The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
America’s fascination with the Mafia is long documented. For decades, films like The Godfather and television series like The Sopranos
have basked in the world of the Italian organized crime syndicate. Its
current and former members tout it as a closed community that operates
on trust, respect, and glory. Never mind that in reality they backstab,
double-cross, and rat each other out at a higher frequency than any of
the Real Housewives reality shows. No video game franchise
adheres more closely to this fractured dream of a romanticized criminal
subculture than Mafia.
Set in the ‘40s and ‘50s, Mafia II is jam packed with familiar plot devices pulled from classic movies like Goodfellas and A Bronx Tale.
In the fictional city of Empire Bay, three Italian crime families hold
control over most of the criminal underground. While the old fashioned
Dons stick to the time-tested rackets of gambling, running numbers, and
boosting goods, more adventurous young upstarts start dabbling in
get-rich-quick schemes involving narcotics. This creates a friction that
could break the alliance and pit the families against one another. This
is the backdrop for Vito Scaletta’s rise from street thug to wise guy.
a made guy dressed to the nines in a tailored suit, fedora, and a pair
of Stacy Adams, Mafia II dresses the part. The new setting, Empire Bay,
is a stunning recreation of a ‘40s and ‘50s American metropolis. From
the war-time propaganda posters to the era-specific automobiles and
radio tunes, Mafia II transports you to a time where American pride was
at an all-time high, dames were called broads, and overt racism ran
rampant through the segregated communities. The impressive attention to
detail is most noticeable in the expertly crafted building interiors,
which look like destructible sets pulled straight out of Mad Men.
Grand Theft Auto’s Liberty City, Empire Bay isn’t an open world
playground overflowing with side quests and distractions. The world
still feels like a living city, but Mafia II is a much more focused
experience. You can buy new clothes, get your plates changed at the auto
shop, and boost cars for cash, but that’s about the extent of your
interaction with the city. The game is divided into story chapters,
which allows the developers at 2K Czech to alter the weather, time, and
city conditions in service of the missions. While explorative gamers may
miss the freewheeling structure of games like GTA and Red Dead
Redemption, those who never finish lengthy games will appreciate Mafia
II’s direct storytelling.
The original Mafia stood out for its
engaging missions, and the sequel follows suit. You still drive through
the city for long stretches (this time without a clutch or constant
harassment from traffic cops), but once you reach your destination the
action unfolds in smartly scripted missions that feel different every
time. These quests feature your standard blend of third-person shooting
and driving sequences, with the occasional fistfight thrown in for good
measure. The controls don’t depart drastically from genre conventions,
though the finicky cover mechanic gave me troubles in tight quarters.
Vito to become a made man, he must earn his stripes selling stolen
cigarettes on the streets, robbing jewelry stores, burying dead bodies,
and taking on dangerous infiltration and assassination missions. His
best friend Joe is along for the ride most of the time, and their
dialogue serves as a narrative lynchpin. Though Mafia II relies heavily
on mobster clichés, the ending takes an interesting turn that gives the
game its own identity.
If you’re a veteran of open world games,
you should note that Mafia II is extremely easy on the normal
difficulty. Turn it up a notch if you want more challenging gunfights.
No matter what difficulty you choose, don’t expect at lot of
interference from the clueless cops. When you break the law, the men in
blue aren’t overly concerned with apprehending you – some give lazy
chase, but shaking them is as easy as stepping on the gas in a fast car,
making a u-turn in a busy intersection, or stopping until the cops get
out of their cars and then flooring it. They’re even more ineffective
when the guns come out. I “hid” behind a dumpster of a closed-off alley
in front of a pile of several dead officers and lost my wanted rating
despite several cops patrolling the area.
Mafia II suffers from
some other minor annoyances as well. The game relies heavily on
cutscenes, and sometimes doesn’t know when to draw the line between
interacting with the world and triggering a cutscene. I shouldn’t take
control of Vito as he wakes up only to jump immediately into another
cutscene when I pick up the ringing phone. The NPC intelligence during
missions is also troublesome. In one mission I had to tail a car to find
out where it was headed, but the driver got into an accident and the
In an era when video games are moving away from
relying on cinematics for storytelling, Mafia II draws on the rich
mobster film history to weave a gripping drama about family, friendship,
loyalty, betrayal, and pragmatism. If you’re fond of quoting Don
Corleone and Tony Soprano, don’t miss this game.
Email the author Matt Bertz, or follow on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and Game Informer.