I believe in The Godfather.
I played the first game. When other reviewers gave it average-to-low scores for being derivative or disrespectful to the films, I did not protest. I spent hours running around a vintage New York City, dealing out mob violence to the other four families, building my empire and turning my character, Aldo, into the Don of all New York.
Yet, when I read Hamza’s hands-on report of The Godfather II, I can’t help but ask: what did I ever do to make you treat me so disrespectfully?
After all the work I put into Aldo’s career and life, you turn around and replace him with a brand new character, Dominic. And what’s more, your manner of replacing Aldo…well, it’s cold, even by mafia standards.
With Dominic replacing Aldo in Godfather II, it’s not just business anymore, EA: you’ve made it personal.
Hit the jump to see a mildly spoilerish clarification of what I’m talking about, a discussion of why it’s so problematic, and more mangled Godfather quotes.
If the pre-jump text was too cryptic, take a gander at this excerpt from Hamza’s preview:
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.
Aldo dies? Aldo, the Biggest Hardass In The History of The Planet, the guy who singlehandedly killed the heads of all the rival four families in a single day, the guy who took every last shop and bar and brothel and turned it over to the Corleones, gets killed in the first hour of the goddamn game?
As a rule, I’m not against killing the player, if it’s done well. Without naming names, at least one popular game in the last few years did so in a really brilliant way. Killing the player, or showing the player that you’re willing to kill his character, can be a great way of increasing tension and making the player feel as if they could be murdered by the dictates of the story at any minute. It can also, in many cases, give a simple sense of weight and finality to the end of a story.
Now, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised at EA’s decision to whack Aldo at the beginning of the game — if history has taught us anything, it’s that you can kill anyone — but it was still an unexpected disappointment.
After sinking at least twenty hours into the first game, and after modeling Aldo to fit my specific appearance (brown, hairy, skinny), I came to understandably identify with the guy. Not emotionally, perhaps, since Aldo is sort of a dick who puts loyalty to the family above loyalty to his friends, but simply in that I am Aldo, and Aldo is me. If nothing else, I find it hard to break this bond because he looks exactly goddamned like me.
I know EA is bigger than US Steel, but their surprisingly cold-blooded murder of…well, of me, is a real goddamn bummer. It’s too early to tell for sure, but I get the feeling that Aldo dies not for any thematic or narrative reasons, but simply so the developers can put the player “back to zero,” as it were. A lot of the fun of the first game came from slowly building your empire from nothing, until every storefront in the city was under your control, pumping a steady stream of cash to you. With Aldo as the de facto king of New York by the end of the first game, one can see how it might be difficult for the writers to put him in that same rags-to-riches position.
So, rather than changing up the core gameplay or coming up with a horrendously clever way of reducing Aldo’s riches to nothing, the developers simply kill him off and replace him with Dominic, who has nothing to his name and must earn all of Florida for himself. Why Aldo couldn’t just take over Floridian territory, I don’t quite understand — just because he’s the Don of every business in New York doesn’t mean he can’t expand his influence.
Even more disappointingly, there’s a lot you could do with Aldo from a narrative standpoint. The first Godfather film was about the Corleone family winning a gang war, and Michael’s slow descent into evil, which resulted from it. The second was (apart from the Vito sequences) about Michael falling to even greater depths of ruthlessness as he takes out his own brother. Though Aldo was a pretty damn underwritten character in the first game, it would have been nice to see him go through a similar character arc in the sequel: since we can’t play as Michael, we could see his descent into true, fratricidal evil paralleled in Aldo and the missions he agrees to. Instead, we may very well get the same essential story from the first game, retold with a new protagonist.
Then again, maybe I’m expecting too much narrative complexity from a series whose first entry included a mission where, during a car chase, Fredo Corleone shoots at gangsters while hanging out the window of an ambulance moving at 50 miles an hour.
Either way, I find it kind of a bummer that Aldo is dead. He was a douchebag, but he was a douchebag whom I put a lot of time and effort into, and he looked a hell of a lot like me. I will miss him.