The Godfather: Blackhand Edition

Man, there’s something really satisfying about hitting someone.

I don’t mean pushing an X button or right-clicking. I mean swinging in the air and connecting to the digitized enemy on screen.

In the world of action video games, nothing compares to it. Literally nothing.

The Godfather: The Game was a decent game on the PS2, and the various other incarnations on PS3, PSP, Xbox, 360 and PC all bring various elements to the table, but only with the Wii can the glory of a mob hit be truly appreciated.

Compared to its high-model relatives, The Godfather: Blackhand Edition isn’t pretty to look at. The graphics have been toned down, several map areas feel blank or needlessly empty, some walls in back alleys or tunnels are just a solid gray, and graphical or audio glitches are not uncommon -– still, the guiltless pleasure of beating the snot out of reporters, couriers, rival soldiers and crooked cops more than makes up for it.

In the game, players take on the role of Aldo, a poor schmuck from the wrong side of New York. You, as Aldo, can rise from mob outsider to don of all New York by the game’s end, but the joy for mafia and film aficionados is living in the world of The Godfather.

And the feel of the films is there. Even if some scenes have been altered, playing Blackhand puts players in the midst of the cinematic action –- it’s a shame that director Francis Ford Coppola and star Al Pacino refused to take part in the game. Even without their blessing, however, Robert Duvall, James Caan, Abe Vigoda and even the late Marlon Brando came together to bring Mario Puzo’s classic to interactive life. Likenesses of all approved actors are authentic and the new actors, like Joseph May as Michael Corleone, are given appropriate appearances in the game.

Even without full cooperation of the film’s creators, and even with the now-clichéd Italian mafia stereotypes and rehashed mobster plots, the storyline does an amazing job of drawing the player into the emotion of the game. Death scenes carry resonance, immoral cruelty can be painful to watch and corruption is shown for the ugly side of humanity that it is.

The variety of the world helps in this immersion. It would be simple enough to make the entire game look like a generic reproduction of 1930s New York, but by including the various boroughs and Jersey, and distinguishing each with slums, upscale shopping districts, neighborhoods, criminal-infested rooftops, dank sewers and busy street markets, EA has created a satisfying experience.

Unlike the similarly-themed Mafia, Blackhand does not suffer from slow load times or tickets for minor traffic violations. On the contrary, players can travel the entire world of New York, walk in and out of buildings and only wait for loading during one of the story’s film clips. Likewise, everyone in the city can be dealt with, whether that means making idle chat with a pedestrian, bribing a cop, destroying a reporter’s camera, taking a courier’s briefcase or flirting with a prostitute. Each decision has a direct bearing on what happens next. Bribed cops will fight mob battles for you, brow-beat reporters will lower the amount of heat you get and prostitutes, although they won’t sleep with you in the game, will offer missions that make your life of crime easier.

Like Mafia, an attempt is made to create an authentic feel for old-time mob settings. Vintage cars and traffic might be more realistic in Mafia, but Blackhand offers a decent range of vehicles and vehicle-based missions.

The Wii, for its part, still does not have a true killer app. The Xbox had Halo, the game everyone wanted to play because it took full advantage of what the system had to offer, but the Wii has yet to really reach its full potential. Rayman is fun and all, but it won’t sell console units by itself. Zelda certainly sells systems, but the game is still, at its core, tied to the older-generation system that birthed it.

Blackhand, then, isn’t the much desired killer app either, but it does show off the potential of the Wii for games that don’t involve running in place, miming sports moves or racing.

The game is held back only by its source material. Being constrained by the story of the Godfather movies (and, by extension, the books), Blackhand can only be what the rules of that world define it as. Of course, being the fourth or fifth iteration of the game helps, as many of the previous kinks or problems have atthis point been fixed. Also working against it is the fac that it also fails to fully utilize the graphical capabilities of the Wii, something few developers have attempted. There are also things suggested by the game itself that would be fun to try if they could be acted upon -– racketeers thank you for not lowballing them but there is no barter system and hookers promise to see you later, but later never comes.

Then there’s the obvious fact that the game is little more than a nice variation on the tried and true format of the Grand Theft Auto series. Granted, it’s a pretty fun GTA clone, but a game can’t make waves on its own by following in someone else’s wake. Of course, this begs the question: Why isn’t Grand Theft Auto on the Wii yet? The controls could be so intuitive and so potentially fun that the system begs for more action-brawlers like GTA.

Most importantly, there is no multiplayer. As fun as playing with yourself can be, the Wii, like other Nintendo systems before it, was made for multiplayer action. Not every game needs this feature, but to be a must-have game that every Wii owner should buy, it is necessary.

Blackhand is a great game, though, and for this fledgling system, it’s a much needed action-shooter. It’s not perfect, but if you plan to play any Godfather game, make it this one.

RATING 8 / 10
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