My knowledge of mafia culture is limited to what I’ve seen in movies, which means car chases, cursing, and lots of shooting are things I expect a game like Mafia 2 to have in abundance. Thankfully, at least in those departments and specifically the second, this game does not disappoint.
Having never played the original I wasn’t sure what to expect from Mafia 2, outside of the aforementioned things I’ve gleaned from The Sopranos and The Godfather. Sure, there’s plenty of gunplay, driving and foul language here but there’s also a surprisingly great story with interesting characters and a beautifully realized world. If visuals are your thing this might just be the game for you because while it never excels as a gaming experience, it’s consistently fun to look at. I’d also say that if you’re a fan of the mid 40’s era that’s remembered for its film noir and swing dancing (and obviously, World War II) you might also find a little more to love. There are few games that so expertly recreate a specific era, and in that regard Mafia 2 shines. Driving in my white Bruno Speedster listening to happy tunes of a forgotten era that I would never house on my iPod might not sound like the most exciting thing in a game but it’s one of the things that sticks with you the longest.
Unfortunately, one thing the game doesn’t quite do so well in is variety. There is a lot of driving from one mission to the next and a poorly implemented checkpoint system will toss you back to the beginning if you die forcing you to drive back to the mission location. A simple patch could fix that so the biggest issue I had with the game was while a good majority of the campaign missions are fun to complete there’s not much outside of the main story to keep you occupied. For such a beautifully realized world, a lack of side missions is a pretty big omission. I love exploring the city that shares a very strong resemblance to New York City but some interesting side missions would’ve really helped to take the keep the experience from becoming repetitive.
That said, the main campaign is meaty, offering plenty of hours of enjoyment despite there being no real reason to play through it again for things hidden items, collectibles, or side missions. Many games have trouble giving us an interesting story or characters, instead relying on the gameplay or visuals to carry the experience but Mafia 2 is a perfect example of a game finding a good balance in great visuals, a compelling story, as well as polished gameplay. All that makes finding the lack of diversity in the gameplay even more disappointing because if there was more to do there might’ve been a chance for this game to stand among some of the great sandbox games of this generation.
Brilliant world aside, it’s obvious quite a bit of effort was invested into creating a stunning fiction here. The story and dialogue are both very well written and once you get past The Godfather inspired beginning there’s quite a bit of originality to the story. And like the media that influenced it, many of the characters you meet are interesting, sometimes funny, and more often than not pretty damn intimidating. It’s obvious the developers wanted to make sure the world you played in was memorable, and they truly succeeded in that.
So the world is gorgeous, the story compelling, and the driving, while used in excess, is still pretty fun. That leaves the last major activity you’ll be spending much of your time engaging in: the shooting. It rarely felt like I was fighting waves of bad guys just to get to the next area so I could fight more waves, but the shooting certainly could’ve used some extra polish. Shots go wild even at close range and the controls can be clunky, making some of the fights a more frustrating than they should be. The addition of a melee combat system breaks up the gunplay and can be extraordinarily useful when you’re in close quarters but it’s shallow and basic additions like execution moves or using enemies as meat shields are sorely missed.
In the end, Mafia 2 won’t be breaking any molds or blowing any minds, but if you’re searching for a fun game with a great story, this game likely won’t disappoint. It’s a truly amazing game graphically and plot-wise, and for those of us who enjoy looking around in between missions there’s a ton of detail in each of the levels to stare at. Oh, and a word to the wise, it’s very easy to piss off the fuzz so I suggest practicing safe driving before trying out this game.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of Mafia II, which was provided by the publisher.