Quit messing around - Mafia II offers a different approach to the open world action game. The first level for example, takes place outside of the main sandbox of Empire Bay. No driving, just shooting. It caught me off guard, and it was an effective introduction to both the protagonist, and the allure of life as a powerful made man. After this adventure outside of the main play area, Mafia II forces you to work through the main story arc with little respite. There are no side missions, and while you may be able to rob stores and shop for guns and clothes, odds are you won't want to engage in these distractions.
A grand tale - This is mob drama at its finest. Vito Scaletta is one of the most convincing anti-heroes to helm a game in recent memory, and while I couldn't understand his motives entirely, the effect of each chapter's events were noticeable on him. Each relationship formed or broken opened up more opportunities for reprisal, and as the stakes became higher, both he and I feared what was to come. Vito's personal reflection at the beginning of the final chapter is one of those rare moments where videogames parallel the narrative depth of film and written text. The supporting cast (with the exception of Vito's sister) is also strong, and while there may be a few cliched characters, it was a forgivable trapping of the subject matter. The dialogue is authentic and well written; even the small talk heard while driving between mission objectives is worth listening to. In an earlier post I disclosed the embargo my lovely fiance placed on Mafia II while she prepared an assignment. It was an excruciating 5 day wait to conclude the narrative.
We love this city - Empire Bay is a hauntingly beautiful city to behold. Sometimes I would be distracted by the grandeur of the structures that fill the horizon as I drove across bridges at sunset. While the sandbox may be smaller than what I am used to, it looked good enough for me not to care. More striking though is how the city transforms in the rockin' fifties, both in terms of what people are wearing, the cars and the music you hear on the radio.
Free(D)LC - I've touched on this earlier, however much has been made of the fact that Mafia II lacks the trimmings of genre stalwarts like Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row, in so far as activities peripheral to the main story arc. The Betrayal of Jimmy downloadable content pack is included at no charge with new copies of the Playstation 3 version of the game, and provides much of the unsolicited violence and lawlessness that many may have thought the principal narrative was lacking.
I've seen you before - While the principal cast is modelled and animated to great effect, the residents of Empire Bay do not appear to be an overly diverse group. You will start to see a lot of people dressed the same, even with the same faces; particularly in Chinatown. Come to think of it, Vito's sister and Joe's favourite working girl looked so much alike that you would think they are related, which is slightly unsettling.
Well this is awkward - With the exception of driving, everything in Mafia II takes a little more effort than it should. The cover mechanic is solid, but aiming is not as fluid as you would hope. Often I found myself popping out from safety at the wrong angle, or without adequate view of my enemies. Climbing over obstacles and opening doors usually involves hitting the required button more than once, because you may not be looking at the object at the required angle.
Aim for the head - The average thug in Mafia II can withstand an amazing amount of punishment. Unless you go for the headshot, expect to empty a clip into each enemy you encounter. To make matters worse, your opponents will generally rush toward you, and the aiming is sluggish enough that this will often result in death (for you).
You want to look at porn now? - Collectibles are a staple in most sandbox games, and Mafia II is no exception. There are two kinds, Playboy centrefolds and Wanted posters. Wanted posters are scattered throughout Empire Bay, but the centrefolds are hidden in specific points in each chapter. In one level I was running past a window that was being pelted with bullets only to pick up a Playboy on my way to the next fight. It's a minor gripe, but perhaps the developers may have considered placing them in more organic locations. Don’t shoot, I’m reading Playboy!
Law enforcement for dummies - The police in Mafia II are so ineffective and thuggish that one would think the denizens of Empire Bay would probably prefer mob rule. They push the pedal to the floor and will do nothing but ram you from behind until they get a little too amorous, and collide with a building or another car. They are dispatched easily, and do nothing but frustrate you in some of the more tense sections of the game. Take my advice, if you have a wanted level of two stars or less, just bribe the police and enjoy the game until your next infringement.
The last fucker in the room - Forgive my rudeness, but I can remember at least 5 times when I had killed all but one enemy in a difficult encounter, only to be killed by the last henchman when I had a full bar of health. So out of 20 guys, the last one left has the eyes of a hawk? It may seem like a mild complaint, but given the inconsistent placement of checkpoints, I found myself replaying some lengthy sections (and repeatedly watching a lot of scripted sequences) just because of the last man standing.
7.5/10 - Mafia II's endearing cast and compelling narrative make up for many shortfalls in level design and gameplay mechanics. For those of you in the mood for a well-directed and focussed experience, I would highly recommend that you pick up this game and put it through its paces. If you're expecting a standard sandbox adventure with all of the distractions typical of the genre, be well warned: Vito Scaletta is making a name for himself and the rest of Empire Bay be damned!