Mafia II

Merely eight years after the original PC release of Mafia, 2K Czech (formally Illusion Softworks) brings fans the sequel to it’s third-person gritty action drama.  Mafia II takes you back into the old days during the mid 40’s and early 50’s in a little city called Empire Bay.  The city reflects real life areas such as San Francisco and New York, but what’s more important is how much you can do in the city, or lack thereof.  More on that in a little bit.

You play as Mr Vito Scaletta, a WWII vet who serves his country for a couple years, after only returning back to Empire Bay after being wounded during battle.  Early in the game you meet Vito’s best pal Joe Barbaro, a man who has been in and out of trouble his whole life and takes Vito down with him.  Without giving away plot details, Vito is left with the choice of going to jail or going to war.  But when he returns home, the only person waiting for him is Joe.

It's really beautiful in Empire Bay

Right away you feel good being in Empire Bay.  It’s the holidays and everything is just right.  Although after visiting your mother for the first time since release, you find out from your sister that your father owes the loan sharks a significant amount of cash.  Vito is forced right away to get back into the streets with Joe to make some quick money so his sister and mother can live in peace.  So Vito goes out and does the only thing he knows how to do.

Mafia II claims to be an open-world game, and while that may be technically true, it really is not.  The game is split up into chapters, which allows 2K to tell a strong narrative about the characters and the world in Empire Bay.  Mafia II takes you on a very linear path with very little side missions or extra things to do.  But before you get totally upset, it is a job well done by 2K in storytelling and character development.  Most of the storytelling is done by cut-scenes that are implemented incredibly well with top notch voice acting, while giving you the sense of watching a real film unfold.  Aside from watching your fair share of cut-scenes, you have to find a way to get around Empire Bay.  Cars are another big part of Mafia II.  There is a good amount of driving in this game as it is the only way to get from mission to mission.  Lucky for you though, the cars handle extremely well which is very important since it could of been game breaking if this was not the case.  Some people have claimed the driving to be tedious and even boring at times, and while I can see why it would be, I did not have that same feeling.  To me it was fun driving around while your character and others engage in different conversations, and even giving insight on your next mission.  The game will somewhat hold your hand through your entire stay in Empire Bay, giving you a very direct mini map and even displaying your next objective in the top left corner.  Everything from go meet Joe at a specific location to “go to bed” or “drive home.”

Not a good end to this guys day

While making them long drives at times, another element you have to look out for is the cops, who will try and pinch you for hit and runs, speeding, or whatever else they can get you for. Although they won’t pull you over for every little thing, you do have to watch your speedometer to make sure your not going to much over the speed limit.  One nice thing is with the press of the A button you can toggle off or on a speed limit meter that will automatically set the correct mph for the area in which you are in.  I assume 2K added the cops to be a nuisance to add a more realistic feel to the game, but sometimes feels unnecessary due to the poor execution.  Even if the cops are chasing your tail it is very easy to lose them with only a few quick sharp turns down random streets.  You can also buy your way out of a ticket if you decide to bribe the cop.  Because what would a mobster be without having some cops on his side, right?

Getting up close and personal

The controls in Mafia II are very welcoming and take a little bit from other games. From time to time Vito will handle his problems with hand to hand combat.  At first when you engage in these mono vs mono fist fights, it looks silly.  But oddly enough it works pretty well.  Their is a particular chapter in the game that will really test out your love or hatred for the fighting controls.  You will know exactly what I’m talking about when you get to that part.  I was also very pleased with the cover mechanic that allows you to lock in behind almost any crate, pillared, or anything else you can find to take cover from gunfire. You can also scale from different sides of whatever your behind by just pressing X.  It does take a little getting use to, but really comes in handy if enemies try and flank you, which is not uncommon from time to time.  You can hold a number of machine guns, pistols, shotguns and even molotov cocktails and grenades at any time.  What I did notice while playing with my surround sound blasting loudly, is the fact that each weapon has a very distinct sound to it and it’s easy to make out what kind of pistol, or any other weapon your firing when doing so.  It may not sound like a big deal, but it really makes a difference when your in a gun blazing shootout.  You can buy ammo and weapons from a couple different locations throughout the city, and can do so quite often.  Meaning money isn’t really an option later on in the game.  You will have a boat ton of money but not many places to spend it.  You can buy your occasional suits, car upgrades, weapons, but that’s really it.  Never will you have to buy property or anything else that will cost you more than a few bucks.  So don’t worry about saving up your cash for that special occasion, because that time will never come.

Mafia II does unfortunately come with some problems though.  While the graphics are most certainly above average, there are a quite a bit of texture pop ins.  It is most noticeable while driving at a high speed, everything from cars, bushes, people, you name it.  A problem we see very often in these types of games, but at this point in the consoles life it is still unacceptable.  Aside from that, without giving away spoilers, the last couple chapters of the game seemed rushed by 2K.  Whether it’s because they were running out of time in the development process or they thought this was the best path to take the game, it came off as lazy and unsatisfying.

All in all my time spent as a mobster was a lot of fun.  Like I mentioned before, there really isn’t a whole lot to do in Empire City which has really turned people off.  If your going into this game expecting a GTA clone in a mafia setting, then you will come away unhappy.  If your into such films as  The Godfather, and A Bronx Tale and want to get lost in a riveting mobster story, then I think you owe it to yourself to give Mafia II a shot.

But don’t think your going to prance your way around Empire City without taking your lumps kid, watch your back and when they open the books, you could find yourself becoming a made man.  They say this life is work? forgetaboutit.

This review was based on the Xbox 360 Version

[starreview tpl=46 size=’30’]

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