Mafia 2 is a beautiful game. Let’s get that out of the way first. 2K Czech put a lot of work and love into this game to make it as good as possible. It’s definitely one of the better games I’ve played this year.
The biggest standout in this game is its story. It’s a well crafted and well paced piece of work. The game is meant to take place in the 1950s. From all we know of the people in that time period, the developers created an accurate portrait of how Italian Americans (and Americans in general) were back then. For all the complaints about how racist this game is, that’s how life was. There were Italians in the Mafia. That’s no secret. Speaking of the Mafia, this game tells a great Mafia story. It had better, seeing as the game is called Mafia II. From all the media (being books, TV, movies, etc.) we have about the Italian Mafia, this game follows a lot of the same trends and does them well. There’s a lot of old school meets new school, a lot of meeting at restaurants, a bit of cheek kissing, and it’s all very good. The balance between humor and serious is perfect as well. The tone fits with what’s going on at the time. There’s no jokes during an intense chase, but there’s plenty during a casual drive to a restaurant. AND Like any good game, it’s got a lot of shooting.
The fire fights in this game are handled very well. It’s the typical aim and shoot sort of game. There’s a single button press to go into cover. You hold down a different button when you want to move around cover. There’s a single button press to reload. Your guns are all arranged into categories on the D-Pad. To select between your rifles, you press up a bunch of times to find the one you want. Melee combat is quick and easy. Pressing circle punches the guys out. If you’re crouched and the guys don’t know where you are, you can sneak up behind them and press circle to do a stealth kill. It’s very easy to pick up on because it’s another simple variation on play styles we’ve had for years. There’s no auto targeting or lock on, but I never found it hard to line up a shot I was trying to make.
The scripted hand to hand combat is a little simple. It’s not really meant to be a fighting game, but I can’t help be bothered by how easy it is to win fights in this game. Holding down the X button dodges every move automatically. It’s really just a matter of holding down the dodge button and waiting for them to punch you so you can hook them really quick. There are minimal amounts of strategy and timing there, yes, but it’s the same exact pattern for every single fight. There’s only one chapter in the game where you’ll really have a chance to complain about it, however.
Driving in the game is as easy to pick up on as the shooting. At first, I found it a bit floaty, but I got the hang of it very fast. There’s four main buttons you need to worry about. Accelerate, brake, and handbrake are the three standard ones everyone knows about from Grand Theft Auto. The biggest (and most welcome, in some cases) button is the speed limiter. This game has speed limits and the cops will try and bust you for breaking them. The speed limiter immediately cuts your speed to the appropriate level. All the police (both on foot and in car) are marked on your radar. If you see one coming and you’re barreling down a residential street at 110 MPH, you simply put on the limiter and you get cut down to 40 MPH. After you pass the cop, you can take it off and go fast again (or just keep going the limit like a good person). The game makes certain things you expect to be legal in GTA (like speeding and crashing into cars that aren’t police vehicles) illegal. Going the speed limit actually helps during the two or three missions where you have to follow someone without them noticing. Let them get a semi-decent lead and then follow them at the speed limit, you should never have to worry about getting too close. The bad part is that you can’t shoot out of your car. It really hurts during the times you’re in a chase, seeing as you’d probably be able to line up a shot better than Joe while on wheels. Otherwise, it’s not an essential feature.
While the driving in Mafia II is more demanding than other open world games, there are some great short cuts. Even though speeding is illegal, jutting across parks, driving on the sidewalks, running red lights, and other sorts of debauchery are A-OK. If you do happen to get caught and arrested, you have the option to resist arrest or bribe the officers into letting you go (assuming they aren’t meant to shoot you on sight. Then you just get shot) instead of simply getting busted like in GTA. It’s a nice change of pace.
On a cosmetic level, the graphics are very good. The city is very nice. It’s very textbook. Textbook as in it looks like it looked in my High School history books. The people walking around feel like people too. It’s hard to explain, but they react to things in believable ways. The character’s facial expressions are also well done. There are times where you notice some “off” things. The mouth motions of the characters don’t always match up to what they’re saying. It’s off putting to a degree.
The game’s biggest failing, however, is the lack of open world elements. The way this game looks on paper screams sandbox game. When you put the game in and start playing, you realize it’s divided into chapters. You always have missions to do during these chapters, but you’re allowed to deviate and do what you want. It’s too bad that the only real things to do are look for Playboy magazines (filled with women who are probably 80 by now) and wanted posters. The worst part is that the vast majority of the magazines are found DURING MISSIONS. There’s no real reason to explore the world unless you’re in it for the achievement/trophy. In order to tell their fantastic and focused story, they restrict you to the bare minimum world. This is the most linear sandbox game I’ve played in my life.
If you go into this game not expecting vast exploration, you’ll come out of it with an incredibly positive experience. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this as a buy. You’ll need about a week (maybe less) to do everything the game has to offer. I recommend this as a very enthusiastic rent and stamp it with 4 ships out of 5: