Of all the games at EA's Winter Showcase in Guildford this week, there wasn't much that bruised any expectations. We always knew that a salvo of spin-offs and expansions would inflate the Spore franchise into something infinitely more disturbing and vulgar than a creature with bell-ends for eyes. And it comes as no surprise that Dragon Age is shaping up to be another fantastic BioWare story, and a game that'll bring a furious itching disease to the entire skin of anyone with a hint of ADHD.
The last thing I expected to leap from the pit of disappointing/exciting predictability was The Godfather II. The first game was, after all, a by-the-numbers cash-in that aimed directly at passable mediocrity, knowing that the title and imagery were iconic enough to carry it through.
But it grabbed my arrogant, dismissive assumptions and shot them in the thighs. Then it kicked them in the stomach until they said sorry, and agreed to pay a daily contribution to the family. Don't get me wrong; this isn't a game that will rewrite the course of your life and set aflame the infinite night skies. But after the mediocre drudge that made up the first game, The Godfather II looks so slick, and brings a bunch of interesting gameplay elements to the table.
If the first game relied unfairly on the title and imagery, then this game kicks away at them - well, as much as a game called The Godfather can. To Coppola purists, the titles will be as painful as the first episode of Enterprise was to Trek fans. It's genuinely more like the opening minutes of a Guy Ritchie movie, which on the list of "things to aspire to" has to rank alongside blood on your toilet paper. But it's the same reason they've dropped the movie's word "Part" from the title of the game.
They've learned a lesson - the closer you try to get to a movie as iconic as this one, the more painfully obvious the shortcomings will be. So they've gone the other way, letting you know that there's an emphasis on playfulness and cool quotes, not homage. You're playing a videogame mafia don, not some struggling mobster, for God's sake. You might as well enjoy yourself.
The film isn't completely thrown out with the bathwater, though. The basic premise is true to it; you've made it to the top of the family, and been trusted with the Corleone interests in New York. So it's off to Cuba - where Don Vito has brought the families together, putting their differences aside under the belief that an agreement with the Cuban government will bring enough money in to make the old rivalries unnecessary. Castro's revolution ruins that, but it's not all bad news - his revolution does act as an excellent tutorial for ducking, taking cover, swapping weapons, and that.
After this, the game then starts in earnest, where the object is to deal with the other families, by whittling their interests in the city down to zero. At that stage, their HQ will become open to attack, allowing you to wipe them out permanently. To help you do this is the strategic overview of the area, called the Godfather View. A 3D overview of the locations of mafia interest - strip clubs, chop shops, casinos and so on - are signified by big, friendly spinning icons.