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EA seem to have a dab hand at reversing Wii controls into their popular intellectual property. Madden, Tiger Woods and now The Godfather have all been adapted for Nintendo's tricky control double act of Wii-mote and Nun-chuck. The truth behind their relative success in comparison to other developers, is that they have done the legwork required the unusual controllers.
Faced with reworking The Godfather, they decided to take the high road and tackle the game as a whole, not just the controls. Thus the Blankhand Edition was born for the Wii and the Don Edition for the PS3. Two new versions for two new machines. Each version not only introduces a new control scheme but also opens up the content and freedom of the original.
Content-wise there are now 30 or so new missions, expanding on the original set by adding favour and blackmail focused tasks. These all serve to increase the sense of momentum to the main story of the game. This helps to make the whole journey feel like a real part of the filmic world from which the title draws its name.
Freedom-wise there's a greater choice of guns, cars and family tactics to bolster the already nicely open structure from the original. This is a master stroke from EA as it plays to one of the most addictive and successful features of the original game, that of taking over businesses. You can choose from an endless array of businesses to target , from each of the families with which you compete. Each one acquired brings not only increased income but also access to their back door activities.
If the original passed you by, The Godfather was EA's attempt to enter Grand Theft Auto territory. And enter they did, with a remarkably steady handed rendition that provided a densely populated world, detailed interiors and game play that often required more subtlety than a well aimed bullet. It also incorporated an exactly aiming system that meant when you did go for the shooter, it was a compelling and accurate experience. Where it fell short of GTA was the samey-ness of its environments. Although they all retain a strong sense of the films' era, they work against the player by both making it hard to navigate without the map, and lacklustre to the eye. It simply lacked the kooky unpredictability that made you want to turn every corner in Rockstar's game.
It's the kind of thing that was so magical about Wii-Sports, that made it such a distinct experience.
However, the real success of The Godfather was that it was two games in one. Firstly, the main missions lead you through the stories and set pieces that relate closely to the films. Secondly, taking over business in the city enable you to explore and enjoy the open game world. Whilst the first provided what people expected from the franchise, the second provided a longer lasting game experience.
Business acquisition turned out to be a surprisingly compelling experience, as you worked your way through the neighbourhood figuring out the tactics needed to persuade shop front owners that they need your protection. Progression in the neighbourhood is punctuated by the main missions and side-plots. However. long after you have finished the main story, you still have many reasons to carry on exploring and acquiring. Each business offers up scenes from the movies, dead enemies offer their firearms and dark alleyways offer more sought after weapons.
Now, as we have mentioned the Blackhand Edition takes all this expands it, tweaks it and serves it up with new Wii controls. Controls that continue EA's successful use of implementing them in their Wii games. Having already adopted the controls of another game for the original Godfather game, from James Bond Everything or Nothing, they were faced of creating a successful port of a port. But somehow they managed to pull it off. And the short answer is that they work very well. Call me a Jessie, but the degree of connection to the hoodlum action made me wince once or twice while battering, butting and kneecapping my way through the competition. This of course wears off with time, but does show how the Wii controls impact the game.
The implementation is confident and considered, without being gimmicky. Flick the Wii-mote and you throw a right handed jab, swing the Wii-mote horizontally and you throw a right hook. You can combine these with similar Nun-chuck motions to mix up a nice series of combos. Once you've grabbed your target by the collar you can shove them left or right by moving both the controllers, or ram them into a wall by probing both towards the screen. These basic controls are introduced through the various training missions, but things aren't limit to these few moves. As you continue to play with different combinations you soon start to notice other attacks, such as head buts and throws.
Shooting also benefits from the Wii's controls. Much like we have seen elsewhere in Zelda and Medal of Honor, the analogue feel of Wii-mote targeting provides much more accurate control than a gamepad's stick. It really does seem to hit that sweet point between gamepad and mouse, providing the freedom of movement and lounge play of a gamepad, with the accuracy and fine control of a mouse.
For me the real mark of the quality of the controls was that after 15 minutes or so I could simply forget I was using anything unusual, and just enjoy interacting with the on screen action. There are moments when you do become more aware of what you are doing, but in a way that is thoroughly connected to what you are doing. The visceral genius of grabbing a shop keeper by the collar and swinging both controllers left or right, letting go at just the right moment to sent them sprawling to the floor. You really feel like you have just thrown something across the room. Or when you are crouched behind some cover and you adjust your pop-shot down to take out a knee-cap rather than kill the guy you need to interrogate. It's the kind of thing that was so magical about Wii-Sports, that made it such a distinct experience. These moves in Blackhand make you want to show them off to your friends as much as any high end PS3 graphics do.
Blackhand is not without its shortcomings, switching target mid fire fight can be a frustrating experience. And as with most games of the genre, it excels in some areas (such as its control scheme and instantly accessible interiors), whilst falling short in others (such as its mundane look and feel). But the real test is whether the whole ensemble is fun to play, and keeps you coming back for more. On this count, Blackhand isn't perfect but it is a success.
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