Vito Scaletta has started to make a name for himself on the streets of Empire Bay as someone who can be trusted to get a job done. Together with his buddy Joe, he is working to prove himself to the Mafia, quickly escalating up the family ladder with crimes of larger reward, status and consequence…...
The sequel to Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven, Mafia II is a third-person action-adventure game in the veins of GTA with a mafia theme instead and more story-focused set pieces. You take the role of Vito Scaletta, an up-and-coming gangster trying to climb through the ranks of the Mafia crime families.
This is without saying that Mafia II’s strongest aspect is its narrative. Whilst the story does not bring anything vastly new to the table, in terms of Italian gangster flicks, the way it unfolds from start to finish feels like a well written screenplay of a movie. It may not win any Oscars, but it is worthy of a nomination at the Golden Globes. Or maybe it is worth no awards, but a thing is certain, it is (subjectively) damn good. The characters are mature, sometimes even funny, but most importantly believable thanks to the strong dialogues and a sturdy voice acting performance from virtually every actor, making it a fairly immersive experience. It simply nails how a mafia should look, sound and act like.
On a presentation level, Mafia II is exceptional. With some really impressive visuals which even after five years still look great, its setting and atmosphere are incredibly beautiful and authentic, respectively. You feel like you are living in the ‘40s-‘50s America; from the way people behave to chilling to its brilliant soundtrack featuring plenty of classic tunes played on the radio back then. Not only that, but the physics in this game are reasonably realistic and sometimes even enjoyable to watch, whether that is debris falling off the walls from your bullets or the way your enemies ragdoll.
Gameplay-wise, it is self-explanatory as it plays out like any recent GTA game in an open-world with only main differences being the time period and the focus on dealing with the mafia gangs. It does have some really nice little touches such as the police chasing you for actually going over the speed limit. Mafia II, at times, really tries to aim for realism. The handling of the cars in the game is mostly acceptable although the controls for some cars could have been tuned a bit more. Surprisingly, the cover system implemented is fluent and functional as almost every wall or object can be used as a cover and there is not a moment where you feel the mechanic is broken in some form or another. However, the introduction of regenerative health might not please everyone as most of the time, from my experience, it feels like a cheap way to storm your way through gun shootouts. But the gunplay is solid as each shot you fire has certain punch to it.
Sadly, Mafia II has some obvious and rather irritating design flaws which are mainly due to the direction the developers decided to approach. In fact, these flaws did have a detrimental effect on my overall enjoyment of the game. You see, the biggest misstep the game takes is featuring a highly restricted, yet impressively detailed, open-world which most of the times can also feel “empty”. Firstly, there are no side-quests to try out as you are limited to completing each chapter’s story mission (which is only one per chapter). They would have been a nice addition since they could have acted as a way to take a break from the main storyline. Next, there is basically not much else to do around town aside from using the only available shops which are the ones where you can buy cosmetic items such as clothes, acquire weapons and ammo from weapon vendors and garages to repair or mod your cars; and most of the times you do not even need them. Sure, you can go and rob the shops and get chased by the police, but that is as much fun as you can have from the game outside missions. Then you have the handful of scripted sequences where the game takes away your controls in the middle of whatever you are doing and have you waiting for each sequence to finish. In regards to this, there are moments in the story where the player is forced to do the most mundane activities which just are not fun - and off the top of my mind - like spending five minutes driving to a shop to buy new clothes in the middle of the mission only because you are told to do so. The lack of ways to complete the missions is also laughable since it is always a case of going from A to B in corridor-like patterns shooting your enemies or following your radar when driving your vehicle. All in all, Mafia II might be the most linear and restricted open-world game that I personally played to date, which honestly boggles my mind on why the developers even decided to feature an open-world if the game snatches most of your freedom. I do not even know if I should call it open-world as the only thing open about it is being able to drive around the whole map or shooting civilians when you are not in a story mission. Is it schizophrenic? In most aspects yes, as it appears to have an identity crisis on whether it wants to be a game or an interactive movie. Might as well watch the entire playthrough on YouTube since it plays out as a movie really well.
Other issues encountered are relatively minor, but I feel they are worth mentioning. For instance, the police AI can be silly at times as there are many occasions when they pathetically lose your track in their chase by simply increasing your vehicle’s acceleration, thus posing almost no challenge at all. The lower difficulties available are also extremely easy due to the regenerative health and the cover mechanics, making the experience less rewarding since all you have to do is taking cover to avoid any damage whatsoever. On the other hand, playing it on the hardest difficulty can be punishing at times since your health regeneration is slower and about three bullets can kill you. In a very story-driven game, you do not want to die frequently because it simply ruins the pace of the game. But more importantly, you do not want to die in a game featuring a shoddy checkpoint system. Mafia II’s checkpoint system can be poor at times as you can easily die, for whatever reason, closely to your next checkpoint (which you do not even know when and where it is) and forcing you to start all the way back from the last one saved which can be a bit farther back. Additionally, it would have been ideal if the enemy AI in general was more tactical in a way where they can rotate around their covers and make some sort of push in the battlefield as most of the times they just stand in the same position behind a cover, ultimately making themselves easy targets for the player who can swiftly move around covers. Lastly, the melee combat is pretty pointless. Once you learn the pattern of wait-dodge-punch, you can beat anyone without ever taking a hit.
Conclusively, Mafia II is a great interactive movie (masquerading as a game), but an average open-world game at best. However, its redeeming aspects are its strong narrative, authentic setting and atmosphere and the cast of interesting characters. Although I spent a lot more time discussing the negative aspects of the game that annoyed me, that is not to say I did not enjoy Mafia II for what it has to offer - just not fully. I only wish it were not so restricted in so many of its gameplay aspects. It is not a first person shooter, and even some of those have more freedom than Mafia II has. So it is a no brainer: if you are looking for a purely story-driven experience, Mafia II delivers it. Otherwise, whichever copy of GTA you own should still provide you with plenty of hours of mindless fun. I do give some credit to Mafia II for not being a complete carbon copy of GTA though. Realistically, I would have given this a neutral score, but instead I recommend it mainly because I got it for free, as many others did, so I do not have any of that buyer’s remorse.
It's not easy to make a story driven single player experience that drips with atmosphere, great setting, characters, voice actors & dialogue, but still has satisfying gameplay and content, but to say it's done justice here is an understatement.
This game gets almost everything perfect, believable characters, acting, story, satisfying gunplay, driving mechanics, good music selection and world design. (The world changes around you as time goes on, music, weaponry and cars evolve as the years pass by).
The game is near perfect, with its only flaw being a little too linear.