So here we are, Mafia II. A game that puts you into the shoes of an Italian come American gangster, sounds good eh? Well Take Two were the ones who put out the original Mafia across the last gen formats and it was quite well received to say the least. Like every game it had its problems, yes, but it had more positives than negatives. So since its initial revealing in 2007, Mafia II has had much love and attention in order to make it shine amongst the best of the current gen classics like Grand Theft Auto IV (GTAIV) and Red Dead Redemption. Although not obviously challenging these triple A titles, some similarities would be drawn, but every game can be seen to be similar in different ways.
A crime against many open world adventures, or 'sandbox' games, is the fact that they can feel empty and have not shown much attention to detail when it comes to the little things, say when it comes to changing a character’s outfits or modifying vehicles and so on. So here we see a potential downfall which will need avoiding in order to make this game a hit. Surely if there's a strong shooting element and a cover system that works well, then this in turn will attract fans of two of the biggest genres around? If so, Take Two could well end up with a fat wad of dough in their bank accounts.
With three years in development you'd expect to see a fair amount of polish throughout the game, and you do. Cut-scenes have lovely graphics, whilst the in game visuals aren't too shabby either. The detail throughout the game is remarkable; the snow in the streets looks touchable and light reflecting off the glass panels in the doors looks wonderful. Whilst cars are stood stationary, snow will build up on the roof and once mobile it will inevitably slip off round a corner. This just shows how much love has been put into the game, rather than just sending it off with the completed basics.
One key feature of setting a game in a past generation is the importance of capturing the spirit of the era without being inaccurate or too stereotypical, which Mafia II uncannily seems to do with frightening accuracy. Throughout this period, the Second World War is ongoing which can be seen, and heard, throughout your travels. There will be announcements played out through the radio stations in cars, revealing how the war effort is going not only for America, but for all the Allies too. Army vehicles will also be seen across the city, driving around undoubtedly transporting supplies. Not only this, but you will come across numerous music tracks from the era, cars that have been inspired by vehicles from the 40's and 50's and various accents and people from across the world.
One of the very minor faults with games such as Grand Theft Auto is that their interior details are below that of the treatment that is given to the outside world, leaving them feeling a little bland and generic, whereas they should reveal a character’s personality etc. Within Mafia II though, every interior is bursting with life and such detail that you could spend a good amount of time simply interacting with the many objects that can be found within each room. Feeling a bit nippy? Then shut the window. Or are you a premature 'eco-warrior'? Then go round switching off all the lights. Yes, it really is that detailed and lifelike. You can even open the fridge in your living quarters to tuck into a sandwich and a beer or an ice cold Cola. Not only this, but if you happen to break into a Post Office say, and look around, you'll find people’s desks scattered with the day’s papers. No generic tidy desks or tucked-under chairs here. Oh no.
From the interior, to the hectic and quite frankly, beautiful exterior that is Empire City you have the ultimate pleasure of exploring. As pre-stated, there is plenty of life within the streets of the city, regardless of the time, as would be expected with a city that has been based on New York. So should you take a walk downtown at 3pm or 3am, there will always be someone around. Not only will you notice the various Non-Playable-Characters scattered around, but also the beauty of the city will catch your eye, specially given that you will see it through different seasons. You really begin to appreciate how well this city has been put together in order for an enjoyable experience to be had within it; shop windows are not generic and cafés and bars have a 'buzz' within them through jukeboxes and endless conversation between customers.
Upon beginning a new campaign, you are given the background story to the guy you control; Vito. His family moved to America from Italy when he was a boy. His father, like everyone at this time, was chasing their “American dream” with the goal of becoming rich and retiring early. But things didn't quite work out that way. Their flat they moved into was falling apart, and the majority of the money made went on the father’s drink habit. With no male role model, Vito falls in with the wrong crowd and is caught in the act of burglary with his 'pal' Joe, more on which later. With the choice of jail or military service, the young Vito chooses the latter and is sent back home to Italy for translation purposes throughout the invasion. After a pleasant WW2 shoot-out, Vito is sent back to America suffering an injury in battle, where sure enough he is reunited with his old friend Joe, and needless to say, it all kicks off from there.
With a story that is driven by crime, corruption and action it's unsurprising that the most important feature that works and works well, is the shooting and cover system. Snapping in and out of cover feels easy and is as simple as a press of the 'A' button. Keeping your head low is not only used for popping out to fire at enemies though, it also comes in mighty handy when using stealth to bypass your enemies. You can peak round the corners, standing or crouched, and analyse your surroundings before then making your move. The overall movement of Vito feels good, he isn't too sluggish or speedy and his military training means he can sprint a fair distance.
Contrasting this, the guns you will get your mitts on make the game enjoyable to play through the various set pieces and fire-fights that you will encounter frequently. Following suit of GTAIV, when Mafia II does set pieces, it does them well and on scale. Guns like the MP40, Tommy Gun and the standard pistol make an appearance here and all feel satisfying to use as they neither feel overpowered or under for that matter. But the fact is that enemies react differently to being shot, be it falling to the floor or clutching the wound, before trying to return fire in vain, thus meaning that each target needs a different amount of damage to take down, as opposed to enemies being generically copied and pasted throughout the game.
If you find yourself low on cash, and more importantly ammo, then you can engage in a simple yet effective hand-to-hand combat mechanic. Combo's can be executed with a triple press of 'A' or 'B' whilst big hits can be delivered with 'Y'. Don't expect to see any glamorous finishing moves or combos Street Fighter style though.
At this point you must be thinking, “Where do the cars fit into this?” Well let me tell you. The vehicles are perfectly modelled and fully represent those from the era with their bold designs, rounded bonnets and corners. Not only this but to drive them is actually a joy too, with none of them feeling too cumbersome, nor do their rear ends slide out of control when you take a corner at speed. That is, of course, unless you try a fast corner whilst it’s snowing. That's right, your driving will be affected by the elements, so don't be surprised if you go careering into an innocent bystander when you hit a patch of ice. One problem, I thought, when driving around Liberty City in GTA IV, was you could run a red light or speed past a cop without even a clip round the ear. The police here though have not loosened their belts, if you're found doing 60 MPH in a 40 zone, don't be surprised if a chase shortly ensues. The same applies if you have a knock with a pedestrian or their vehicle, and then decide to give it legs. They will chase you. Some might find this harsh, but why shouldn't they? You are breaking the law after all. To counter this though, some story characters request that you drive carefully and not too fast, so whilst driving a press of the 'A' button will activate 'safe mode' which restricts your speed to the area’s limit. A neat feature that will keep the heat off you.
One gripe with the game that could be pointed at is the fact that you will spend a lot of time driving, or being driven around Empire City. There isn't as much shooting involved as you would hope for, but that isn't to say that Mafia II gets overly boring or lacklustre. Neither for that matter will you spend too much time hanging round for loading screens to disappear. Everything seems to happen on the fly, when you enter a building, it loads immediately as opposed to being treated to a black screen till the interior is ready.
An average gamer will probably take around 9 hours or so to complete Mafia II, dependant on their exploration for collectables such as the Playboy posters and the cars you steal in return for cash. There is an absence of a multiplayer mode, but I feel that this may be a good thing as the singleplayer would be affected due to this in terms of graphics and surely length wise. Maybe this could be something that is released through Downloadable Content (DLC), but for now the story driven campaign should provide enough fun for the player.
As is the case here, and with many other narrative based games, the player will always feel like they want to come back, as they feel connected with what is going on in the game. The characters ooze charm, have cracking banter between one another and they also drive the story so strongly that people will feel a little saddened once you conclude Vito’s adventure. But this is no bad thing as this could be the hook which keeps bringing people back again and again to replay the game despite how many times they have completed it previously.
All in all then this game is unquestionably a must play for fans of all genres to dabble with as many of them will become immediately absorbed into the world in which you play. So what if there isn’t enough action or shooting and too much driving? Yes the game is more linear than it first appears to be, but surely then people must savour what the game does offer and ignore these very minor niggles with a title that shines amongst the best open world games out there at present.
- Brilliant set pieces
- Lovely character and story
- Living the American dream
Cheesy Italian plumber
- Too linear for some
- A lot of driving
Mafia II Xbox 360 Review
It's a well known fact; gamers love playing games that let them live the life of a gangster, especially when the title is set in the 1940's/1950's. Mafia II is a prime example of a title that is steeped with nostalgia and history that truly brings the era to life. There are however problems with the games linear feel and how much driving that you have to do in order to get to and from your missions. Even with these problems, there is enough substance to Mafia II that any fan of the sandbox genre will find themselves engrossed in the 50's era.
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