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GamesMaster: Mafia II Review

August 13, 2010

Mafia II’s wannabe wise guy Vito Scaletta navigates his way through the murky world of organised crime, and discovers that nothing is quite what it seems. Incidentally that’s a caveat 2K game’s box.

Hold on to your fedoras – this isn’t an open world game. “But, what about the sprawling streets?” you splutter. “What about the people, the cars, the cops?” Consider them a backdrop to the wider drama of the game’s plot. Essentially then it’s an action game with some very impressive, lovingly created window dressing. Capiche?

What makes this possible is a cinematic tale backed by production values that wouldn’t seem out of place in a Scorsese movie. It’s authentic, uncompromising, complex and utterly absorbing. For fans of classic gangster films and the Sopranos the message will be familiar; crime does pay, but at a high price.

As such the fate of Vito, his friends and enemies is, arguably, predictable – but no less powerful for that. This is thanks to some stellar voice acting, a top drawer script and some of the finest facial animations to date. Extra credit should go to the developers for their eye(s) for detail. Everything from the easy listening soundtrack to the collectible vintage pin-ups are bang on the money. Hell, even some obscure Mafiosi slang gets a look in.

“Mafia II is ambitions, well presented and powerful – but also flawed”

It’s a story expertly told, too. Fore every belly laugh there’s a quite moment of revelation. For every bit of busy work there’s a payoff (usually involving some electrifying gunplay). Inevitably the focus on well-defined character arcs will make it too linear an experience for those expecting a GTA clone with an historical setting. For others, it’ll feel like a streamlining exercise that trims the fat like a Mafiosi tucking into a steak.

Gameplay wise Mafia II boils down to shooting and driving but it’s the little nuances that make the familiar formula feel fresh. The game is divided into 15 chapters and each is essentially a multipart mission. This gives even more arbitrary tasks (flogging bootleg cigarettes for instance) some good context.

“Mafia II has only 3 radio stations”

Activities range from collecting protection money to gunning down rival gangs to disposing of an over-ripe corpse and almost every one could be considered a carefully crafted, subtle set piece that interweaves gameplay and cinematics beautifully. It’s a structure that manages to justify the game’s lack of side activities by packing in twist, turns, and a sense of light shade that never compromises the overall story. In short: it puts a lot of other story based games to shame.

Occasionally the open world fights back and encroaches into the gameplay. The police of Empire Bay, for instance, are aggressively efficient: they’re great in number and as persistent as a cold call salesman. Losing them on the streets of Empire bay is one thing, but getting to your destination without being spotted by more something else entirely. It’s intrusive, nerve shredding and can completely ruin an otherwise spotless job. It’s exactly what being hounded by the law should feel like. Interestingly there are two different wanted levels to worry about too. One recognises your number plate, necessitation an escape before dumping or repainting your wheels. The other is a description of your appearance meaning you’ll need to change your clothes to remain unnoticed. Often you’ll have to worry about both at once as well as a mission objective to fill. As a result, you’ll quickly become adept at the quick change – lightning visit to the local boutique topped off by a spot of grand theft auto.

The shooting, while solid for the most part, is where Mafia II starts to come undone, and the major flaw is its inconsistency. As the game progresses enemies get smarter, weapons get more powerful and flaws you’d previously overlooked become eye-wateringly frustrating. For instance, the radar isn’t great for indicating an enemy’s position, the auto aim is horribly unreliable and occasionally you can be gunned down in seconds with little warning. Worst of all though is the cover system which at times struggles to be worthy of the name. Call us old fashioned but if there’s a wall between us and a bullet we like to thing we’re safe. We’re not.

“If you play Mafia II expecting an open world you’ll be disappointed.”

And yet all this is forgivable. It’s hard to dismiss a game that takes such chances – of which near disregard for open world staples such as side missions is arguably least daring. As a result there are stand out moments aplenty. Straight from the off 2K Czech play fast and loose with expectations in Sicily during World War 2. Later on the law catches up with Vito and he’s thrown into prison – a purgatorial grief hole that is the location for some hardcore brawling and an upsetting shower scene. Finally there’s a moment so disturbing that it made our blood run cold. Rarely have we been made to feel the consequences of our actions quite so keenly.

It’s a telling moment in which developer’s reluctance to play be the open world game rulebook suddenly becomes clear. If you were free to play as you like, the elaborate set ups that lead to these punchy payoffs might never happen, and the power of the story would be neutered. We’ve certainly never felt as cowed by more obviously moral games such as Fable. In those we’re often encouraged to be bad by rewards. Here we’re bad because its all Vito knows how to do – and boy do they make you pay for it.

In the end Mafia II is a lot like its lead character: ambitious, -well-presented and powerful – but also flawed. It isn’t an historical alternative to Grand Theft Auto and neither is it the finest third-person shooter you’ll ever play. What it is though is a deep, cinematic and extremely absorbing experience. Fans of everything from the first game to the Godfather movies shouldn’t miss it.

Authentic, brutal and uncompromising, but a few niggling flaws hold this back from greatness.

Graphics 89%

Gameplay 82%

Accessiblity 71%

Lifespan 70%

Innovation 60%

Overall 84%

This review has been typed from the GamesMaster magazine.

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31 comments

  1. How do those individual scores carry forward to a final score of 84%? The simple average is more like 74. The only way I see it ending up as 84 is if graphics were very (, very) strongly weighted, and personally I would think that gameplay would be more important…


  2. The worst review I ever seen!MAFIA 2 Is simply the Game of the year!84% hahhaha!


  3. “For instance, the radar isn’t great for indicating an enemy’s position, the auto aim is horribly unreliable and occasionally you can be gunned down in seconds with little warning.”

    It’s Mafia, not Gears of War or Red Dead Redemption. No auto-aim nor overpowered auto-regeneration here ! There were no such things in the first Mafia, and it was great.
    PC players despise auto-aim ! 😀


    • PC players despise auto aim because using a mouse is already auto aim. Get off your high horse Gnarf. Console gamers need some slight auto aim to be anywhere near as good as you can be with a mouse and keyboard.


  4. GOLDEN CZECH HANDS !!!!


  5. It’s Mafia, not Gears of War or Red Dead Redemption. No auto-aim nor overpowered auto-regeneration here ! There were no such things in the first Mafia, and it was great


  6. Anybody ever played mobsterwar? its sorta like a mafia game, just text based.


  7. A thorough review and as time advances slowly seeing other review magazines presenting the same kind of arguments and roughly the same score is indicative of its excellence.
    Some readers seem to think that their personal favorites should not be judged critically. 84% is a nice score though.
    Personally I would have liked to see more free roaming elements like numerous arbitrary side missions in Mafia 2. For me the single minded linearity is a big let down. But that is my personal preference.


  8. I didnt like the first mafia, maybe ill give this one a shot.


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