Mafia II Review
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Mafia II is an epic adventure with a story that rivals some of the best mobster movies. Players are brought in to Vito Scaletta's rise in the family ranks through an engaging narrative, intense action sequences, and a well-crafted vintage city setting.
- The interesting narrative and story development
- The detailed '40s and '50s American city setting
- The tense action sequences
- The lack of things to do in this open-world
- No side-missions
- Some tasks can feel dull or repetitive
The gangster setting is one of the most prevalent backdrops for some of the greatest stories ever told. It’s hard for most red-blooded men (and women, we suppose) not to adore movies, books and videogames based on the mafia or modern organized crime. Tony Soprano made HBO what it is today. Leonardo DiCaprio’s pretty-boy demeanor from Titanic was effectively smudged by his role in The Departed and Al Pacino created a slew of one-liners for us all to abuse. And who could forget that scene in The Godfather with the horse’s head. These are all epic stories, typically following the rise of a poor young man into a family of organized crime.
In 2K Games’ Mafia II, Vito Scaletta is an Italian immigrant (Sicilian, to be precise) during the 1940s who wants nothing more than to make it in America. After witnessing the failures of his father—a tired drunk who apparently had his own problems to settle—Vito teams up with his buddy Joe and the pair are quick to turn to crime. Throughout the game, Vito and Joe climb through the ranks of organized-crime families in Empire City (essentially New York City).
Mafia II appears to be set in a sandbox world, similar to the most obvious comparison—Grand Theft Auto IV. However, the game is not a true open-world experience. It tries very hard to appear expansive, full of side-objectives and random events to kill some time, but the game is completely centered on the story and you will have virtually no time to just cruise Empire City to look for fun, or trouble. This caught us off-guard. We expected Vito to wake up in the morning, look at his nice GPS-centered map, and decide which goon he wanted to work with in a given day. As the player, maybe we just wanted to go to the local brothel or have some fun picking off pedestrians. That is not how Mafia II works, and it came as quite a surprise.
Nearly every event in Mafia II drives the narrative. There is no down time, no side missions, nothing to distract from the overall story. That’s not to say players will be turned-off by the lack of side objectives, but it should be noted that there is little reason, or even ability, to venture off outside the story as you would/could in other sandbox games.
After our 11-hour campaign, we didn’t really notice the lack of side objectives because the story was so compelling. If Mafia II excels at one thing above other games recently, it’s the scope of the story and how developer 2K Czech tells this epic tale. As an example, all you have to do is look at our protagonist. Vito originally wanted a better life for his mother and sister after returning from war, but throughout the game he seemed conflicted with his decision to turn to a life of crime rather than making an honest living. You can even see he’s at odds as he decides who to befriend and who to betray. He is bold, confident, and he’s seen one crappy life. We found ourselves incredibly attached to this lead. To further emphasize our point here: This writer played the game in front of his better-half, and she frequently checked in to see how Vito was doing, and what’s happened in the game. Not many games can make your observing significant other actually become this invested.
Empire City is a gorgeous setting for this crime drama. The game opens in 1945 during winter. The streets all have a fresh coat of snow and classic Christmas songs play on radios. Attention is paid to billboards showing ads from wartime America, while disc jockeys talk about Nazis and the gasoline shortage. There is an initial sense that Empire City is untouched by the time’s notorious underground violence, especially during the opening chapter. As the game progresses, moving into the mid ‘50s, the lay of the land remains the same, but girls wear fluffy dresses and rock music fills the radio waves. All of these details help make Mafia II a timepiece; a capsule for a period none of us (most likely) lived in but is certainly familiar.
The story is ... (continued on next page)