It was bound to happen eventually. Grand Theft Auto's success gave birth to so many imitators that it was just a matter of time before someone found a way to out-Rockstar Rockstar.
That's exactly what EA has accomplished with The Godfather II - it improves upon the 'crime boss' aspect of GTA and becomes the experience by which other crime games must be judged. It isn't the best open-world game out there but it does a sublime job of capturing what it feels like to be the head of a virtual crime family.
The Godfather II: La Familia
You'll take the role of Dominic, a thug-turned-Don who rises to prominence by defending the honour of the Corleone family and wiping out the forces that oppose it. It's a story that dovetails with the film of the same name, but it doesn't detract from the gameplay.
Much of the game revolves around takeovers: you drive to an enemy business in one of three massive environments (New York, Florida and Cuba), kill the opposing guards, rough up the owner and take control of the racket. The action is plenty satisfying on its own, with a lock-on aiming system that's simple to use without making things too easy.
Your assaults can be made considerably smoother by utilizing the special skills of the three-man crew you assemble; there are classes ranging from the Electrician, who can keep enemies from calling for back-up to the Bruiser who can knock down reinforced doors.
The Godfather II: It's Good To Be The King
As fun as these petty crimes are, the metagame surrounding them is just as engaging. When you control all of a certain type of criminal outfit - bordellos or chop shops, for instance - you'll get a big advantage in combat such as brass knuckles or bulletproof vests. Knowing that kind of bonus is just a couple of takeovers away makes it impossibly difficult to set the controller down for the night.
If I were to lodge one complaint against the game, it's that the environments could use an extra coating of graphical polish, but the slight lack of fidelity is more than made up for by the gameplay variety. I'm not ready to call this the king of open world games - that crown is still firmly ensconced on Nico Bellic's head - but when it comes to replicating the feeling of being an underworld kingpin, The Godfather II is the Don.