Let me start off this review by saying I am a sucker for a good crime drama. Games like this need to have a lot to keep me interested, as there is a certain level of expectation that I have for games that tell a story of the crime underworld. Mafia II, the second entry in a series started back on the last generation of consoles is, to an extent, one of the good ones. Overall, it gives me everything that I want in a crime/action game, but it just needed a little extra polish to make it really shine.
The story of Mafia II has no ties to the protagonist or city from the first game, and instead tells the story of Vito Scaletta, a young man who travels to America from Italy with his parents. However, after some trouble with the law, he decides to join the Army as an escape, and does a couple years of service during World War II. When he returns, he teams up with his best friend Joe to go into a life of crime and working for one of the three families in Empire Bay (a city loosely based on New York City). Things escalate from here, and I do not want to go into too much detail as the story is the main draw of the game.
I found myself so wrapped up in the characters and the drama that unfolds. The story does get a tad convoluted towards the final few chapters, but at the end easily catches you up and leaves you with a very complete story, with twists and turns and intrigue along the way. It may have a few too many clichés if you have watched a bunch of mobster movies, but it is a good ride.
The gameplay however is a little lackluster. It is your standard third person cover based shooter, with you popping out to knock off a few rounds into your enemies when the time is right. The cover system works well, with only a few hitches that I experienced, such as some items are not best used for cover, and the game doesn’t really have a good way of telling you what is good or bad, and you have to really find out for yourself. There are some few twists on the standard shooting formula, such as car chases, fist fights and driving across the city to do deliveries. The gameplay doesn’t get stale and nothing is really broken or not fun, it just doesn’t do too terribly much to outshine other games of this type.
The fist fights could use a little more depth, as you just have to simply block until your opponent is vulnerable, hit them with a copy and rinse and repeat. The car driving can get annoying, as the developers were going for an authentic feel and the handling is true to that nature. Cars get out of control for no reason, and turn corners slowly and many of them don’t have a good reaction time. I did find the more of the game you play, the more used to the handling you get, but it does take time, and can be very frustrating at the beginning. Overall though, the gameplay is good and competent, but again doesn’t do anything we haven’t seen before.
What the game does do right, aside from the story, is atmosphere. This is one of the most authentic games I have seen in a long time. I love the time frame that this game is set in (40s and early 50s), and it captures that perfectly. Complete with the aforementioned cars, the clothing, the weaponry, the music, the sound, even the radio announcer, all of it feel ripped from the timeframe. I found myself often mesmerized by some of the presentation aspects that are offered, it is simply mind-blowing.
I also feel the need to address a misconception I had originally with the game. During previews, I was under the impression that the game is open world. However, it is not. It is divided into chapters. The city is open to you during each chapter, but you are constantly being pushed forward in a linear fashion. At first this was kind of disappointing to me, but now after completing the game I found that it is very beneficial to the games design, as the story is the main draw of the game, and you can tell the developer was trying to show you that. However, there are quite a few collectables scattered around the city such as vintage Playboy magazines and wanted posters that require you to do a little exploring aside from missions.
In terms of presentation, the game is good looking, with a few blemishes on the surface. The city itself is very well done, with there being an abundance of interior and outside locations that you can roam around. The cars all look and sound authentic as I have said, with there being many varieties and types. The voice work is top notch, as it has to be to deliver a good story, and each character is unique and has a unique personality. The characters really have some depth to them, as you can be in favor of one person one minute, and hate them the next. There are some minor setbacks, as I ran across some frame rate drops as well as screen tearing and poor ragdoll physics. Overall though, the presentation is good, and is the cherry on top of a good game.
As a whole, I really enjoyed Mafia II, and I feel that it is the perfect game to start off the fall gaming season. It has an amazing story, and one that keeps you guessing until the end, and drives you to keep playing and know that happens to the likeable hero, Vito. The gameplay is fun and mixes it up at the right moments, giving it great pacing, and as a whole all of the parts come together for a solid experience. It may not be perfect, and there may be some technical aspects that aren’t up to par, but Mafia II is a game worthy of your time and attention.
Review copy provided by publisher.