Review by Nicky Dubz

Reviewed: 08/31/10

Mafia II: A Missed Oppurtunity

2K Czech, formerly known as Illusion Softworks, has finally released the sequel to the 2002 cult classic, Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven. Mafia II takes place in the city of Empire Bay throughout the 1940s and into the early 1950s. The city is mainly modeled after New York and shares many of its landmarks. You play as Vito Scaletta, a Sicilian immigrant, and lead him through the game's 15 chapters. Vito begins the game by returning from World War II and inheriting his dad's debt of $2000. His close friend, Joe Barbaro, quickly gets him a job with a local crime family and the two embark on their mafia filled adventure.

Don't Consider This a Sandbox
You should probably know this by now, but Mafia II is NOT a sandbox game. The developers have clearly stated on many occasions that it is a very linear, story based game with an open world as a "backdrop" to enhance the story. I have a few problems with this. When you create a game with an open world people are automatically going to compare it to Grand Theft Auto and Read Dead Redemption. I'm not saying that people should, but they will and I can't really blame them in some ways. In my opinion, if the devs wanted this game to be linear, then they should have actually made it linear. For example, Mafia I had a large, open city for a setting but the missions were started from a mission select screen at the main menu. There was still plenty of driving for the experience of the city to "sink in" and Mafia II could have done the same thing. The devs took a leap here and honestly it backfired. I can't simply ignore the fact that there is a big, open world in the game with absolutely nothing to do in it besides the story.

On the Short Side
I could possibly accept the fact that there was nothing to do in Empire Bay if Mafia II was either A) a long game or B) had significant replay value. Unfortunately it lacks either of these. The game takes anywhere from 9-12 hours depending on how quickly you pace yourself and if you spend any time driving around the city. I simply think that it too short. A single player only game with no replay value should be 15+ hours. Assassin's Creed 2 to me didn't have particularly great replay value but took more than 20 hours to beat, double the 10.5 it took me to beat Mafia 2. Games cost close to $65 with sales tax in my home state of New Jersey and I can't justify spending that on a game that's barely takes double digit hours to fully complete.

Too Much Driving, Not Enough Shooting
Mafia II's gameplay suffers from a few major and minor faults. To start off, there is simply way too much driving. For example: On a 10 minute mission, you could easily drive for 3 minutes, watch 3 minutes of cut-scenes, and only actually have exciting gameplay for the remaining 4 at best. The word exciting may also be a bad word choice because some of the gameplay isn't entertaining at all. I feel like sometimes the developers thought that they were making a documentary about the mafia instead of a video game. One mission has Vito driving around selling cigarettes from the back of a truck for an unnecessary amount of time until the player is finally rewarded with a gunfight. Another has Vito race around town selling stolen stamps to gas stations. While these might be realistic scenarios for the mafia, I would prefer the game sacrifice some realism for a little more fun. When the player is rewarded with a gunfight they are actually quite enjoyable. Gun's feel powerful (in the case of the shotgun way too powerful) and the environment is completely destructible. Vito mostly fights with at least one other mafia companion and their comments generally add to the experience. The AI isn't spectacular, for example, the enemy doesn't usually advance but rather lets you come to them. Your allies will actually kill a nice amount of people if you were to sit back and let them do the work. A minor annoyance is that your enemies can blindfire but for some reason, Vito cannot. So basically the gunfights are entertaining enough, but there are just not enough of them.

Fist Fights and Stealth Sequences
Mafia features a large number of fist fights and a few stealth sequences that are simply missed opportunities. Fist fights are basically broken. Vito has 3 options in these fights: 1)A to Dodge 2)B to light punch 3)Y to heavy punch. My first instinct was that maybe you would have to time dodges with your opponent's punches or possibly you could dodge heavy punches but light ones were too quick to dodge. Wrong and wrong again. If you hold down A, Vito can literally never get hit, NEVER. Almost every enemy has the same basic fight pattern: punch, wait a few seconds, and punch again. In between these cycles you can easily get in a few punches and then rinse and repeat for an easy victory. Once I got the pattern down I never came close to losing or even getting hit for that matter. Stealth sequences also feel rather incomplete. They are a nice break in the usual pop-and-shoot gameplay but suffer from some bad glitches. For example, when an enemy is sitting down a weird sequence begins where Vito strangles air, then the guy gets up and appears to be strangled by a ghost before dropping to the ground.

I don't really care about this and I won't take points away from the game for it, but a lot of people seem to care about it so it's worth mentioning. You cannot shoot dead bodies, nor do bullet holes appear in your enemies. I also believe shell casings do not fall to the ground. To me these aren't a huge deal, but I saw a lot of people asking about these issues on the message boards so I thought I should touch on them.

Pointless Details???
There are several details in the game that I'm sure some people will say add to the game's realism, but to me they just seem unnecessary and pointless. The list includes: turning on/off the lights, turning on/off the faucet in sinks, turning/off the shower, flushing the toilet, opening the trunk of cars, going to gas stations(you never run out of gas), and opening the refrigerator. Honestly I care as much about these things as I do about shooting dead bodies, not at all. Eating food from the fridge is a nice touch at first thought as a way of replenishing your health, but your health regenerates almost completely so its not a big deal. The one detail I really did think was a cool addition was that if your car became damaged enough you could open the hood and take a few seconds to repair it. Other than that I think the devs time could have been better spent on more important things.

A Fantastic Cast and Script
To be blunt, Mafia II features some great voice acting and writing. The developers clearly put a lot of time into writing a creative, believable script. Pretty much everyone has great voice acting. Vito and Joe as main characters are impressive, as is the entire supporting cast. Considering Mafia II relies solely on its story, everything about it has to be great and the game really delivers in this aspect.

Graphics and Atmosphere
Empire Bay looks pretty sweet and so do the majority of the characters. It is a beautifully crafted city all around filled with people to help make it feel "alive". It is complemented by a nice variety of fantastic cars that are based off of actual models from the period. The cars handle like cars from the 40s and 50s and I loved that personally. For those who don't, you can change the driving system from realistic to arcade style. The combination of the cars, buildings, characters, and licensed music all really contribute to making you feel like you are actually in the 40s and 50s. The game does a great job of "sucking you in" and making you want to play on.

Closing Comments
Mafia II does a few things below average and a few things above average, but for the most part it is an average game. It's length and lack of replay value are both incredibly disappointing and really devalue the game. However, one could argue that it's fantastic script and acting make up for this to an extent. That essentially leaves us with Mafia II's average elements. It's shooting reminds me of Gears of War except Mafia II features no melee weapons/combat except for several mind- numbingly easy sequences. It's endless Point A to Point B driving grows tiresome as do some very boring missions that linger far too late into the game. As a huge fan of Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven, I'm upset to see so little improvements made with Mafia II. Essentially Mafia II boils down to a slightly above average game with a lot of missed potential. It is certainly worth your time as a rent to experience the story alone, but there is absolutely no reason to buy this game. While it might not seem like it from the review, I truly enjoyed the 10.5 hours I spent on it, but was glad that I only rented it. As one reviewer put it, "the game is greater than the sum of its parts." However, I was left wanting more, feeling like the game was almost incomplete and just full of missed opportunities.

7.5/10 - Good, but some serious flaws prevent it from being great

P.S. You do not have to play the original Mafia to understand the story of this game, as it is completely independent. However, there is one reference to the original that Mafia fans will certainly enjoy.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

Product Release: Mafia II (US, 08/24/10)

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