Mafia 2 Review

GTA with classic cars, or something else entirely? Now with a slideshow of disconnected screenshots!

Mafia was one of my better liked games, mostly because it actually had a decent storyline with reasonable voice acting, something that still wasn’t exceedingly common. It was pretty much like playing The Godfather. Having that that, the game had its flaws, probably most notably with the vehicle handling (which was unfairly skewed towards the AI) and gunplay, but apart from that it was a good yarn told quite well. Mafia 2 looks to pick up from the reputation of the first game, and it’s been long enough that it’s hard to pass it off as a cynical grab for cash (unlike Bioshock 2). So how good is it? Well, read on.

Firstly, for anybody thinking this is a sandbox game with mobsters instead of gang bangers, get out. The first game wasn’t like that, and neither is this game. This isn’t GTA with the mafia taking pride of place, it’s about telling a story, so it keeps a tight leash on you. There’s no real exploration to do here; the city exists to provide context and locations for your missions, not for you to explore and shoot up at will. With that said the city is fairly interesting and filled with people and cars, and police of course, as well as a few stores, gas stations to fill up your car, and other points of interest. Just don’t expect to run amok with a tommy gun or something.

The game starts out during the later stages of WW2 extending into the very early 50s. You play Vito Scarletta, the son of Sicilian immigrants, who is deployed to Italy. The first mission introduces you to moving and shooting by having you play through a short WW2 sequence, which is actually pretty good. I know we’ve done WW2 to death, but few games remember that Italy fought in WW2 and were actually part of the Axis; according to Activision and EA, there were only 4 armies: Germany, Japan, the US and the UK. The rest of the world was just a convenient battleground or didn’t exist apparently. But I digress.

From there Vito gets discharged and returns home, where his old friend Joe, who works with the mafia, gets him some dodgy discharge papers. Vito finds out his deceased father has racked up an obscene amount of debt ($2000, which back in the 1940s during the war as huge). Now, working with Joe, Vito has to work with the mob to repay the debt, and then life the life of a mobster, or some shit, who cares, go read a plot synopsis.

Anybody who played Mafia will know that it’s fairly different from your standard GTA-style game. Mafia 2 follows this tradition rather closely. Speeding, dangerous driving and street brawling will get the attention of the police. Well, usually it does; I’ve managed to speed past police and be completely ignored, other times they chase you. Unlike GTA, where the police pull out a gun for no reason at all, in Mafia the police will first fine you for minor offences, then attempt to arrest you, and then pull guns. Sometimes you can avoid a fine by apologising, or sometimes the police just issue a verbal warning and that’s it. Once I got into a street fight with some other guy (for no reason apparently), and a passing cop saw it and came over. I expected to get a fine, but instead the cop issued a verbal warning and then left. That’s a nice change of pace from the GTA games where picking your ass in public is enough to get you shot. Stealing a vehicle results in that license plate being tagged as stolen, meaning that any cop who sees you driving it around will come after you. More on that in a bit. You might also be flagged as a wanted person, causing police to shoot you on sight. There are ways to get around this.

My biggest problem with the law enforcement aspect of the game is that it’s too random, and occasionally stupidly unfair. In fact it might even be broken for all I know. Here’s an example: stealing a car causes its plates to be flagged as stolen. But how the hell do all the police suddenly know that the car has been stolen? I’ve taken a car with nobody around and still had the plates flagged, and then I’ve stolen a car in the presence of an NPC and had zero warnings at all. Is it a bug? Is there some sort of gameplay mechanic at work here? The hell if I know! Also police seem to appear instantly, right in the most inconvenient places. Upon stealing a car, I’ve had police spawn on all the major roads, just outside the radar range, leading to the car. I said they spawn, not drive there from somewhere else. That breaks the immersion straight away. Also the game seems to love to put police patrols right where you need to go, which is frustrating when you’re 2 minutes out from finishing a mission, and some dick appears right there.

Another instance of buggy law enforcement is in using disguises. One mission has you breaking into a jewellery shop. After that the police arrive and you become a wanted criminal. The game suggests you change your clothes to clear your wanted status. The nearest clothes shop is a few blocks away. The first time I played the mission I didn’t get the hint display, so I just stole a car and started to drive home. A cop spawned right outside the house, so I failed. Next, I tried to run home. Instantly all the foot patrols, plus random car patrols, fired machine guns at me. After a few variations of this I finally managed to sprint from the starting location to the clothes shop, relying on the police crashing their cars or missing just often enough for the regenerating health mechanic to kick in. Once inside the store, I took cover in a closet. I then proceeded to shoot all of the police who walked through the door. After a bit they stopped turning up, but I still had a wanted level. I then stole some clothes, in front of NPCs, and walked out with my wanted level cleared. Maybe someone can explain to me how being wanted, gunning down something like 7 cops, and then stealing some clothes, all in the presence of civilians, clears my wanted level. Maybe nobody can. Either way, if you’re going to have a law enforcement system that caters to several different crimes, at least stop breaking immersion by having psychic cops and magic clothes. This is the 1940s, there’s no computer assisted dispatch system or network that allows for easy and instant identification and reporting of suspects and resources. It adds a new dimension of difficulty, but it’s difficult because it makes things unreasonably unfair.

Now that I’ve got that out of my system, let’s talk about the rest of the game. The vehicle mechanics, I’ve found, aren’t too bad. Given that it’s simulating 1940s era vehicles (and some older than that) you’d expect handling to be poor on many of the vehicles. That’s the case here, but unlike the first game where cars would slip and slide at will, these ones are at least controllable. If you’re not happy with the driving mechanics you can choose between a more accurate simulation of the cars, or leave it in arcade mode. Given the police chases and habit of shit getting in the way, I’d be tempted to just leave it on arcade. The missions themselves are all entertaining and the cutscenes tend to be fantastic. Voice acting is above normal levels and dialogue is well written.

It’s a generally entertaining gangster story. Some people have said that it’s grittier than Mafia. I’d say they don’t know what “grit” is because it’s still a glorification of and upbeat take on the mob life, but it’s a game so who gives a shit? It’s not like it’s Underbelly, and kids will believe what they want, so I’m not going to preach. It’s filled with cliches though, but it’s a game, and most games can’t avoid it. It’s too easy to watch a few movies like The Godfather and base it off that, though to be fair the storyline does keep pace and does remain entertaining.

Unfortunately it’s also pretty short, lasting only 13 chapters, and some of the chapters barely last 30 minutes depending on how you play. You spend a fair chunk of time watching cutscenes, and then driving around, with only a few moments spent actually doing anything. Even then it quickly turns into a race to drive to somewhere else. What moments of gunplay there are however are a lot of fun; the weapons aren’t pin point accurate, and most of the time you spend plinking at each other from behind cover, which is a lot more fun than it sounds. It does suffer from the “invisible backpack” problem though where Vito can hold a number of weapons he shouldn’t be able to hold with no visible means of storing them, but oh well, we’ve been doing the same thing for years, so it’s not like it’s a big problem.

With all that said though the gameplay feels a little bit old; ultimately it’s a series of tasks that tend to actually repeat themselves again and again, and at times it can be a bit tiring. Really you can sum up Mafia 2’s gameplay like this: “Drive to place. Watch cutscene. Shoot some people. Run from cops. Drive home.” That might have worked back in Mafia, but the world was younger then… or something, what am I trying to get at here? I’d say that gaming has advanced but shit like Halo keeps getting rave reviews so maybe not. I suppose practically every shooter game tends to have the same basic gameplay mechanics, but the trick is how well hidden it is. Mafia 2 doesn’t hide it all that well. Maybe it’s the jarring transition between cutscenes, maybe it’s the long driving sequences that ultimately don’t serve much purpose given that it’s a linear game. Who knows?

Graphically Mafia 2 is competent. Everything looks fine but there’s nothing that really blows you away. Most of the visual eye candy is in the form of well done textures. This unfortunately can make the game world seem a little flat at times, but given that this is a multiplatform release, I can understand why that’s happened. It’s not bad looking but in a world where everything has like a hundred shaders and dynamic lights on it, the game looks like it lacks a bit of visual depth.

Like I just said, Mafia 2 looks fine, if a little bit flat. It’s a multiplatform release though, so they tend to make games for the 360 and add shit on for the others. At least the game doesn’t have weird performance issues (at least none that I experienced)

SOUND: Excellent.
The voice acting is pretty bloody good for the gaming industry, and the mixing between voices is decent too. Too many games intend for a character to interrupt another character, only to have an obvious pause where the next sound file should pick up. Mafia 2 avoids that problem most of the time, earning it big points. Period music is also pretty cool too.

For all its flaws, the gameplay is at least good fun while it lasts, and has a good story behind it. Unfortunately it gets a bit repetitive, which isn’t fun. The storyline carries the game, and just as well, because otherwise it’d be the same mission again and again with different words.

Apart from DLC, which probably doesn’t need to be made, Mafia 2 has almost no replay value. The story is entertaining, but not so much so that you’d want to go for another round straight after finishing it. It’s not quite a “play and forget” game like Crysis (nobody cares about the storyline for Crysis, not even Crytek) but it’s not something you’d want to keep playing (like Half Life 2).

I suppose I should explain that one before fanboys rant. DisCONNECT places the most importance on the last two criteria; Gameplay and Lifespan. An “excellent” game, by my definition, is one that scores highly in both Gameplay and Lifespan. Whether that means the game is dynamic and can be played out again and again with different results, or whether it can be supported by mods, or whatever, gameplay and lifespan ultimately determine how much fun you get out of your game. If you’re interested in graphics, go watch a Futuremark demo. If you’re interested in sound, go watch a movie.

Mafia 2, despite having a good storyline (which I include as part of gameplay), falls down much past that. Later on the game becomes a bit too repetitive, and the storyline and voice acting can only make you wade through the missions, not enjoy them. The lifespan is short; the game itself is short and there’s not much reason to keep playing afterwards, except a little while down the track just to remind yourself of what it was like. This isn’t to say that Mafia 2 is a bad game; it isn’t, it’s fairly good, but it’s not outstanding. At the end of the day I can’t really recommend you have to play this game, nor can I even say that it’ll hold your interest for very long. Even fans of the first one will probably be put off a bit. To conclude, Mafia 2 isn’t bad, but it’s not really all that good either.

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