Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Every time I think I'm in, they push me back out
My review of The Godfather II is up now at thephoenix.com. Let's just say that any game that has to live up to a movie like The Godfather Part II, and tries so desperately to play like Grand Theft Auto IV, is behind the 8-ball from the start.
What I found strange, not having played the first Godfather game, wasn't the big-picture stuff. The strategic level was pretty neat, and even the idea of storming rival fronts was a decent idea, if not exactly new and thrilling. No, the problem with this game was a constant failure to present the little details that matter so much in pulling a player into the game world.
For example, you can't just walk around with your gun out, because people panic. That's a decent idea. But then when you earn bulletproof vests for you and your crew, you can walk around wearing those. You're telling me nobody would find that suspicious? Worse still, the vests look silly, superimposed over the character models in an unnatural way.
There's also a way to communicate with NPCs that's similar to what happens in GTAIV, except this game takes place around 1960, so instead of your cell phone ringing, every single pay phone in the city rings when somebody wants to talk to you. I can't be the only person who struggles with these kinds of things.
It goes on and on. Sometimes you'll see a bunch of people hanging around with the same character models and outfits. If a game is really fun to play, these sorts of things can be forgivable. If it isn't, well, you get a game like this.
One more thing chapped my hide. Not that I want to keep comparing The Godfather II to Grand Theft Auto IV, but they asked for it. One of the best things about GTA was how many different ways there were to accomplish each objective. The designers may have had a particular method in mind, but a clever player could explore almost infinite options. Some of my fondest memories of that game involve improbable escapes, out windows or into the water. I don't think I was supposed to play it that way, but that's why it felt so empowering.
The Godfather constrains you by design. When you're tasked with killing a made man in a rival family, only one method of execution will kill him. Anything else will merely hospitalize him temporarily. If you're supposed to garrote a guy, say, but instead plug him in the face with a sniper rifle, he'll just be back the next day. I'm pretty sure that's stupid.