The much hyped, much delayed Mafia II has finally arrived. The last game in this genre I played was Godfather II (ironically, about the same time as Mafia II was originally scheduled) and it failed to deliver a truly immersing Mafia experience.
I missed Mafia II’s predecessor, The City of Lost Heaven. So while I can’t speak for back story, I can assure you that the story progression in Mafia II is stand alone – and certainly easy enough to follow if you missed the original.
Mafia II has promised a visceral, engrossing story, told in the vast open world city of Empire Bay. After 6 years of development at a rumoured cost well over $50 million, is it all it should be?
We follow the story of Vito Scaletta, son of Sicilian immigrants to Empire Bay. His Father spends most of his life working a dead-end job and drinking away any chance of pulling his family out of the slums. Swearing to never become his Father, Vito gets involved in petty crime for a quick buck. He and his best friend, Joe Barbaro, rob a jewellery store, but Vito is captured.
Offered the choice of prison or enlisting in the Army, Vito naturally opts to join the Army. During 1945, he is shot on duty and subsequently gets transferred back to Empire Bay.
With the help of his old friend Joe, Vito obtains forged Army release papers and thus begins his climb back through the ranks of the Mafia in Empire Bay.
The focus of Mafia II is its story. In fact, despite there being a massive 10 mile square open-world city at your disposal, there’s very little else to do within its borders but the story.
Essentially you wake up, answer the phone, drive to a mission, do the mission, drive back and go to bed. Wash, rinse and repeat.
True, there are exceptions and this is obviously a sensationalist generalisation of mission format, but for those expecting to explore the world, venture around the city, do missions when you feel like them, pull up to odd jobs or take part in random chaos – you will be sorely mistaken in your expectation.
The vast world of Empire Bay exists to serve the story. It exists solely to act as a gorgeous backdrop to interim conversation and setting you up to anticipate the coming mission activity.
In this way, it feels like an overwhelming achievement, a tribute to the dedication of the 2K Czech team to bring the player into a world where you exist within a living breathing environment – but at the same time, it feels like a tremendous waste.
In Mafia II, you spend most of your time driving. When you wake up and answer a phone call, you’re immediately supposed to go meet someone. Or someone is standing outside your apartment waiting for you. So you hop in your car and drive there, or you meet with them, waiting for you to drive them somewhere.
You drive through living neighbourhoods. A man and his wife bicker over the popped hood of a broken-down car. People go about their daily lives. There are parks and town halls, built-up areas, slums, loads of areas that feel like they should be explored – but you just drive on past. It’s a little sad.
Thankfully, the missions themselves offer much excitement. Particularly later on when you’re carrying around a Tommy gun, dressed in an expensive black tailored suit, rocking up to a fire fight in a black Mafia staff car. It all oozes class and excellence. You meet with men of infinite power in the underworld and carry out their wishes with a panache and often reckless approach. A mass of bloodshed left in your wake. All in the name of the ‘family’.
There are some true highlights, shuffling between cover under a hail of bullets in an old warehouse, as your destructible cover disintegrates in front of you. Chasing down fleeing rivals, your buddy hanging out the window peppering their car with machine gun fire. Rocking up to a cafe owned by a rival family, with ten soldiers and associates, and literally mowing it to the ground with your automatic weapons, then finishing it off with Molotov Cocktails.
The game play is a memorable string of set pieces, reminiscent of the Godfather films, all held together loosely in a sandbox world, by fifteen ‘chapters’.
There’s a huge focus on the cover mechanic – you barely manage to get more than a few steps without using cover and annihilating your foes before you move on. This cover mechanic works extremely well. You can move through cover, fire from cover, and swap from plane-to-plane within cover at the touch of a button. No matter where you’re covering, you can always find line-of-sight to the source of the gunfire pelting at you. In this way, its one of the greatest cover systems on offer in games today. It always works.
It never feels slow in combat either. There’s always someone trying to flank you or a surprise attack just as you hit he reload.
The driving, the combat, the lead up to the missions themselves are brilliantly executed. Truly, this is one of the greatest Mafia stories presented in a game ever.
Graphics & Sound
The screen tearing. Ah, the screen tearing. You’d all be mad if I didn’t address this first and foremost. Mafia II on console has screen tearing. I said it. Plenty of it to start with, too. Those who played the demo saw it, those who have started on the retail version have experienced it.
That said, if I’m totally honest though, I can’t say I noticed it past the first 15 minutes. I don’t know whether the QA improved as the game progressed, or I just didn’t notice it later, but right to the end of the game, it just didn’t seem any sort of issue. Those with a keener and younger eye might crucify Mafia II for this negative – but my tired, aging eyes saw very little issue. I certainly didn’t arrive at the end credits cursing any technical flaws.
With that aside, Mafia II is beautiful. Empire Bay is stunning. At a different time of day, in the sun, in the snow, in the rain, it’s simply spectacular. I was driving a car around early (during Winter) in the game. Pulled up out front of a mission. When we exited later, the car had fallen snow accumulated on it. Glistening in the soft Winter sunlight.
The world is destructible, even on the PS3 version. Timber splinters and explodes, concrete pillars crack and crumble. Cars become riddled with bullet holes and should you take a turn too quickly and mount a kerb, your hubcaps pop off, rolling down the road. The attention to detail is superb. Almost unparalleled.
Voice acting is also supreme. From random conversations to intense story-specific dialogue, its all ridiculously professional and polished. There’s never a dull moment, never a phony accent, never a line that makes you grimace.
Music of the era is perfectly suited, old radio stations and background music compliments the time line. Its all perfect on the audio front.
Empire Bay is one of the most beautiful and amazing open-world environments seen in gaming. Especially during Winter when it’s buried in a foot of snow. However, after 11 hours of story, you’ve nothing left to do there. And all you’ve done is drive around it. It’s such a waste. I can only hope future DLC addresses this and allows us more free-roam ability.
The story is incredible. Sure, it’s linear, it’s definitely geared towards those who enjoy driving games and enjoy deep Mafia stories; It has some plot holes and unanswered questions, but it’s truly enjoyable.
After 6 years of waiting, it is somewhat underwhelming. It’s an 11 hour story and that’s really it. That’s not to say it’s a bad game, it’s not. It’s just that Mafia II constantly teases you with what (and you get the feeling it was at some point), could have been so much more.