform moves (grabs, throws, strangulations etc) that aren't usually seen in games of this type.
Action missions are generally a lot of fun, with the classic guns you acquire during the game, not to mention the more powerful special weapons you'll get hold of, being a joy to fire. The game actually feels far more alive during action sequences, with gunfire setting the screen alight. Enemy AI is adequate, but don't expect to come across tactical combat master minds, and while the camera causes a few problems now and again, particularly in stealth missions, it's never a huge issue.
Compared to the likes of Saints Row, the combat system holds up well, but THQ's effort wipes the floor with The Godfather when it comes to driving. Cars from the 1940s clearly weren't as diverse or as powerful as they are today, so creating genuinely thrilling chase sections was clearly always going to be a problem for the Godfather team. It's not that the end result isn't fun; it's just that it pales in comparison to a number of other free-roaming games.
Your car (and those of the police and enemies) seems to move at a considerably faster pace than the civilian traffic, even if you happen to have hijacked a clapped out truck, but the sense of danger and speed just isn't there. There's nothing wrong with the driving model and driving from location to location is never a hassle, but in the big action sequences there's just a tiny sense of disappointment. It can be forgiven due to the era the game is set, but speed junkies might want to bear this in mind before splashing the cash.
As with any good free-roaming gangster adventure, there's more to the game than just the main missions. Secondary missions, handed out by certain characters, are there to be completed and there's a business to run too, with rackets to be taken over, cuts to be brokered and police to bribe. Trying to get people to come over to your way of thinking is actually a neat little mini-game of sorts, with the noble art of violent persuasion being used to push people as far as they're willing to go before cracking. You won't find the diversity of side-missions and activities that you'll see in Saints Row, but there's always plenty to do other than working through the main story.
In yet another nod to the GTA games, you save your game in a safe house and pick up new missions by using the phone there. This causes the same problems as seen in Rockstar's games, with lengthy drives often required before you can save your progress. As you gain access to more safe houses this becomes less of a problem, but an instant save after completing a mission would have been good - and is something that Saints Row is all the better for including. Missions themselves do feature checkpoints, though, which is a nice touch, meaning that failure on stage three of a three-part mission won't result in a complete restart. You won't be too troubled by the game's difficulty, but the checkpoint system will come in handy on a number of occasions.
Saints Row and Just Cause have raised the visual bar that all free-roaming games must now reach, and The Godfather falls some way short. Despite the six-month gap between this Xbox 360 release and the current-gen versions of the game, little has been done to improve the visuals. Played on an HD TV there's no denying that it's a more attractive game than on older systems, but other than a few new effects (explosions do look rather great) and some enhanced textures, it's basically a high resolution PlayStation 2 game. A huge effort has gone into modelling the main characters, making them instantly recognisable to fans of the movie, but faces still aren't up to next-gen standards. The frame rate is also pretty disappointing, considering the Xbox 360 shouldn't really be struggling with the visuals on display. This is most noticeable during driving sections, but you'll experience stutters during most of the explosive set pieces.
Audio is uniformly excellent, with a fitting score and brilliant voice work by all the key actors, bar Al Pacino who didn't lend his voice to Michael Corleone. As with all video games, conversations seem a little stilted at times, with the natural flow of real-life dialogue not quite being present, but the whole package is still up there with the best. As long as you come to the game not expecting the usual selection of music EA includes in the majority of its titles, you'll have very little to complain about.
You might be wondering what's new to the Xbox 360 version, and sadly there's not much at all. The biggest addition is the ability to recruit crew members, who will follow you around, and fight alongside you in battles. You can even bribe cops to fight at your side, and these two additions make the biggest difference to how the game plays compared to the original. Other changes include tweaked or entirely new missions and rackets, new blackhand attacks, and the addition of Achievement points, but they don't do a whole lot to enhance the game, and certainly aren't enough to make the Xbox 360 version worthwhile for anyone who's played the game before.
Compared to the recently released Saints Row, The Godfather feels pretty dated. It just doesn't have the variety or presentation to match THQ's made for next-gen offering, with the driving being the biggest disappointment. A proper next-gen makeover would certainly have made it more appealing, but The Godfather is still a solid and often entertaining free-roaming action title. If you've been waiting to play the best version, this is it, but not by much.