Review: Mafia II

A made man is a man of honor, a man of respect. He is a man who can officially call himself a part of the family, the Cosa Nostra, or the Mafia. He is a man sworn by omerta, the code of silence all members of the Mafia must follow. A man, who’s finger pricked, bleeds onto the image of a saint. Vito Scaletta and longtime friend Joe Barbaro are on a mission to reach this status. Mafia II tells the story of how it happens and where it leads.

Vito Scaletta is a World War II veteran. A Sicilian immigrant, he’s sent off to battle in the 1940s after being caught robbing a jewelry store in the US of A. While fighting in Sicily, Vito learns how to wield a gun, drive a jeep, and most importantly, stay alive. Returning to Empire Bay, a city modeled heavily after New York and San Francisco in the late 40s and early 50s, Vito and Joe reunite. Vito’s been away a long time and Joe’s already entered the early stages of the mafia empire. With Vito’s father gone and his family in debt, he joins Joe in this venture, swearing never to be poor again. They start off small, of course – stealing cars and collecting mandatory pay – but eventually rise into much higher stakes.

Believe it or not, Mafia II isn’t all about action. It has standard shooter mechanics integrated with the heavily important cover system working as fluidly as possible (you can hide behind almost anything), but for every firefight, we also see detailed narrative and the next piece to an indulging story. The serious performance of Vito Scaletta mixed with the purposely humorous performance of Joe Barbaro always make the next bit of story something to look forward to, whether they’re working together or not. The way each cutscene rolls out makes it feel like I’m watching a movie rather than playing a game. Players experience the benefits of being in the Mafia, but also the negatives. As one might imagine, being in the Mafia isn’t all fair game. It’s a tricky business that could knock you down every now and then.

The game presents players with the large open world of Empire Bay. Though, some – including myself – may argue whether the game is really considered a sandbox or open-world title. In my opinion, it’s not. It’s very linear, but it’s done so that the game’s engrossing story can clearly be told. It’s no Grand Theft Auto. You won’t be running around from ‘L’ to ‘A’ doing set after set of missions that ultimately lead to some significant story point. In Mafia II, every mission is a significant part of the story, which is why the game is carefully broken down into fifteen straightforward chapters. Sure, you’ll have the freedom of driving around Empire Bay if you’d like (who wouldn’t? It’s beautiful – especially in the winter), but players are always going to be mapped to an objective. The game doesn’t really try and force players to explore the world either – even all of its collectible Playboys (yes, you collect fifty vintage Playboys) are mapped to the path the player takes in whatever chapter they’re playing. Simply said, players won’t be going out of their way to a different part of the city just to try and find a porno magazine.

Firefights – or shoot outs, gun fights, etc. – in Mafia II are exciting, to put it candidly. Each fight presents players with an environment different from the last big fight, ranging from areas like the docks to a restaurant to a slaughterhouse and beyond. I don’t want to say too much on location as I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you. Each fight has their own place in the story and isn’t merely thrown in to add action or fill in a blank – which is just one of the things that I find so great about Mafia II.

When your gun’s not in the air, your fists most likely will be. Mafia II has a pretty decent fighting system, where players will brawl like men. It’s a fairly easy fighting system, to be quite honest. You can hold X or A to block, and doing so will allow you to dodge every hit. Wait for the first few hits to see your enemies pattern and follow up with a few swings when he’s open. Heavy and light attacks can be performed with Square/Triangle or X/Y. When his health is low enough, he can be put down with a few brutal finishers that are usually done by putting together a combination of buttons.

If there was one point in Mafia II that stood out to me, it’s probably the time lapse players experience in the game. After a certain chapter, a number of years go by and society as a whole shifts. The city’s no longer full of snow, cars are more advanced, and society generally feels more established. It was this point in the game that I was glad I had some cars from before the time lapse in my garage — which I got to keep after it occured. Talk about being the only guy in town driving a vintage car!

Staying on the topic of driving, Mafia II‘s driving system is fluid. It adapts to the weather, as cars are harder to control in the snow and rain than they are during a clear day. Driving too fast in front of a cop will have him chasing you down the street until he smacks a ticket on you or you lose him. Thankfully, though, for those who don’t want to gain attention of the police, you can hit X or A to put a 40mph limit on the speed you can drive. You may actually need it. It’s hard to resist speeding, really, especially in a video game.

Cops do get annoying, though. While 2K’s efforts of giving the game a realistic cops system are proven pretty successful, the fact that your license plate could stay wanted will have you constantly switching cars for every time that you do something mildly considered “wrong”. Either that, or you’ll constantly be on the look out for auto shops, which will change your plates for a small fee. Vito himself can even be a wanted man, which will have you instead driving back to your apartment to change clothes or buying new clothes at a clothing shop, which again, may get a bit tedious. What’s more annoying is that the blue meter used for displaying police awareness rises so fast you barley have any time to break through their line of sight before they start chasing you.

Mafia II tells a story that shouldn’t be missed. If a mobster movie were to be properly crafted into a video game, Mafia II would be the outcome. It’s enthralling, witty, entertaining, humorous and tragic all at once. While it’s not the best of the batch, it tells its tale well; developer 2K Czech has earned my respect as a studio. While its shooting mechanics are generally what you’d find in any other shooter, Mafia II brings them out in a much more fluid manner. It won’t amaze you, but it won’t disappoint you either. I can guarantee you one thing, though: the story will take you.


Mafia II was reviewed on a PlayStation 3. The game was played to completion on its hardest difficulty. Mafia II launches for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC on August 28, 2010 for an MSRP of $59.99.

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