Review: Mafia II

AN OFFER YOU CAN’T REFUSE

Developer: 2K Czech
Genre: Action Adventure
Platform(s): PlayStation 3 & Xbox 360
Release Date: August 24, 2010
Compatability (PS3): 63MB Mininum Space | DUALSHOCK 3 Vibration Function | HD 480p / 720p
Compatability (Xbox 360): 36MB Mininum Space | HDTV 720p / 1080i / 1080p
Rating: 7.4

They say some of the best moments in gaming come from your first moments of freedom in open world games. Stepping out of Oblivion’s sewer, driving down Liberty City’s Broadway, emerging from Fallout 3’s vault are all memorable examples. The scale of the living, breathing world before you brings on a sense of awe and immersion, opening up thousands of choices of where to start. On your first steps into Mafia II’s Empire Bay – a fictional city strongly resembling 1940s New York – it’s a different story. You’re virtually pushed down an alley way with strict directions of where to go. Having obeyed your instructions and watched the cutscene for your first mission in the big city, you decide now is the time to get exploring. You open up your map, which you notice is puzzlingly small, and look around for icons indicating people to meet and jobs to do. Clothes shop, food shop, gun shop, gas station … and one mission marker. This is the way the map will stay throughout the entire game.

It seems very odd to me that Mafia II so strongly projects itself as a sandbox game when an open map is the only real sandbox feature that it holds. The game is in fact a fairly standard third-person action/adventure title, with the city as a mere backdrop for missions. The problem with this is that it strongly conflicts with our expectation of this kind of game; in an era where GTA rules the open-world genre, a crime shooter where there is no reward for exploration and nothing to do between missions seems quite weak. Nor have 2K done a fantastic job with creating that ‘living, breathing world’ that GTA IV did nearly two years ago. Cars and music fit the scene, but simple things like civilian AI (who will dive sideways when you drive past them at normal speed, or will just continue driving if you crush their car’s bonnet in a head-on collision as if they’d always wanted that ‘smashed-up’ look anyway) haven’t been fixed up nearly enough to be believable.

Welcome to Empire Bay, Vito.

Issues like these certainly highlight what the game doesn’t have and should have been, but what Mafia II does pull off in its 12-hour story will satisfy any fan of the mobster movie genre. References to the Godfather films, Goodfellas and the Sopranos are strewn throughout, and superb voice acting creates an authenticity to its genre that can be likened to Red Dead Redemption’s faithfulness to Spaghetti Westerns. Tommy guns, slick black cars, missions from the Don involving ‘whackin’ punks’ – you name it, it’s there. The plot will take you on a grand tour of 40s and 50s American society, from the depressing, drug-fuelled lows to the dizzying highs of living the gangster’s dream, and of course having to take out everybody in between.

Vito Scaletta is a refreshing character to play as, instead of a confusing John Marston or Niko Bellic promising themselves to go straight but in actions being all too willing to murder again, he’s a rebel growing up. He’s hedonistic, short-tempered often ham-fisted, but remains easy to sympathise with due to his messy background being constantly reminded of, and the love for his family being his sole motivation. With a script 400 pages long, and a collective 2 hours of cutscenes, Mafia II’s story is really its saving grace and while the empty city does make the player feel a little restricted, the next chapter in Vito’s life is always something to look forward to.

The story is intriguing. It's one of those aspects which will hold you on to Mafia II.

Unfortunately, after falling short of expectations in terms of freedom, Mafia II also has a number of small irritations that often make many sections appear to be horribly designed. Most notably were the checkpoints; I noticed in a few missions there were checkpoints separated by roughly ten minutes of straight combat. Considering how in some situations just a couple of bullets are enough to bring you down, many times I would clear out almost all of an area, before one remaining enemy pops up with a shotgun and takes me out on the spot, sending me right back to the start. Many of these checkpoints also start with small, real-time cutscenes, which unfortunately are often unskippable (in my opinion, a lesson developers should have learnt several generations back). I’m not the ‘raging’ type when it comes to gamers, but this was often enough for me to throw the controller in frustration. Visuals are also very hit-and-miss, as during play textures are smooth and animations look great, but the framerate seriously hits the fan during some cutscenes to an appalling extent. My last concern was a melee system which is used at many key moments in the story. 2K have done a good job animating this and making those finishing kicks satisfying, but I also never felt that I was never truly taught how to use the combo moves, which usually involved hitting ‘light punch’ and ‘heavy punch’ in quick succession, which seem to be triggered at fairly random times.

Mafia II does a lot of things right, and those who wanted a classic American gangster movie put into a video game have got what they wanted. However, players shouldn’t go into this expecting much more than a run-of-the-mill third person shooter with a particularly good plot, because that’s literally all you’ll be allowed to discover in Empire Bay.

Reviewed by failboatskipper – October 24, 2010

Graphics
Character animations and ragdoll can’t be faulted, and the draw distance in the city is impressive, but the game faces some noticeably bad framerate issues in cutscenes.
 
Sound
Voice acting is a definite highlight of the game, and radio tunes set the scene. The Tommy gun sound has clearly had a lot of work put into it, too.
 
Fun
When the pace of the missions picks up, combat is often a lot of fun, and twisting and turning of the plot keeps everything motivated. However, missions are literally the only thing to do in the game, and driving everywhere with no fast travel is a drag.
 
Final Score

 

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