Mafia II

Mafia II
Mafia II Cover
Platforms Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows
Genre Seamless third-person shooter
Score 7  Clock score of 7
Buy from Amazon

Since Grand Theft Auto III was released in 2001, there has been a new expectation of open world video games. Along with a story, there needs to be dozens of extra things to do that usually have little to do with the actual plot, such as driving a taxi cab, delivering pizzas, or putting out fires (that you started!). Now what if we had a game that featured an open world, but was story driven and linear? Seems like a bit of an oxymoron, but that’s exactly what Mafia II is.

Mafia II was released in August on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Windows. Reception has been good but for a game in development for over half a decade, some gamers and analysts were expecting better. Mafia II is all about recreating that favorite mobster movie of yours and putting control into your hands. While it isn’t my favorite genre of film, I can appreciate a good mob tale when I see one.

Our copy of Mafia II was provided to us by 2K Games, this review is for the Xbox 360 version.

What was awesome: I had some qualms about the third-person shooter/cover system Mafia II had employed during my first hour review of the game. After recently playing Gears of War 2 and Mass Effect 2 before that, things felt off at first, but by the end of the game I was loving it. 2K managed to develop an excellent shooter system in an open world, a combination of genres I haven’t seen executed this well before.

The coolest feature of the system is definitely how you lock onto cover. Unlike other games where you have to be literally pressing up against the wall before you can duck under it, Mafia II allows you to slide in from yards away. The animation of Vito rolling in from a short distance away looks great and just feels awesome. It allows moving from cover to cover really simple and fluid. Vito also isn’t completely invincible behind cover like Shepard in Mass Effect 2. Your cover can easily crumble with bullet fire and you can quickly become vulnerable. I was really impressed by the cover system.

Speaking of animations, Mafia II is a gorgeous game. Because it is so story driven, there are a ton of cutscenes focusing on our large cast of mobsters. Lots of closeups, lots of lip syncing, and tons of subtle animations that do as well at conveying emotion as the excellent voice acting. I’m not a huge fan of cutscenes, but Mafia’s were entertaining just to watch the directing. Yes, it felt like I was watching a movie at times, not because the graphics were astoundingly awesome, but because it was mimicking a film in every way. There are a lot of cutscenes, by the way, but a lot of the exposition is told while you’re on the road driving to your next destination.

With lots of cutscenes means lots of voice acting, and while the cast is mostly unrecognizable, they’re all pretty stellar, especially the main cast. 2K really has an awesome combination here of great acting, great animations, and a great story.

What I liked: Because of its highly story-driven nature, the size of your bank account and even what clothes you have in your closet all pretty much depend on what mission you’re currently on. There is one mainstay between chapters though, and that is what cars you have in your garage. You can collect up to 10 cars at a time throughout the game and even upgrade their handling and top speed. For me this meant I was actually picking a favorite car in my garage to drive as I had invested money into the vehicle. It’s a great addition to the game and probably Mafia II’s biggest foray into the Grand Theft Auto type of world we’re more familiar with.

Surprisingly, the developers handle car ownership very liberally too. You can take a car out of your garage at home, leave it at the bar on the other side of town, and when you return to your other safehouse in another part of the Empire Bay your car will be again be available. Your car also takes damage and you can repair it right in your own garage, which is a great bonus. Some of my cars honestly felt like characters in the game to me. Finally, if you beat up your car beyond recognition, its engine just dies. You can get out and repair the engine right on the road. Nice feature!

I’m not really sure how to describe this, but things felt Shenmue-like at times. The way you walk Vito around your apartment checking stuff out or even talking with sailors down at the dock (seriously). Just thought I’d like to call this out.

Mafia 2 Vito Shoot up Police car

What I didn’t like: Before the game was released, I wondered on our podcast what the impact of cops pulling you over for speeding would be. Overall, it didn’t turn out to be that big of a deal, but it’s very odd how you can weave in and out of lanes, run through stop lights, and cut old ladies off but if you travel 50 MPH in a 40 MPH zone, you will have the cops after you.

During the game you begin to know the limits of the cops though. There’s only a maximum of one cop car on your radar at any time if you’re not wanted and you can generally push the speed limit a bit, especially if the police are behind you. And even if you get pulled over, you can pay a $50 fine right there and move on with your life.

You will be driving a lot, so being pulled over is always a risk. There’s also the risk of just getting bored and quitting. Yeah, there is a ton of driving around.

I’m a bit torn about putting this in what I didn’t like, but the ending felt... odd. Without giving away spoilers, it’s a very movie-like ending, and very un-videogame-like. It left me a little bit confused but as I thought about it more it made more sense. It’s a great reminder though that Mafia II wants to be a great mob story before it wants to be a great video game. Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as something like Assassin’s Creed’s ending.

What I hated: I had a few gripes in the game that really bugged me, and they really go hand in hand. For one, the checkpoint system is rather meager in the game. Since the game is divided into chapters, Mafia II will only save a checkpoint at a major point in the actual story. If you want to cruise around town in between missions, not only is this actively discouraged by the game’s checkpointing system, but all of your progress can be lost in one car accident or bullet to the head. If you want to save you have to progress the story, and even then the checkpoints are a bit few and far between.

My second major problem with the game is its somewhat excessive realism when driving. No, the actual driving is very arcadey and feels great, but if you are in a head-on collision at any speed over 45 MPH, you will instantly die. I had to replay one part of a mission about five times because I kept crashing in the same place. I know, I know, it’s my fault for crashing, but the sequence before the crash was really boring and repetitive.

There is one neat bonus though from the chapter system in that you can replay a chapter at any time. After I beat the game I went back and played a few of the chapters again because they were so much fun.

Mafia 2 Empire bay car


Gameplay: 8
Mafia II features a surprisingly great integration of a third person shooter and open world game that made firefights a bit of a joy. Vito can also carry more than two guns at once (actually, something like ten guns!). Driving is also pretty enjoyable but there’s that weird decision where you can get pulled over for speeding always weighing on you.

Fun Factor: 6
There is an excessive amount of driving from point A to point B in Mafia II and sometimes you’ll get randomly headshotted during a firefight and go down instantly, otherwise I enjoyed myself. I really appreciated the focused nature of the game, but would have welcomed a bit more freedom as the game essentially discouraged you from branching out.

Graphics and Sound: 9
Really good graphics for a game that’s spent the last six years or so in development and moved from the PS2/Xbox to PS3/Xbox 360. The animations are some of the most impressive I’ve ever seen in a video game and the voice acting is very good. There’s also a great selection of music on the radio from the era.

Story: 8
I loved the story, there are a lot of unexpected twists thrown in even though it’s basically telling a straight mob story. I will admit, at times I was a bit confused by some of the extra characters that kept floating in and out of the story. There are also some missions that just seem like they were included because they’re the stereotypical mobster thing to do.

Overall: 7
I really enjoyed my Mafia II experience. I love the linearity of it as whenever I play a Grand Theft Auto game I always get distracted with all the crap it throws at you. The cover system works really well and even though you drive a lot it’s still pretty fun late in the game. There’s some pretty major problems with the number of checkpoints and how saving in general works though. But if you’re looking for great story and gameplay, Mafia II is it.