The game is notable in that it features the return of several original actors from the original film to lend their voice. The participating actors are James Caan as Sonny Corleone, Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen, John Martino as Paulie Gatto, and Abe Vigoda as Salvatore Tessio, with the most notable absences being Marlon Brando because of his ill health and his later death, the audio producers found that the quality of the recordings were not good enough and hired an imitator (although at one point in the game, players can hear the one piece of audio that Brando recorded), John Cazale due to his death in 1978, and Al Pacino, who instead worked on Scarface: The World is Yours. In addition, Mark Winegardner, author of the novel The Godfather Returns, provided story editing and insight into the fictional world of the Godfather. Electronic Arts announced in 2005 that players would create mobsters of their own, customizing their character's physical features, build and clothing in a very in-depth program known as "MobFace". Also, the game would not be the traditional mission-style type but a sandbox game, in a huge free-roam 1940s style New York City, and have non-linear gameplay (similar to games in the Grand Theft Auto franchise). Electronic Arts has also created the "Black Hand" control system as a means of pressuring and extorting business owners. Using the analog sticks on the game controller, players have a wide range of available methods to achieve their goals. These methods include punching, kicking, headbutting, strangling, etc. EA has released a separate version for the Nintendo Wii titled The Godfather: Blackhand Edition, which includes an enhanced "Black Hand" control system that makes use of the Wii's motion control capabilities. There is also a PlayStation 3 version (titled The Godfather: The Don's Edition) that includes the "Corleone Expansion Pack" (adding new gameplay and missions) and added Shipyard and Rail yard transportation hubs for the player to "explore and exploit". The company has revealed plans for follow-up games.
The game starts in 1936 with a cutscene that shows a death scene on the father of the main character (who, for the sake of reference, is called "Aldo" here, according to the default set name) and blowing up of his bakery by the Barzinis, the Corleones' rivals in New York City. In the aftermath, Don Vito Corleone comforts the child, telling him that when he is old enough and the time is right he will have vengeance. The story then fastforwards with the 1945 wedding scene in the opening of the film, wherein Aldo's mother asks Don Corleone to look after her son, who has been hanging with the wrong crowd. Luca Brasi is sent to recruit Aldo and teach him the ways of the Mafia. From this point forward, Aldo is taken under the Corleone Family's wing and works his way up in the organization. Essentially, there are two stories in the game that intertwine, the first involving the major events of the film (with the character making central contributions) and a personal story arc. In the former, Aldo witnesses Luca Brasi's murder, plants the gun for Michael Corleone to kill Sollozzo and the police captain McCluskey, helps Rocco put the horse head in Woltz's bed, guards Don Vito Corleone at the hospital, witnesses the death of Sonny, kills significant Corleone rivals during the baptism, and appears at the meeting of the five families. In the latter storyline, Aldo befriends and later kills Corleone associate "Monk" Malone, because he turns out to be a traitor, romances his sister Frances "Frankie" Malone and takes revenge for her death, and kills Don Barzini in revenge for killing his father, as well as assisting in the murder of the heads of the other three Families. After the story missions have been completed, the character becomes an underboss. After he takes out the rival families' compounds he becomes the Don of the family. Alongside the story missions, the player continues to participate in the business of taking over control of New York from the rival families. This includes extorting businesses and buying out rackets, seizing control of warehouses, performing contract hits, and fighting mob wars when the vendetta level between the Corleones and a rival family gets high enough. Completion of a series of prerequisites to reach 95.1% enables Aldo to become Don of New York in 1955.
Gameplay consists of undertaking and completing eighteen story missions while in the meantime performing various tasks such as taking over rival family holdings and carrying out contract hits. The missions are linear and follow the storyline of the first film, starting out with the player's recruitment by Luca Brasi after Connie Corleone's wedding and ending with the baptism of Michael Corleone's godchild during which the player plays an instrumental role in carrying out the killings of the rival family members. Similarly, the player also must contend with attacks from rival family members that increase in aggressiveness with the player's vendetta level, which is raised as the player attacks rival gang members and their businesses. Players can increase their character's experience points, represented in the game by a "Respect" level. This level is increased as the player finishes missions or side quests or after interacting with certain non-playable characters. Increasing respect levels allow the player to increase attributes such as health and speed, while skills include fighting, shooting and street smarts. A central part of the game is gaining control of local businesses, illegal rackets, warehouses, compounds, and transportation hubs. Each family has a controlling interest in the game's locales of Little Italy, Brooklyn, Midtown, Hell's Kitchen, and New Jersey. The player accomplishes this by threatening business/racket owners. Racket owners can also be bought out. Each business controlled generates income for the Corleone family and the player's character. Pay outs vary depending on the effectiveness of the player's tactics and is made easier with higher "Street Smart" levels. Later releases of the game allow players to take over businesses by doing favors for business owners. The player's ultimate goal is making his way through the ranks and progressing up the ladder through various titles within the family from Outsider all the way to "Don of New York."
In the game there are five mafia families that have been adapted from the The Godfather. Each family is distinguished by its members wearing specific color coats as well as a shield bearing the family's first initial in its color with the exception of the Corleones, whose shield bears a rampant lion. Nicknamed The Five Families, these consist of: The Barzini Family - The Barzini family hails from Midtown, the richest community in New York City, making them the richest and most powerful family in New York City. Their family color is green. The Barzinis are headed by the main antagonist, Don Emilio Barzini, who rules with an iron fist, who ordered the murder of the main character's father, and is rumored to be in control of another New York Family. The Barzinis' consigliere is Domenica Mazza, and their underboss is Emillio Barzini Jr. Their three caporegimes are Pietro Testa, Giovanni Armanno and Big Bobby Toro.The Corleone Family - The once-powerful crime Family is based in central Manhattan, in Little Italy, and are troubled by increasingly daring raids by the Tattaglias based in Brooklyn. Little Italy has streets of moderately poor local shops run by well-established Families. Their family color is black. In the game the player meets many members of the Corleone Family, including Vito Corleone, Santino Corleone, Tom Hagen, Michael Corleone, Fredo Corleone, Salvatore Tessio, Peter Clemenza(Video Game Version), Paulie Gatto(Video Game Version), Rocco Lampone(Video Game Version), Al Neri, Willie Cicci, Jaggy Jovino, Jimmy DeNunzio, Luca Brasi(Video Game Version), and Marty "Monk" Malone. The Cuneo Family - The Cuneo family hails from Hell's Kitchen. The Cuneo family is not very rich, owning few rackets and businesses. Their family color is red. Don Carmine Cuneo heads the Cuneo Family. They are ruthless killers, always appearing in large groups largely due to the environment of Hell's Kitchen, which is run down and filled with poor communities. According to certain Corleone associates, Cuneos' are trustworthy unless you mess with their business. The Cuneos' consigliere is Luciano Fabbri, and their Underboss is Marco Cuneo. Their three caporegimes are Ronnie Tosca, Michael Costa, and Mario DeBellis. The Stracci Family - The Stracci family is based in New Jersey. Don Victor Stracci(Video Game Version) heads the Stracci Family. During daytime the neighborhood looks quite peaceful, with fancy houses and well-groomed parks, but at night, it becomes much more dangerous. The Straccis are the most cruel and vicious family. Their family color is blue. The Straccis' consigliere is Jack Fontana, and their Underboss is Salvatore Stracci. Stracci caporegimes include Oscar Zavarelle and Leon Grossi. The Tattaglia Family - The Tattaglia family dominates Brooklyn, owning almost every business and racket on the Brooklyn waterfront. The Tattaglia family has a serious rivalry with the Corleone family because of their business expansion into Little Italy, the Corleone's turf. Their family color is tan. Don Philip Tattaglia heads the Tattaglia Family, and his son Bruno Tattaglia(Video Game Version) is next in line to become Don of the Tattaglia Family. Bruno has an alliance with Virgil Sollozzo. The Tattaglias' consigliere is Freddie Nobile, and their Underbosses are Bruno and Johnny Tattaglia. The Tattaglias' caporegimes are Tony Bianchi, Luigi Fusco and Donnie Marinelli. Under Bianchi are Soldiers Mikey Saleri and Squeegie McNeese. Under Marinelli are Soldiers Luigi Bonetti and Rocky Della Barca.