Mafia II Review: Old School GangstasAugust 30th, 2010
Right out of the gate “Mafia II” starts hitting you with surprises. The game opens with you in Italy during World War II fighting for the United States. While that may seem a bit removed from the overall concept of a “mafia” game, it’s woven quite well into the story, and introduces you to the game’s main character, Vito Scaletta. This opening chapter of the game is indicative of what players can expect as they work their way through the title; action, surprises, unexpected locations, and an interesting narrative.
Starting out as veteran on leave during WWII, Vito heads back to the old neighborhood, Little Italy, in Empire City (it’s a lot like New York, just not), to see his mother and his sister. Upon his return his best friend Joe helps him get out of having to serve this rest of his time overseas (which was originally court-ordered for a crime Vito committed when he was younger) and the two old pals go back into business with each other. Throughout the game you’ll have missions that usually span the course of a day as an underling for mob just trying to make an “honest” buck and work your way into the good graces of “the family.” These missions don’t stray too far from reality, but that’s reality for the 1950’s mafia, so they also don’t go light on the action either. There are gun battles, car chases, run-ins with the cops, guys that have to be whacked, bodies that need to be disposed of, and a handful of other activities that you may, or may not, expect to find in a game like this.
The first thing you notice in “Mafia II” is that it’s extremely pretty. Compared to some other large scale action games the graphics in “Mafia II” are extremely well done, encapsulating multiple locales, seasons, and even decades. The variety alone lends itself to the game’s cinematic style and story that spans a decade of Vito’s life.
Beyond the pleasant visuals is some familiar gameplay. If you’ve played any action game in the last few years (especially ones that involve driving) you should be able to jump right into the action in “Mafia II.” The one thing that makes this title stand out from the pack is that it has a much more firm grip on reality than a lot of the other titles in the genre: Your car isn’t going to go flying when you go over a small bump in the road. The cops aren’t going to come after you unless they see you commit a crime. The National Guard isn’t going to get called if you go on a rampage. While video games tend to be a great escape from reality, “Mafia II” manages to keep its gameplay much more real, even most of the missions don’t seem too outlandish to be believable.
Over the years, mafia movies have created expectations for the type of activities and personalities that certain groups of Italian-Americans may have been associated with at one time or another, and, like it or not, “Mafia II” follows suit. Whether or not it’s keeping with the stereotype, I’ll leave up to you, but “Mafia” does a great job of creating the game’s characters through the use of story and dialog. Vito quickly becomes a likable (almost sympathetic) and relatable character, Joe is portrayed as the standard sidekick, but he has some of the best lines I’ve ever heard in a video game, and most of their “associates” come to life by not falling into any of the common traps that video game characters often find themselves in. The combination of dialog, story, and realistic gameplay create a great experience for the player; something a lot of other games are missing.
For all the ups that come along with “Mafia II,” there are some downs, and the most noticeable one touches on the gameplay. For a game that’s created such a realistic experience, one of the downsides of that is the fact that in the 40s and 50s everyone had to drive everywhere, all the time. For every mission there comes a lot of driving, at the beginning, middle, and end. You spend a lot of time in your car, whether you like it or not. On the plus side, the game offers an amazing era-centric soundtrack from artists that don’t typically make their way into video games (Buddy Holly, Django Reinhardt, and Chuck Berry, and many more) so the experience offers at least a little entertainment.
One of the other drawbacks of “Mafia II” is that it comes across as an open world game, and it’s really not. If you’re planning on jumping into the game and wreaking havoc like you did in “GTA” you’re going to be sadly disappointed. While there are opportunities to run around Empire City, there isn’t a whole lot to do aside from steal cars, grab a burger or buy a new shirt. 2K Czech did an amazing job creating a living city, complete with landmarks, parks, and nearly everything you would expect in a major city in the 1950s, but it goes fairly underutilized, and the player only really experiences most of it while driving from point A to point B. Hopefully, it’s something that players will be able to take advantage of in the expansion packs, but, if not, it could go down in history as one of the great unexplored city of video games.
“Mafia II” can be a great game, depending on where your expectations are. If you are hoping for “GTA” set in the 50s, you’re not going to find it here. However, if you are looking for a short but sweet, mostly linear game, with the option of some free roaming, packed to the brim with classic guns and cars, “Mafia II” is the perfect game for you. While that might be a very targeted audience, it’s not impossible for a broader group to appreciate just what 2K Czech has done with this game: It’s beautiful, funny, mostly compelling, and set in a time period neglected by most video games. The story might not be perfect, but it’s not incomprehensible and convoluted like a lot of open world games. In short, “Mafia II” is worth your time, mostly because it won’t take up too much of it. Oh, and it has Playboys.
“Mafia II” was developed by 2K Czech and published by 2K Games for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC. The version of the game that was reviewed was for the PS3.