Developer: 2K Czech
Publisher: Take Two Interactive
I played the original Mafia when it was ported to the Xbox. I found the game to interesting, even enticing. But I also found that the game had flaws. I loved the time period, just after the turn of the century. I found the driving to be, well, quaint. Nothing makes you long for a car that can reach 30 MPH faster than playing a game where 20 MPH is considered fast. And the police were strict in that game. You couldn’t run (well, walk at those speeds) a red light without fear of being pulled over. I thought that was great for a while, and then it annoyed me. Either way I felt the game deserved to get a sequel to flesh things out a bit. And somebody else clearly agreed, so here we are. Mafia 2: This time it’s profitable.
Mafia 2 starts off with our young juvenile delinquent hero Vito Scaletta being busted for petty theft right around the time when the US Army is in need of Italian speaking soldiers to help guide their troops through around during the invasion of Sicily. He’s given a choice, armed service or hard time. He chooses the Army and winds up distinguishing himself in combat. After coming home to Empire Bay on medical leave he is convinced by his best friend Joe to hand in fake papers stating he is unfit for combat due to wounds suffered, and his path towards the dark side of the law is begun again. Joe has been spending the war years making a name for himself in the Empire Bay underworld. When he is joined by Vito the two are seemingly unstoppable, and they begin a meteoric rise through the ranks. But of course what goes up must come down.
The story is familiar at the very least to those who follow Mob movies. Someone will be a rat, something will go wrong, something will explode, and in the end the good guys will win. But who are the good guys? The Feds? The Family? I’ll leave that for you to discover.
I’ll talk more about this later in the review, but for now I’ll say this: the game is in a lot of ways an open world game similar to Grand Theft Auto and the first Mafia. The city of Empire Bay is vast and mapped out in full. It looks great. And unlike the GTA games, the seasons change. It was a nice change of pace as a northerner to see the city covered in snow (though it is as close to snow as I want to be for a long time, long live summer!) for the first part of the game, and then in a new chapter seeing the place in full bloom, with trees in full foliage and such. The pedestrians are great too, in that they have season appropriate clothing on the whole time. You will even see people slipping on the ice.
Much of the game is taken up driving from here to there. Again I’ll talk about that later, but for now, because so much of the game is in motion I found the cars looked quite good. They all seem to be modeled on famous cars of the times, and as you span the 40s and 50s, you will run into many American classics, like the Ford Thunderbird, Chevy Corvette and various others.
The character models for the main story characters are outstanding. They are still clearly videogame characters, you won’t mistake them for people in real life, but each is modeled with care and built to look great considering what they have to work with. Gone are the days of characters only having stumps for hands (unless of course, this being a Mob game, they are MEANT to have stumps for hands). Yet while the main characters are all created with care, the same can’t really be said of the population at large. Well, that’s not fair, they are created with attention to detail. They are just then carted off to the cloning facility and then sprinkled all over town.
There is nothing I can say about the sound in Mafia 2 which would sound even remotely like criticism. The voice acting is stellar, the music is perfectly chosen and the sound effects are excellent at worst. The music is the actual stuff you might have heard in the 40s and 50s, the Disc Jockeys and news announcers are spot on their delivery, and for a game with so many cars, they all roar when you turn them loose. What else do you want?
OK one minor quibble, though I didn’t have as big a problem as others seem to have had. Nolan North lends his voice talents to another game, and you can actually have (thanks to that cloning I mentioned before) Nolan North talk to Nolan North. This was discovered in the demo, but really I don’t care, it’s not like he’s every other character.
Mafia 2, at first glance, would appear to be an open world sand box game in the vein of a Grand Theft Auto or indeed even the first Mafia. There is a huge open city sitting there waiting for you to corrupt and pillage. One of your first missions on coming back from the war has you set out to steal ration stamps from a federal building. You’re given your mission and then allowed to go about it any way you choose. You can kill everyone you see or be sneaky and don’t have anyone even notice you were there until the next morning. You then take back the stolen loot to the gentleman who got you to do the job, and he discovers the stamps are set to expire the next day. You are forced to race around town to sell your stolen stamps to local gas stations before midnight. Again how you do it is up to you, but they have to get sold before the timer expires.
None of what I just described would feel out of place at all in GTA. However at the end of that mission in GTA you’d go home and save your game, wake up and go out to explore the town again, or maybe go back to your contact to open up more missions. Here in Mafia 2 however, once you complete the mission the chapter ends and the game moves forward in time to the next day, or to the next month, or even to the next decade. Some missions end once you talk to your boss, others end when you go home and go to sleep. Either way, you seldom get the chance to drive around town and cause havoc, unless you are completely ignoring the mission you are supposed to be doing.
Much of the game requires you to be driving from one location to another, usually across town, and usually in a hurry. The on screen display has all of the expected helpers, including a map with GPS, your weapon and how much ammo you have left, and a health gauge which slowly refills to a point, much like in the recent Just Cause 2. The cars feel a little light to drive, considering how much steel would have been sitting on those wheels, but they still crash with a solid thump, and you can break your neck and die if you crash too hard. The map even improves a little on the standard GTA model by highlighting police cars and those on foot. This, when combined with a form of cruise control which lets you ensure you are driving at the speed limit, enables you to avoid nasty car chases or expensive speeding fines.
If your car takes too much damage it will break down, but in a carry over from the first game you can get out and pop the hood (presuming it didn’t fly off at some point from your horrible driving) to get the engine running again. One thing that didn’t carry over from the first game is the police giving a damn about you running red lights. If you are in the car with anyone else they will notice it and mention it, but the cops don’t seem to care anymore. I think they figured it was just too much of a hassle for the gamer based on how much driving is involved in the game, so I can’t fault them for doing away with that particular feature of the old game.
Most of the missions require you to get somewhere, shoot someone or something, then get the hell away. Often this will mean breaking down the front door, but there are some missions where stealth is the preferred method of getting around. One mission has you sneak into a enemy strong hold through a sewer, with all the joys that would entail. The ration stamp mission I previously mentioned encourages stealth, as if you fail to disable an alarm before cracking the safe the entire police department will be waiting for you once you try to escape.
Of course the other method of finishing your missions is the brute force method. You get a variety of guns as you progress through the game, from .38 Caliber Police revolvers to the infamous Tommy Gun and more. The aiming leaves something to be desired, even when the sensitivity is set to high. The game screams for some kind of targeting system beyond turn and hope your reticle falls on the guy. There are moments when the game will briefly assist your aiming, similar to Red Dead Redemption‘s method, where drawing your gun would automatically put your cross hairs on a target, but it’s left up to you to keep the gun trained on your foe, and sometimes it doesn’t really even work.
Lastly there is one more gameplay type found in Mafia 2. There are some missions that have you using your fists instead of your trigger finger, and the game controls pretty well during these sections. You can jab, swing heavy punches, evade, and counter punch. There are combos you can execute, and there is even a little bit of environmental interaction, as you might find yourself smacking a guys head into a wall. It’s not a major part of the game, guns are still the preferred problem solver, but it can be a nice diversion.
The game uses a cover system, and it’s needed. Walking around in the open will get you killed during combat. Sadly, like a lot of these games, the camera hinders you when someone tries to get behind you, whom you should clearly be able to see and shoot, but cannot because the camera won’t let you move your gun into position before they blast you with their shotgun. It would be nice if someone figured out a way of protecting yourself from that kind of AI that didn’t require me to press a button to get out of cover before killing the guy and getting back into cover.
The game is single player only, and while they allow you to complete missions in different ways, I wouldn’t say there is any kind of difference in the game should you finish it one way or another. You might get a bit of new dialogue here or there but that’s about it. The game has some DLC, which I’ll talk about later, and it’s clearly designed so that they can add more to the game later if they choose, so I’d suspect at some point there will be an add on campaign similar to Gay Tony or Lost and Damned.
With what’s just on the disc you have a number of collectibles, including various Playboy pin-ups, wanted posters, and so on. You can go back and play through previous chapters at your leisure, as some collectibles are only found in some chapters, but be sure to finish the game before you do. The game might overwrite your save file, and while the chapters would still be unlocked, you would have to begin from the beginning of a chapter you may have gotten half way through.
The game is pretty evenly balanced. There are no boss fights, just fights where you whack mob bosses. Some of these situations feel like boss fights, as actually getting a shot off at some of these guys can be pretty difficult, but they die from head wounds just like any other game character. You can upgrade your cars, and after a while you might realize that you need to, if you’ve been driving the same one for a while. Because the game advances in years your car might start off as a fast car only to become outmoded by the police.
Unlike in GTA where you can take just about any car you want, Mafia 2 makes you work for your ride. The lock picking mini game from Oblivion makes an appearance here, and it certainly adds to the thrill of jacking a car to know that the police might turn the corner and see you at any time. You could also take the direct approach and smash the window, but I like that the game made it a little more difficult to take a car. Trucks are all unlocked, strangely enough.
The chapter approach to telling the story of the main character is an interesting one, in my opinion. The developers could have taken the more common road and done the open world thing, but I have to say I like what they’ve done here. Someone figured that adding bunches of mindless mini games does nothing to add to the story and is often just described as filler. Just Cause 2 is a prime example of this. The map was huge, but many of the missions were exactly the same. By using the chapters the game keeps you focused on the story they are trying to tell, but gives you an entire city to go about doing your job.
The story is a good one. The characters felt very real to me, the bonds of friendship and the pain of losing loved ones. The story more than made up for any gameplay problems I had, and I wanted to know what happened at the end. That definitely kept me playing.
It’s not Goodfellas, nor is it the Godfather, but it’s probably as good a Mafioso story as you’re going to find on a video game console right now. So if you’ve been hankering for Tony Soprano or Don Corleone then this will probably be right up your alley.
If you are looking for an open world sand box game you won’t really find it here. There are times when it’s achievable, but unlike Just Cause 2 or Mercenaries you can’t just get out there and start blasting. Not until you’ve put a little work in first anyway.
Empire Bay is arranged in a fashion similar to New York City, or at least it feels that way to me. The first game actually WAS set in New York and Hoboken, so I’m not sure why they’d make the change in this game, but either way it’s no big deal.
The PS3 version of the game comes with a code for a “free” code for a day one DLC pack, The Betrayal of Jimmy. This plays more like an arcade game, with points for power slides and going fast and killing enemies, an entirely new protagonist and new side missions. As it’s not on the disc I’m not reviewing it, but it’s there should you want to buy it or if you bought the game new.
As this is a mature game and one of the collectible items are Playboy pin up girls, I feel I should mention that there is no small amount of nudity. All of it is female. There is one scene in a prison shower but thankfully (and wisely it says here) they leave their shorts on during their bathing.
Control and Gameplay: Good
Appeal Factor: Very Good
Final Score: Incredible Game
Short Attention Span Summary
A terrific game which makes you an offer you can’t refuse. Oh come on, I couldn’t write an entire review without using one mob quote.