A life of crime
As you might expect, there's plenty to do in The Godfather in between missions if you fancy taking things at your own pace. While the 25 or so missions follow a resolutely linear path, the map's absolutely chock full of businesses to take over from rival families, not to mention banks to rob, rackets to take over, warehouses to seize and contact hits to perform.
The most obvious pre-mission filler, though, is to try and make sure all the businesses in your area are under your control and earn respect and extra cash in the process. In each of the five neighbourhoods there are dozens of small businesses to approach, from small bakers, through to nightclubs and hotels, but each can be brought under your control with a bit of bravado, strong words, and firepower. In the early stages, all you have to do is threaten them or punch them around a bit to get the business owner to crack, but soon it becomes apparent that most require getting rid of the 'heavies' that hang around the entrance first, or even inside if it's a bigger enterprise. Even then, some of the more stubborn entrepreneurs resist your offer of 'protection' until you've smashed their head against the till a few times; think of it as The Punisher but without the hideous gore. Just like Volition's rather vile game, you can go a little too far with your antics, to the point where they'll not only fight back, but refuse to negotiate. In this case, you have to keep a watchful eye on their health and level of submission - so long as you don't kill them and don't push them over the green line of resistance you can claim another extortion scalp. Fail, and you get nothing at all.
Successful extortions, though, open up the back door of certain establishments, allowing you to investigate and uncover hidden rackets which you can take over by simply gunning down everyone inside bar the guy responsible. With a swift bribe you get to add yet another chunk to your income, as well as even more respect.
A little respect goes a long way
And with respect comes skill points. Once you've earned enough respect points to take your character to the next level you then get to choose which stat to upgrade, including fighting, shooting, speed, street smart and health. Needless to say, the more you rank up, the easier it becomes to brawl, the more accurate your aim, the longer you can sprint, the more hits you can take, and the more trouble you can avoid from the cops.
Although the fuzz are a key part of The Godfather, they're not quite as irritating as the GTA lawmen, so running down pedestrians and stealing cars doesn't result in insane chases to quite the same extent. That doesn't mean they won't go after you if you decide to go on a Carmaggeddon-style rampage, but it's certainly apparent that they don't interfere quite so much during missions and the like; especially if you've bribed one of the officers beforehand…
When relationships between the families start to break down, though, there's every chance that a mob war will break out, leaving you with the option to either track down and bribe an FBI agent to take the heat off you, or bomb one of the family's warehouses. It's certainly a game of consequences.
During all this mayhem, successful missions, extortions, bank raids and the like gain you promotions through the ranks, with the overall plan to control the whole of New York City - no small task. Having romped through the relatively easy main missions already, it's by no means a GTA in terms of size (with around a quarter of the missions of, say, San Andreas, and no sub branches of the story to explore), but there's still plenty to do and much to see and enjoy.
Hey, good lookin'
From a technical standpoint, it's arguably one of the best looking of all the GTA-style games we've seen, with impressive character likenesses, fluid animation and hugely detailed cityscapes that appear to have a worrying litter problem (although no weather or day/night cycle, curiously). In terms of style, there's nothing quite like it, with an attention to detail that really captures the atmosphere of the movies, replete with bursts of period music to match. Rather like Illusion's flawed-but-interesting Mafia did back in 2002, there's a real charm to the environment, although EA has wisely chosen to make the cars easy to drive with no silly speeding penalties. If we were being picky, we'd admit the handling's completely unrealistic, and that cars would never have gone that fast or be that hard to damage, but then it'd be far less fun to play. The car types pretty much fall into basic fast/medium/slow categories, and despite the presence of various makes and models handling is similarly slidey on all of them. Certainly don’t expect GTA levels of vehicular variety from The Godfather, and before you ask, no, there aren't any motorbikes!
From a narrative perspective, the game's well-judged, with excellent voice acting throughout, and spot on likenesses that are among the best we've ever seen. Expect to see many of the main movie characters making appearances throughout, including the Corleones (Sonny, Michael, and Don Vito), the family consigliere Tom Hagen, and the supporting cast of Luca Brasi, Monk Malone and Paulie Gatto. As you'll have heard, all of the likenesses bar Al Pacino's Michael Corleone were used, while EA even managed to secure the voiceover talents of James Caan (for Sonny) Robert Duvall (for Tom Hagen), with the late great Marlon Brando adding his talents, albeit briefly for the lead role of the Don himself. If anything, the narrative side of the game feels underplayed, with so much potential there, and so much talent sourced.
Having said that, judging it now would be premature: we've cleared only what amounts to about the first third of the game (according to the in-game stats, at least), it suggests the best may be yet to come from The Godfather. We certainly can't hide our disappointment at how short the mission side of the game is, or how easy it feels to blitz through what ought to be the main part of any videogame of this type, but given that we've yet to experience much of the real meat, perhaps it's fair to reserve our final assessment for when the review rolls around in three weeks time.
The Godfather is released on Xbox and PS2 on March 24th from Electronic Arts. Tune into Eurogamer TV to see the game in action.