2 of 3 people (67%) found this review helpful
Mafia II is an open-world adventure game that takes place in the '40s, '50s, and '60s, following the story of a World War II veteran who gets mixed up in the organized crime world of Empire Bay (New York City). Seeing the words "open-world crime adventure set in NYC" might lead one to expect a Grand Theft Auto clone, but a GTA clone it is not. Mafia II's focus is not so much on the freeness of its open world, so much as using the open world as the believable and immersive backdrop for its story.
Mafia II is organized into "chapters" - each starts when protagonist Vito Scaletta wakes up, and usually end when he goes to bed. Everything that happens in between is the ever-advancing story of Scaletta descending deeper and deeper into the proverbial rabbit hole of the New York mafia, encountering, befriending, and swearing loyalty to a number of characters - some trustworthy, and some not.
The game isn't like GTA where there is lots to do in between missions and the player isn't really actively encouraged to participate in the story; Mafia II's story continues right away at the start of each chapter. The end of most if not all chapters leave you riveted to your chair, eager to see what happens next - especially as the story progresses and Scaletta starts to find out just how deep the rabbit hole goes. There's also a great tie-in moment for those who played the original game to completion (and the original is great as well, if not a bit aged).
Shaking the cops off your tail after they witness you commiting a crime can sometimes be a real challenge, as the police will be looking out for not just your vehicle but also your character in the clothes he is wearing. Find a new car or get your license plate changed at a car shop to lose your car's wanted status - but unless you change your clothes, too, you run the risk of policemen spotting you in the driver's seat, starting the chase all over again.
For those interested in the early to mid 20th century culture, Mafia II is an excellent representation. From the radio stations and car styles to the interior decor of your home and random peoples' clothing, the three decades the game takes place in are presented wonderfully. Oldschool weapons like the classic Thompson submachine gun and the police-issue revolver are both a pleasure to see and a pleasure to use, as the combat, cover system, and potent feel of the guns are all very well-done. Watching your character in a fedora and trench coat in third-person gun down rival gangsters with all these classic weapons feels like nothing short of totally badass. There is also a complex and interesting fisticuffs combat system; at no point will you find the "press X a bunch of times to do flashy acrobatic combat moves" system employed by the Batman Arkham games.
My only complaint is that the DLC stories aren't nearly as well-done as the main one; you won't be missing much by skipping on them. I did actually enjoy the Jimmy's Vendetta DLC, the story of an escaped convict in his quest of revenge and his love of driving sports cars way too fast, but it's by no means an essential purchase. I also didn't get any of the clothing or vehicle DLCs and never really found a want for them as I played the main story. The base game is very capable of standing on its own two legs.
Overall, Mafia II is one of my favorite singleplayer games of all time. The story kept me glued to my seat, always having to play just one more chapter, and the gameplay itself is both challenging and a hell of a lot of fun. A+ recommend.
Side note: the game has a feature that allows the player to limit the car's top speed to the road speed limit, which is a godsend for not crashing into things when you don't want to crash into things. More games need this.