Checking out Godfather II from the middle of the San Francisco Bay

Living the Don’s life — it’s quite the experience. You get the money, the power, and the women. EA and the Godfather team really wanted to drive that point home by inviting me out to probably one of the swankest events I’ve been to yet.

This past week, I was invited out to a yacht to see the upcoming Godfather II videogame. Poker tables were set up, booze was flowing, sexy-hot waitresses were walking around in skimpy outfits (video coming soon!), and much fun was had as we sailed the San Francisco Bay.

Oh, and we also got a first look at the game. Hit the jump to hear all about Godfather II, including the new RTS element called the Don’s View.

Before you get the power of the Don, you have to earn it. Or in this case, just have to be in the right place at the right time. The game starts off in the 1960s on the night of the Cuban Revolution, as Michael Corleone and the family are celebrating. As the revolution is happening, riots are breaking out all over Cuba, and the player needs to get Michael and Aldo (the main character from the last game, and your main boss at this point) to the airport to escape the country. Aldo dies along the way and Michael asks you to become a Don, which is an offer you can’t refuse.

After we’re told this back-story, we’re taken to the game itself to see how it’s looking. It’s five hours into the main game’s story and finds Dominick, the main character, in Florida. You’re a Don, and you get to decide who will join your family. Picking your crew won’t be enough as you’ll be need to upgrade everyone in your family to your liking. It’s up to you to decide what skills your crew will need to learn so they can become useful in any given situations. Skills will range from demolitions, arson, stealth, fence cutting, and more.

Every one of your crew-members will also have a personality and a back-story to them. One of the crew-members we saw has a history of never getting sent to jail. So, if this guy ever does get caught, he will immediately escape from prison. If anyone else is sent to jail, they’ll be gone for an entire in-game week.

Of course, it costs money to have a crew, so this is where the Don’s View comes into play. On top of the main story line, there are side-missions for you to complete. There are various illegal business such as money laundering, drug running operations, and other Mobster shenanigans. These are located in everyday businesses fronts like diners, nightclubs, porn studios, oil rigs and more. In a way, it’s kind of like the side-missions from Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories, where you have to take over the various illegal operations, except it seems nowhere near as annoying and boring.

At any time in the game, you can bring up the Don’s View, which is an overhead 3D map of the entire city. All of the current illegal operations are shown, like which family owns what, and how many guards are at these locations. You’ll see this all changing in real time, as all the families are after each other, and not just you. The ultimate goal is to take over every one of these businesses and kill all of the rival families. You’ll get a cut of the profits from every business you own, and if you have a monopoly of the businesses, you’ll get a bonus. Get all of the oil rigs that house the gun-running rackets and you’ll get the bonus of increased weapon clips, as well as a nice cash bonus. Your rival families won’t just sit around and watch you take everything, though. They will react, and can easily take back what was once theirs if you’re not careful. So as long as you can afford to do so, it will help to set up your guards at all your places.

As a Don, you can send out your crew to do missions so you won’t have to get your hands dirty all the time. If you feel like sending a bomb over to a rival business, just send three of your demolitions experts to blow the place up. Everything is happening all in real time so if you’re looking at the building you want exploded, you will see your crew actually enter the building to do their thing.

Another aspect of the game will be “favors”. In the demo we saw, Dominick enters a newly-acquired nightclub and asked three of his men to join him on a little visit to the District Attorney. One thing to note: the game will react to what time of day it is. Since Dominick entered the nightclub during the day, there isn’t much of a crowd in the place. Go back at night, and the place will be kicking with dancers and music.

Dominick and his crew make their way to the DA’s favorite hang out — the porn studio. After walking by some porn stars (whose breasts were in full view), Dominick and the DA start talking, and you’ll be able to choose how Dominick responds (positively or negatively). The DA asks you to smash up a diner so the DA’s people can plant evidence at the joint, in order to set up and frame someone. Dominick accepts, so long as the DA will put someone away for him in return.

After successfully smashing up the diner and taking it over for yourself to boot, you’ll have the ability to call in a favor from the DA whenever you need it. The favor won’t always go your way though, as in the demo we saw the DA was unable to take the guy off the streets that you had requested.

After this, we saw Dominick and his crew go to take over the oil rig mentioned earlier. He can smash right through the front gates, and take everyone head-on in a firefight, but most likely fail. Or, he can just go in through the back and launch a sneak attack. Each of your crew members have two to three special abilities, and you can choose what skill points they earn and how good they are at their skill.

The entire place was blocked by a fence, so Dominick needs a wire cutting expert to start making an entrance in the fence. While he’s doing that, Dominick will have to watch the cutters back, as he’s vulnerable while working it. After entering the place from the back entrance, Dominick spots a guy hanging out right next to a phone. Had he entered the place from the front, this guy would have called for back up and more people from the rival family would have joined the fight. Here, Dominick instructs his stealth expert to sneak up behind the guy and shank him. The wirecutter at this point could also cut power from the entire place, but instead, Dominick sends out his pyro expert to start a fire … at an oil rig. Several explosions rock the place, and anyone caught in its wake is instantly toasted.

There were still guards all over the place, so Dominick sends his crew one way while he  heads to higher ground. While the enemy is distracted with the crew below, Dominick can easily flank the enemy and take them out. There are various weapons at his disposal, such as snipers, Molotov cocktails, handguns, to name a few. Execution moves are also in the game, so you’ll be able to run up to a fallen enemy and stick your shotgun right into his mouth. You’ll also have special hand-to-hand moves such as being able to force business owner’s heads onto a flaming grill to convince him to give the place up to you.

Godfather II’s environments will span Cuba, Florida and New York, as you live the Don’s life and take over and take out everything and everyone. Many of the voice actors (that aren’t dead or too old) from the original movies will lend their voice talents to the game, including Robert Duvall.

The game was in pre-alpha when I saw it so the visuals were nothing special. It looks good, but there were a lot of rough edges here and there. The driving also looked a little clunky, but again, this was pre-alpha and there’s a lot of time to fix things up before the Godfather II’s February 2009 release.

Hamza Aziz