You play the role of Vito Scaletta, a young Italian who has grown up in the world of crime and was eventually arrested and sent to fight in World War 2. After a brief stint in Italy, he returns home to Empire Bay (aka New York) and resumes his old ways with his partner in crime Joe Barbaro.
Mafia II is an open world game much like Grand Theft Auto, the city is fully working with its residents going about their daily business and so on. It is here where the comparisons mostly end because Mafia II gives you less freedom unless you stray from the mission. The game is played over fifteen chapters, you generally wake up in the morning and the chapter will start, complete the chapter and return home to sleep and then awaken to the next chapter. You can explore the city but you will find little to do as there are no side missions or few places of interest to visit. You can rob stores or steal cars to make money, though you usually earn more than enough in the missions to splash out on new clothes, weapons or vehicles.
The story is wonderfully written and at times it feels like you are taking part in a film. You start at the lowly ranks of a street criminal and work your way up to being a made man in the Mafia. The story keeps you interested throughout the game and you will want to continue playing to see what happens next. There are many plot twists along the way, some you will see coming while others will be a surprise; debt collection, robberies, car chases and drug deals to name but a few.. what can go wrong? The cut scenes use the in-game engine and the acting is performed well, and while the game does play up to the stereotypes of the Italian, Irish and Chinese which some may find offensive, its simply for the effect of the story. There are a few videos during the game shown at key points which genuinely gives an impact to the story, particularly one which introduces a new decade after spending some time away.
Mafia II uses a cover system for the gunfights which works very well. You use scenery for cover which depending on their material will destroy over time. You get less health than other similar games, so the cover system is essential as a face to face gunfight will often end in a swift death. Your enemies will also use cover which results in some great standoff situations waiting for them to break cover to fire and then take your shot at them. A hand to hand combat system is also present which at times is forced upon you, it is a good old fashioned put up your dukes style fight. I was not a big fan of this as the camera angles were often unviewable while moving around during the combat, to change the angle requires you to move your finger from the dodge button to the right analogue stick which can result in a punch in the face from your opponent. Fortunately they are not an often occurrence but you do wish the hand to hand controls were better implemented.
There are over thirty vehicles to acquire by any means, as with most open world games they play a big part in getting from A to B. A wide choice of family four doors, sports cars, trucks, police cars and even armoured vehicles are available to drive, and as you would expect the handling varies between them. Two control options are available; Normal and Simulation. The simulation adds an extra dimension such as the weather affecting the handling more drastically. I did not have any major complaints about the handling, it works well enough. Up to ten cars can be stored in your garage and can they be customised by visiting a mechanic to change the license plate or resprayed to avoid police attention and upgrade the engines to increase the speed.
Graphically the game stands up well, the city looks great and is detailed well enough to set the scene. The story spans two decades and the changes are reflected in particular with the clothing styles and vehicle designs which I found enjoyable to see. There are occasional glitches in the graphics such as when in cover or during cut scenes when you have control of the camera but they are nothing major. Parked vehicles do sometimes appear from nowhere but you have enough time to take action if needed, there appeared to be no problems with moving vehicles popping up.
The music is very representative of the decades, starting with 1940’s Classics moving on to 1950’s Rock ‘n’ Roll, everything from Dean Martin to Chuck Berry. The music really adds to the atmosphere and sets the scene perfectly. News broadcasts interrupt the music with reports from the scenes of previous missions and advertisement breaks provide some humour such as cigarette advertisements which would be banned in today’s world! Sound effects work well, the gun firing noises sound authentic and during gunfights helps identify what weapons are being used against you. There are some occasional strange noises which are usually down to dead bodies stuck in the scenery, these can be off putting but do not affect the game too much.
Like many people, I expected a GTA style open world where you could explore and find side missions. I was initially disappointed, but after spending time playing the game I did not miss the open world so much. Having side quests would have been a nice distraction, but they are purely that and Mafia II would have ended up being a clone of GTA. The excellent story is solid enough to stand up for itself and it will take around 14 hours to complete, more if you care to collect the Playboy magazines found during the missions as well as the many Wanted posters located throughout the city. Play the game with no expectations and you will be very pleasantly surprised!
The game is slightly let down by not having much to do in between missions and poor hand to hand combat controls. The excellent cover system provides some great gunfights!
The graphics represent the games era and location very well. There are some minor glitches but they do not affect the game.
An excellent musical score featuring many songs from the 40’s and 50’s adds to the atmosphere.
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