In Mafia II you get to play the role of the very likable Vito Scaletta. He’s a kid born in poverty who grew up watching his old amn drown his sorrows in a bottle and determined to make a better life for himself and his family. Unfortunately that better life gets off to a bad start thanks to the not so great influence of his best friend, Joe Barbaro. Joe’s idea of a better life begins with a smash and grab of a local jewelers, which he didn’t really plan, and forgot to tell Vito until it was too late to back out – and one that manages to get Vito snagged by the cops.
All of this in handily wrapped up in the opening scenes, and the first bit of game-play we get to, well, play, is a surprising start to a game about the Mob, as you find yourself skipping jail time in favour of joining the Army and jumping into Italy. It’s a fairly basic mission to kick off, and starting a game about your slow and steady climb in the ranks of the criminal underworld with a mission where you are the hero is a fantastic concept.Â
The main part of the game is, of course set in America in the ’40’s and 50’s, in the fictional city of Empire Bay. And follows the fortunes of Vita and his childhood friend Joe as they slowly rise through the ranks of organised crime.
As far as originality goes, Mafia II doesn’t really break any new ground, but what it does, it does really well. For an open world game, it is a very linear experience, but this isn’t a bad thing – at any stage you can depart from the story and go exploring. Not that you’ll want to break from the story, as it’s probably one of the best story driven games I’ve played.
As I said early, your character is very likable, even though he does become some what of a rabid killer as the game progresses, you know his intentions were pure at the beginning , and with the rogues he has to work for, he always comes off looking like the good guy.
Of course, with any linear, story driven game a couple of things are important: the story, the variety of missions and the cut scenes. It has to be said that 2K have nailed all three. The story will keep you playing the game, night after night until you discover what Vito’s future holds. The variety of missions is good, and keeps you on your toes. The cut scenes, whilst not perfect – it’s hard to find a game that has perfect lip syncing – work well and draw you into the game. Add to these three key components the fact that the whole game feels authentic, and you know you’ve got a game that you will be wanting to play more than once.
Visually Empire Bay is stunning, and it has a suitably large game-play area than affords the missions to have plenty of locational variety. It also means that once the game is done, there should be plenty to explore.
The controls are intuitive and the third person cover and shoot mechanisms work well. The hit animations of the enemies is good, changing subtly depending on what gun you use. Guns fortunately are able to be picked up from fallen foes, means that you won’t go long before you have an arsenal at your disposal – but be warned, the story mechanics have a couple of curve balls that see you stripped of all your accumulated weaponry – this may sound like a bad thing, but it drives the story well and only adds to the authenticity. It also shows the true colour of some of the games characters – which is important, especially when you get to the end of the story.
A couple of really nice points is the way 2K have added graphical pointers to remind you that you’re about to die – the loss of colour and blurring of the edge of the screen isn’t subtle, but fits the flow of the game perfectly. If you damage your car too much it will stop running. Fortunately Vito is a dab hand and can fix it easily enough – they only issue being that the only time you’re likely to suffer that much damage is when you being chased by gun toting cops who will take great pleaser in killing you whilst you try and fix your car! And last but not least, is the prescience of cops – they will make your life hell if you break the law, which includes speeding. And if you continue your life of crime un-checked, the police presence in the city will increase! But don’t worry – loosing your wanted level is fairly easy, if you have a little coin in your pocket.
Now a word of warning – Mafia II is an R18 rated game – it’s as violent as you would imagine, but it has a little more adult content that you might think. This should have become apparent when 2K announced that the Face of Playboy Swim 2010, Sheridyn Fisher, was going to be the official ambassador for Mafia II, as part of their partnership with Playboy magazine, as the game would feature over 50 vintage Playboy Magazines. These magazines would be part of an achievement where you had to collect 51 of them.
Fare-enough I figured – It didn’t detract from the game, and actually fitted in nicely with the type of characters you would imagine meeting in the criminal underworld. Of course I wasn’t quite expecting a hi-def photo of a vintage centerfold to pop up the first time I found one of the Playboy magazines – but there you have it. In hindsight, that’s exactly what I should have expected. But it does highlight one of the biggest problems with modern gaming – not that games have adult content, but that a seemingly increasing number of parents don’t grasp this concept and are willing buy R-rated games for their children without bothering to research just what they are putting in their children’s hands.
All in all, centerfolds aside, Mafia II is one of the most engaging and enjoyable games that I have played all year, bested only by the mighty Red Dead redemption.
Reviewed on: XBox 360
Available on: XBox 360, PS3, PC