Mafia 2 Review
Despite it being deceptively linear, Mafia II is a great story-driven shooter that retains, for the most part, both the feel and quality of the original
Immersion is a funny and illusive thing in the video game world, and really has little to do with polish and production values. Some high-quality, big budget titles with great production values and polish simply aren’t immersive in the least, while other under-the-radar, minor titles developed by unknown teams are incredibly immersive. Mafia II, as a somewhat under-the-radar title, is a game that does immersion right, down to the very last detail. Mafia II does almost nothing to pull you out of the incredibly well crafted game world, and this serves to make the time you spend playing the game go by rather quickly, which has the effect of making your journey through Empire City feel rather short. When you are playing, each mission transitions so smoothly into the next that the game hardly gives you any good spots to stop playing, and it always feels jarring and unwelcome when you finally are forced to quit.
Really, they are just having a friendly chat
This quality of immersion is one of the many aspects of the original Mafia that made their way into the long-time-coming sequel. It’s a bit surprising that Mafia 1’s ruthless, uncompromising realism made its way into the sequel since many disliked the amount of driving done in the first game, but fans of the excellent original will be thankful that the core design of the game hasn’t changed all that much over the years. That’s not to say there haven’t been changes; the controls, health system and combat have all been modernized, along with the technology, but the core of the game, the parts that make Mafia II feel like a Mafia game, are still intact, which is great news if you are a fan of the original.
Seeing as how the story of the original game was wrapped up to a fantastic conclusion, it’s no surprise that the story of the sequel is all-new and almost completely unconnected, although the basic structure of the plot does share a number of similarities with the original game as well as many famous gangster movies like The Godfather, Goodfellas and Once Upon a Time in America. You play as Vito Scalletta, a Sicilian-born immigrant to the USA who, with the help of his lifelong friend Joe, gets exposed to the organized crime world of Empire City. Vito initially does work for the mob because he needs money after returning from Italy where he served in World War II, and eventually gains the favour of those working in the business of organize crime. The plot moves slowly at first, with lots of seemingly pointless missions, but eventually things really pick up and the story overall is great with some fantastic twists and turns. Overall the story is not nearly as well wrapped up in the end as the story of Tommy Angelo in the original game, and many of the characters in Mafia II feel somewhat one-dimensional in their purpose and personality. Still, it’s one of the better stories so far this year.
Icy roads and old cars make driving tricky and treacherous
One thing that is deceiving about Mafia II is the open world – or lack thereof. Even though when driving between missions you are allowed to explore Empire City, there is very little to do, and thanks to the GPS that shows the best route you will hardly deviate from the path set by the game. There are a few diversions in the form of shopping for clothes, weapons and car upgrades, but seeing as how all but the former are provided by the story missions, you will hardly need to take advantage of these features at all. This is no different from the original Mafia, where the open city only came into play when driving from one mission objective to another, but still it is important to realize that this is not a GTA clone; rather it is a linear game that takes place within an open city. There are some collectibles to look for, including authentic playboy magazines, but really they are minor diversions compared to what is seen in other open world games. Those looking for a game to just have some sandbox fun with should look elsewhere; Mafia II is in essence a linear, story driven game, albeit a very good one.
When playing Mafia II, much of your time is divided among driving, shooting, hand-to-hand fighting and stealth sections. All of these are done very well and combine to give the game very solid gameplay. Unfortunately the 4 staples of Mafia II’s gameplay are not received in equal measures which would probably improve the pacing of the game; rather much of your time will be spent driving, while the other three activities are only done in certain missions.
Even gangsters need to clean toilets
Luckily the driving is fantastic. You have the option to turn driving on ‘normal’ or ‘simulation,’ the former having the cars handle in more of an arcade style while the latter has the cars handling realistically. Everyone should put the driving on Simulation for the most part, since this mode of driving is done so well – the cars in the snowy 40’s are sluggish, slow to turn, and susceptible to slipping and sliding on the icy roads. When the clock moves forwards to the 50’s, the cars are faster, slicker and easier to handle. Since the cars are so much fun to drive, especially in simulation mode, the lengthy driving segments are rarely tiresome, especially when spruced up with car chases or urgent objectives like driving a body into the suburbs to bury it while your drunken friends roar with laughter in the back seat.
Also making the many driving segments more interesting is the ruthless and realistic police system – which is arguably the best in any open world game. The police are almost as unforgiving as they were in Mafia 1 – speeding, car-crashes and other seemingly minor offenses are punished with a ticket which you can choose to pay. More serious offenses like killing people will have the police wanting to arrest you, although you can still bribe them into your freedom. If you kill a cop, they will stop at nothing to find and kill you. If you steal a car, the police will take note of the license plate so that if you are seen again in the same car they will give chase – unless, of course, you change the license plate at a garage. If you are caught on foot committing a crime, you must change your clothes in order to escape the police.
Paying for tickets is often easier than running away
When it gets down to firefights, either with the police or in a mission, Mafia II has seen a number of significant changes and improvements since the original. There is a great cover system now, which is similar to what you would find in almost any modern third person shooter; your health regenerates, but each time you get shot it doesn’t regenerate quite as high. There is also a good deal of destructible cover, especially if you turn on Agea Phyx, which means you need to move around during fire fights. The gunplay is tight, and the enemy AI is pretty good, making each fight intense and highly enjoyable. I found myself being flanked on a number of occasions, and seeing as how you go down with a single shotgun blast, you need to stay on your toes. The guns sound and feel great, from the tinny rattle of the grease gun to the explosive boom of the pump-action shotgun. You have a much greater arsenal of weapons this time around, and they all feel different. This is probably the area that has seen the most change, and the most improvement, since the original game.
There is also now a full hand-to-hand fighting system, and while fairly simple, it is a lot of fun to use. There are only a few moves you can do, but they are complex enough that fighting is fun and engaging, and the brutal finishing moves are very satisfying to pull off. There are also a number of stealth segments where you can sneak up behind enemies, kill them silently and even drag and hide the bodies. While the fighting and stealth segments don’t make up a large amount of the gameplay, they are well implemented and add much needed variety to the games highly enjoyable and often memorable missions.
Vito will flinch and duck realistically when projectiles fly near
What really makes Mafia II fun to play, alongside the great gameplay mechanics, are the fun and varied missions. Each mission is different, and the objectives range from handing out cigarettes and cleaning toilets to doing undercover hits on high-ranking dons of opposing families. There are numerous memorable moments, and the missions never feel stale or out of place. It’s a shame the game isn’t longer than the 10-12 hours it is because it’s simply a lot of fun to play, and the way things stand you will be wanting more by the time the story comes to a rather abrupt, open end.
Complimenting these missions is a very strong visual presentation. There are a few minor visual inconsistencies, like scattered blurry textures and some ugly character models, but for the most part the game looks fantastic, especially given its open-world nature. Major characters are detailed and animate incredibly realistically; Vito will flinch and duck as bullets whiz past, and peer out from cover to see where the enemy is located. The cars also look excellent, and take damage realistically. If you want to take advantage of the games Physx support you will need a monster of a rig with at least 2 modern nVidia graphics cards. If you do have a rig capable of Physx you will be treated to realistically flowing fabric and destructible cover, but unless you have a monster of a computer it’s not worth the performance hit.
No, Vito is not giving this man a surprise hug
The soundtrack, both licensed and original, is also top notch. There are hundreds of period songs across three radio stations that change what they are playing as time goes by in the game. Many missions also feature original music, which is generally sombre, orchestral stuff that goes will with the mature mob content. The voice acting is also great, and the sound design is very good. Cars engines roar appropriately, and guns sound loud and powerful. All of this serves to further strengthen the immersion.
In the end Mafia II may have too slow a pace and too many cutscenes to cater to those after a pure shooter experience, but as a story driven mob game, Mafia II excels in most areas. The story and characters may not be quite as well realized as they were in the original game, but this should not stop fans of the series from buying and loving this great sequel.