There seems to be a belief among some third party developers that in order to make a Wii game, it is essential to attach meaningless gestures to everything you do. The best example is Red Steel, which forces the player to drag and drop icons on the main menu or shake the remote several times to open a door (because the first time it didn’t respond properly). This leads to cranky reviewers dropping two, maybe even three points from their final score because they simply can’t be bothered with such annoyances.
Then you have a game like The Godfather: Blackhand Edition. None of its menus require Wii gestures. When you swing the remote to open a door, it actually works. Or you can just hit the A button and be done with it. A lot of folks have worried about the Wii receiving lackluster ports with tacked on Wii controls, but with The Godfather EA has found the sweet spot, providing us with an already good game and making it better with motion controls that are logical, responsive, and never unnecessary.
Movie license aside, this game manages to find a happy middle ground that the new sub genre of GTA-likes has been struggling to find. Hoping to keep players occupied with something more than wanton violence and faux-open ended gameplay, over the last few years developers have been trying to better integrate a competent story into all of the carnage. So far it has led to disaster. I couldn’t finish San Andreas because it felt like two hours of tutorials and exposition before you could really sink your teeth into the world.
Good thing he took out mob hit insurance.
In the other corner is a game called Mafia. Released a few years back, it put GTA into a 30’s mobster setting, then stripped away any sort of freedom in order to focus exclusively on missions and narrative. For this and other reasons (including bad usage of realism), the game was another kind of disaster.
The Godfather doesn’t have to worry much about story, considering it is based on one of the best films ever made. You play as a nameless goon in the Corleone family that works his way through the ranks during the course of the first film. The missions follow whatever shenanigans your character was up to during some of the bigger scenes in them movie. There isn’t much the writers had to do here (aside from ret-conning some of the story) , but since the material was already strong enough to begin with it works well. The missions become what Mafia tried and failed to be; they’re long and interesting, but you’re free to tackle them whenever you wish.
The Godfather is loaded with side missions, and aside from collecting secret film reels (the most blatant swipe from GTA in the game), none of it is arbitrary busy work. The entirety of NYC is peppered with businesses, hotels and warehouses controlled by the rival families, and it is up to you to take them over. To do so you will actually have to behave like a mobster, by threatening shopkeepers, bribing cops and racket owners, and strong arming the other families. Taking over the city piece by piece is both frighteningly addictive and far more involved than you might expect.
The first thing you’ll probably discover at the title screen are a series of “Mob Tactics” videos, and amazingly the game fulfills almost all of the depth these clips promise. The game is a healthy mix of violence, stealth and gunplay that is far more solid and fair than anything I expected. It never feels cheap, it never feels tedious, and somehow the AI never quite gets in the way.
Where the game truly shines however is in how it does something that GTA still can’t figure out; putting you in character. You never get the urge to kill innocents, and you’ll rarely run into anything guns blazing (though when you do, its usually something quite thrilling). The Godfather makes you feel like a wiseguy, to the point that it affects your play. You’re no longer a psychotic criminal; you’re a part of the family, with a job to do and people to look out for. The only time I busted a skull that wasn’t trying to kill me was when I found a crook assaulting an innocent woman. That’s a rare thing in this genre, and I think it makes quite the difference.
Brando was drunk during this scene, too.
The real cherry on top are the Wii controls. Most actions in the game are performed with the normal buttons on the Wiimote, and all are laid out logically enough. This is good, because I can imagine a lot of things they could have easily mapped to motion gestures that are better left alone. Where the “waggles” come into play are mostly in combat. As expected, you can aim your weapon using the remote, and it works so well that I question the issues people seem to be having with Wii shooters. More interesting are the special Blackhand controls, which let you use the controller to deliver punches, throws, combos and more. Its all so responsive and intuitive. It makes me look at the problems in Red Steel and wonder how the hell they found their way in that game.
Perhaps the most interesting use of the Wiimote are the executions. If you get a foe in the right spot, you can kill him in a variety of truly brutal ways, using a variety of special motions. The executions are not only satisfying, but challenging as you try to pull them off in the small window of time you are given. I’m not quite sure what is more disturbing – the fact that there are motion controls for garroting someone to death, or the fact that Game Revolution thinks this console is for children.
Kudos to EA, I guess. After seeing this and Madden, I’m starting to think that the Wii may cause a new wave of creativity in the company. The Godfather was a solid game before the Wii, but for once the console brings a port to another level of enjoyment. 22 hours of play, marathon sessions, and a room of six guys captivated by the on-screen antics, all without one thrust or swing that went awry. Instant recommendation for the GTA lovers out there.