It really does feel a bit like a board game. Like Risk, you can dispatch a number of your family to an area, and let the battle auto-resolve with a dice-roll. Like Monopoly, owning a set of properties gives you a bonus. Own the set of chop shops, and you'll earn armoured cars. Other sets (don't try to work out the logic, there is none) will give you brass knuckles to boost your melee, or bulletproof vests. Unlike the first game, the other families are proactive about retaking their areas, and invading your turf. They're aware of the bonuses at stake, and able to take advantage of them. They'll also attack each other, a situation you can exploit.
Attending a mission yourself will take more time, but you'd be missing out on a weighty chunk of the gameplay if you didn't bother. Besides, it's more lucrative, and missions are much more likely to succeed with your leadership. But there's more than one man can handle on his own, so before you dispatch men to a mission, your advisor will let you know if they're likely to succeed. If his predictions of success turn out to be wrong, and your men look like they're losing a battle, you can drive to the location and help them out. That is, assuming you're not busy roughing up a strip-club owner.
The strategy-lite and board-game aspects are emphasised further by the game's classes, and its own mini-version of levelling up. Your first decision is whether to make an arsonist or a medic a made man. Each has their uses, but are limited by their basic experience. There are four levels for each mobster, and you'll meet better people as you travel along the storyline. You've only got room for eight people in your personal hierarchy, and if you want to get rid, you'll have to mark someone for death. Or, if you've become attached to the murderous wiseguys, you can level them up by playing them in a multiplayer game. The experience they pick up there is taken back into the single-player. It's a bit of a dirty trick for people who don't like multiplayer, and it's always annoying to be told how to play a game, but there're ways to get the same effect without playing other people, so it's not a complaint worth feeding anyone to the fish over.
The intimidation mechanics of the first game are still intact. Point your gun at a casino owner's head, throw him around, kneecap him, punch him - there's one technique for each person that'll prompt him to freak out and pay you extra protection money, but if you push him too far looking for that bonus, he'll freak out double hard, and start fighting back. Murder is not the desired outcome, so keep your torturous instincts in check. This aspect is very similar to the first game, but slightly less reliant on the novelty thumb-stick action - or the wild flailing mouse movements that caused so many PC owners to sweep everything onto the floor.
The more I talk about The Godfather II, the more I feel stupid for being so impressed by it. Nothing about the game screams classic, but it's competent, slick and ever so slightly original, and that's the last thing anyone expected. Perhaps it's back to those lazy assumptions of the first paragraph. It's uncommon to be pleasantly surprised by a game - especially a movie tie-in - even with EA's recent and hater-frustrating bursts of excellence. Perhaps the initial outrage that the first game was ever commissioned and made has left me immune to that righteous indignation.
It's pretty much accepted that the second Godfather movie is an improvement on the first. And for a game that's spat out so much of its source material, it's pretty cool that that's one of the few things they've run with. So it's only the DRM that can mess it up, now.
The Godfather II is due out for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC on 27th February.