6th September 2010 - Gangster games have never really had a good run in the gaming world. Whenever someone tries, they always seem to be an under-par action game that rips stories from the best movies of the genre. So what’s so special about this, Mafia 2? Well it could be the fact that 2K Czech have put so much time and passion into the game that it screams PLAY ME!… Or it could be just be that there is nothing special about this game, that’s is just another one of those Mafia games. But I loved the original Mafia title, and simply had to give this an honest go. After being disappointed by the Godfather games and sick of most of the sandbox games I’ve played, I simply had to give this a shot at redeeming my faith in a genre once thought lost. And boy am I glad I did, as Mafia 2 certainly doesn’t disappoint. Read on to find out why…
Mafia 2 puts players in the shoes of Vito Scaletta, just an ordinary man who has taste for something more. The story centres around Vito and his lifelong friend Joe. It starts with Vito returning home from half a tour of duty during WWII, and with some help from his good friend and some shady acquaintances, Vito need not return. But what’s a man to do, right? He could get an ordinary job, an ordinary wage? No, Vito and Joe have to much ambition, too much self-worth. They quickly turn to a life of crime, and soon get mixed up with some rather important people in the American Mafia underworld. Before they know it, they’re treated like one of the mob… One of the Family. But who’s playing who in this dangerous underworld? And who can a man trust when things never seem to go his way? Its all part of the amazing storytelling that is used in Mafia 2, and from the believable and deep characters to the real feel of humanity within them, this is one game that hit’s the nail on the head when it comes to delivering a top quality story line.
And its good to see that with a good story, comes same-tier gameplay. And in Mafia 2, being an open world game means that everything has to on par with each other and deliver the same great experience. From the games driving - which feels great, and really has you feeling the weight and speed on the era cars - to the cover based action - which in a similar bid to the driving, feels and comes across as very authentic to the time, weapons and all - Mafia 2 delivers a whole gameplay experience that complements itself very well with the story. This game has you feeling and believing that you are really one of these high-profile criminals, with its supreme sense of authenticity and all round believability. I may sound like a broken record here, but this is what story telling is about; making the gamer believe he is really in this mans shoes; making him feel for the characters and care about them; this is what a game should be.
Pro Tip: I don’t want to ruin anything for you, but later in the game, does that fellow watering his garden look familiar at all? Keep a keen eye…
The game is set into 15 Chapters, each getting a little longer than the one before it. And as you get on, the missions get bigger, badder and full of surprise. Like in GTA IV, practically every mission see’s you driving form point A to point B, shoot some guys and drive somewhere else. I know a lot of people who hated GTA IV for this, so what’s to keep them hating this game? Well for one, the driving part of the game really doesn’t feel laboured like it did in GTA IV but it still becomes more of a chore and gets very repetitive, and another, more important factor; the action is a lot better in this game. The missions are all fairly linear though, and have you playing just as the developers wanted you to. In most games this would be a downfall, but as the game is a story driven adventure with action as a way to build characters up and create tension, its forgivable here. Its just a shame that during these missions checkpoints are few and far between, resulting in some frustrating moments of repetitiveness during some of the larger and more intense battles.
One bad things I found about the game though, is where, in every chapter, you’re told where to go and how to get there. The game doesn’t really give you any chance of freedom and exploration unless you simply don’t follow your missions objectives. And it’s a shame really, as Mafia 2’s Empire Bay is one of the most beautiful and detailed cities I’ve ever seen in a game. The whole game in fact is detailed, like the odd little factor of petrol that you need to keep your car running.
Visually, Mafia 2 looks the part as well as feels it for the gangster setting. Set during the 40’s and early 50’s, as the games story progress’s, so doesn’t the world. It changes as time does and essentially all the little things about the game change along with it. And while this may offer some slight difference in the feel of the earlier and later stages of the game, its certainly noticeable and subtly enjoyable to see. Going from a cold winter of snow in the 40’s to a wonderful spring in the 50’s is a big step and the way the game transitions this is every minor detail is wonderful, from the cars, clothes and even guns.
But its not just the detail of the graphics that amazes. It’s the quality of the overall product here, too. By this I mean the animation and textures is outstanding, truly deserving of this AAA title. However, despite the general animation looking and acting nicely, during the games many cutscenes and narrative bits, there is quite a bit of under-par rendering and animation, particularly in the smaller, more detailed animations. People hands barely move, textures go through one another, lips fail to look anything like what they’re saying and while it’s a common problem for games, given its right in your face at the parts its most important; it brings the experience down a little.
So far, I’ve talked about how good the story is, how good the gameplay is, how good the graphics are, but perhaps the most noticeable thing in Mafia 2 for the sake of the authenticity of the game is the sound. Like the rest, its nothing particularly special, but the way it works into the rest of the game is as great as anything else in this package. As you drive your many gorgeous cars around the city, tune into the radio to get a taste of the 40’s and 50’s style music that was as outgoing and trendy then as some of the crud on the radio these days. And while you’re at it, you may just notice a few certain changes to the period music as - like the environment around it - the time progresses through the story. This is complemented with a brilliant score reminiscent of The Godfather movie series and other such Mafia-based films. Its all just further proof that 2k Czech have really done their research and know their stuff when it comes to the Mafia.
Apart from music though, the sound department delivers some of the best voice acting I’ve ever heard in a game. Every character, both primary and secondary to the story, deliver their lines with such expertise and excellence you will often forget it’s a game during cutscenes and the like.
Pro Tip: Take some time to customise your favourite cars with number plates, colours and some performance upgrades (helps if the cops are on the hunt for your car, too!).
Mafia 2 is an open-world sandbox game, that at the same time as giving you all the freedom you could want, also happens to restrict it. To get the most out of your game, take time off from your missions, go on a shopping spree, rob some places and generally cause a bit of chaos. After all, what the point in playing a gangster game if you’re not going to act like one?
The story itself is of excellent quality, and while it rivals the best of the best for action and character study, its not the whole game. If you don’t explore a little and do as I advised, you’ll find yourself playing through it with the speed of any other game on the market, at around 8-10 hours of play. But like I said, take some time off for yourself and you’ll easily get another 5-6 hours of fun and enjoyment before you start to tire of the many different things you can experience in Empire Bay.
If you’re like me, and love to replay a game for its story when there’s not much else on your plate, Mafia 2 provides a decent level of replayability for this. But once you’ve had a good taste of life in the Bay, there isn’t must to keep you here apart from the story itself, so it’s a bit of a hit and miss for longevity.
Pro Tip: When inside the games many interiors, keep an eye out for the Playboy collectable magazines. They’re a bit hard to find and you only have one chance to get them most of the time, so check around!
The one word to sum up Mafia 2 would have to be stunning. Everything from the graphics, the story, the characters and even the gameplay are simply stunning. Its not pushing any boundaries in terms of what’s possible for a game, but it is perfectly displaying just how a game should be delivered; with a solid story and complementing gameplay and authenticity. Excuse the pun here, but this is an offer you can’t - or at least shouldn’t - refuse.
Oh, and did I mention the main collectables in the game are real period-esque Playboy foldouts? Better than Orbs if I don’t say so myself.
AAG SCORE: 9/10
+ Awesome story and narrative structure
+ Has the lot; good gameplay, graphics and sound
+ Empire Bay is one of the best in-game cities available
- Some pretty terrible checkpoint choices
- Animation is too often under worked and bland
- Sense of restricted freedom until late in the game
Reviewed and Written By John Elliott