With games like Grand Theft Auto IV, and more recently, the spectacular Red Dead Redemption having come out of the Take-Two Banner, a lot was expected of Mafia II, the sequel to what was a beautiful, wonderful sandbox experience last generation. A lot of hype has been surrounding Mafia II, and people’s expectations were almost sky-high. But does Mafia II live up to the expectations? Does it outmatch the quality of the first game, which was a benchmark for all games in the genre to come? Does it stand up to the hype, and deliver the brilliant experience it has promised it will?
Unfortunately, our answer to that is no- not an emphatic no, but a no nonetheless. While Mafia II does provide for some outstanding moments of atmosphere, thrill, adrenaline, with some few missions that will be remembered as time goes on, and a shooting mechanic which, though nothing new, does provide us with some fun moments in the beginning of the game, ultimately, its cons outweigh its pros, and Mafia II comes across as a half-hearted attempt at bringing the world of GTA into the world of The Godfather, with nothing but half-assed attempts at mimicking the GTA missions, bland, forgettable characters, and very slow pacing.
Mafia II kicks off very impressively- the game has strikingly beautiful visuals with gorgeous textures and immense attention paid to detail, and it seemingly recreates an old time city by the name of Empire Bay (the game’s equivalant of New York) perfectly. But as I moved on through the game, I realized how hollow Mafia II’s world, which I originally thought to be a very open, living, breathing environment, truly is. There’s a complete disconnect between us and the world- you just don’t feel part of it. The civilians are dumb and do not seem very authentic, there’s a total lack of doing anything in the city, and the few attempts the game makes at providing freedom, like letting us buy weapons from ammunition shops and clothes and stuff fails miserably, and half the times you just want to scream at the screen, begging for a little freedom.
Of course, you can steal cars and drive around the city, but even that ain’t a lot of fun. The vehicle design is very boring and dull. Of course, that can be attributed to the fact that the game is set in older times, but other games like The Godfather and Scarface have featured great vehicle designs. Even the few cars that do look a bit interesting are boring to drive- like all the other cars. Sense of speed basically sucks in Mafia II, something that one would not want from an underworld, mafiaso game. Thrill, excitement and action high on testosterone is what I expected from a game like Mafia II, and all I got was boring, dull, drab driving sections.
Even when we do get the chance to take the speed around 50, the cops stop us immediately, for overspeeding. It’s an interesting new mechanic, something that all free-raoming games should logically have, but few do. Cops stop us for overspeeding, rash driving, and all the bad stuff that one would want to do in a sandbox game, i.e killing people and the like, but somehow, they never notice when we jump the signals, or break poles and pillars. The cops, however, are really intelligent, and they mostly make up for the otherwise dumb enemy and friendly AI.
This inconsistency is present all throughout the game. From the mission structure, to the nature of E-Bay (not ebay.com, by E-Bay I mean Empire Bay), everything seems inconsistent and flawed- at one point, the city may feel very open, and living, and you might actually feel as if you’re a part of Empire Bay, but in other parts of the game, the majority of the game, it just feels… hollow. The citizens are all generic, typical citizens, taken straight from GTA III or Vice City. Those games may have felt great then, but now, they just don’t stand up. Mafia II is old-time in almost every sense of the word. It does everything what an ideal last gen game would have done, and it does them very well- but that’s exactly the problem. It doesn’t cater to the demands of the present day gamer. The city is very dull and drab, with no environmental changes throughout, and predictable architecture. Everything feels as if it is centred around you, the main character (who is dumb, by the way, but let’s get to that later). Everything being focussed so much on you might seem really exciting sometimes, but that is the main, underlying theme in the entire game. Something like this would look good in a game like Pokemon, which never takes itself seriously, but it Mafia II, which is a game based on a crime world, this just seems out of place, and strangely convenient.
Honestly speaking, the main character of the game, Vito Scaletta, doesn’t deserve the attention he gets. While 2K Czech have tried their best (or maybe not their best after all) to recreate Vito Corleon- they have the same first name… heck, both of them are scicilians- they fail to add any depth or complexity to him- or any character of the game, for that matter. Basically, Vito is a pushover. He does whatever work is told, and does it for whoever tells him to, no matter how they fare with each other. To even think that he was a soldier in the Second World War gives me the laughs- all he must have done was run around and sit behind sacks, being the dumb and spineless guy he is shows to be. You just never feel attached to him, and you never want to be him. He’s a very one dimensional guy. His emotions are predictable, and he reacts very strangely to situations. He is probably the worst guy I’ve ever seen in any sandbox game, worse even than Tony Cipriani, and I hated Liberty City Stories because of him- maybe that’s why the game just doesn’t feel as immersive and involving as it should have, especially since it tries to mimic GTA in a lot of ways, and GTA games are very immersive.
Vito isn’t the only badly developed character, though. Apart from him and the normal civilians, who feel very ghostly, making the city of Empire Bay all the more strange, Vito’s best friend, Joe is the dumbest, most retarded character I’ve ever seen in a game. While he does seem to have a brain at some points, what with him planning every move for Vito, he basically acts very stupidly, and… he isn’t very likable, to be polite. And the fact that he guides Vito on what he should do says something about just how… silly Vito is. He is a disgrace to his legendary name.
Where Mafia II does strike perfection, though, is the visuals department. Everything is greatly detailed, from the clothes the people wear, to the intricate designs engraved on the the footpaths, to the cracked, truly city-like roads, to the cars. Everything looks real and beautiful, and may even put a facade of the city being authentic, which may fool the gamer for some of the beginning chapters. What helps is the perfectly smooth frame rate. Never did I come across a frame rate drop, even when there were around fifty guys in the screen, shooting at each other from behind their covers. The game runs perfectly at a smooth 60 frames per second, and you’ll never come across a hiccup. Animations are smooth and voice overs are really well done as well.
Equally good, if not better, is the cinematography of the game and how well the cutscenes are presented and directed. Each cutscene provides for a good few vistas of the city, and each one of them keeps things fresh and interesting, thanks to their awesome direction, and they feel very movie-like, showing the true potency of the game that other departments fail to make advantage of.
Though there is something that keeps the game from feeling like a true, authentic mafiaso story. What is it? It’s the missions. All the missions are basically the same- you have to sit in a car, get from point A to B, pick up a person/drop a person, and go back home to save the game to trigger a cutscene and the next mission. All the missions are very similar to each other, and the structure and variety of missions is just plain sad- while there are a few select missions that stand out, like the one where you have to get into a building as a window cleaner to take out your target and the few stealth missions, the missions all involve huge amounts of driving, which, as I have said above, in not very exciting. This lack of excitement in the driving sections also effects the chase sequences, which need to have a great sense of speed and thrill- two things which Mafia II is completely devoid of. That definitely isn’t the life of a Mafia. I can tell you from my experience. And I’m Michael Corleone, so don’t question me.
The shooting mechanics, while not anything new, are still fun and more or less polished. The player takes cover behind walls, crates, cars or whatever he can find, and shoots from their. The take cover and shoot mechanic has been seen before a lot of times, and Mafia II adds nothing to it, but that is something that cannot be held against it. The mechanic is as good and responsive as ever, and shooting as very fun, even though there are few shooting sections. It does get a bit repetitive near the ends, but the game ends before it can get completely intolerable.
So, ultimately, what makes Mafia II such a mediocre game? Fact is, Mafia II does everything- yet it doesn’t do them as good as it should have done. In the 12 hours it took me to finish the game, I realized that contrary to what I initially though of it, the game was not worth the money it costs. It does not provide us with a proper free-roaming world. It has a forgettable story and strange, badly developed characters. The missions are bland and boring… it all just feels very rushed, and that is not something we would expect from a game of such high calibre. Ultimately, Mafia II has a few pros of its own, and they keep the experience worthwhile- well, somewhat. But, the cons heavily outweigh the good aspects, and Mafia II comes across as a half-assed, half-hearted attempt at bringing the world of GTA into older times. Consider renting the game, but don’t spend your money on it.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Shooting is somewhat fun; There are a very few missions that actually provide for interesting playthroughs; Cops are really intelligent; Fist-fights are interesting; Great visuals with immense attention to detail; Very cinematic presentation
Bad character development, all of them are hatable; Weak, forgettable story; Bad missions stucture, most of the missions are very boring; City is hollow, bland and drab, doesn't feel authentic at all; Vehicle design sucks; No sense of speed