For those that have yet to play Mafia II, it would be so easy to take a quick glance at some of the gameplay and then liken it to another open world game, Grand Theft Auto. But to tell you the truth this could not be any further from the reality of it. Sure, the game does share some of the same features and there are definite similarities, much as there are with most open world games set in a city nowadays. But do not be fooled because Mafia II is without a doubt a great game in its own right. So what exactly gives the game its uniqueness? Read on to find out.
One of the major differences between this and the obvious comparison GTA, is that Mafia is very story driven. That is not to say the other game in question did not have a great story, but when it comes to Mafia the story missions are much more linear, rather than branching off into many a side mission and activity. Although this sounds like a bad thing, with a story as good as Mafia II it is actually welcome. The story revolves around the hero of the piece Vito Scaletta, who in the opening of the game is arrested and faced with the choice of a prison sentence or being sent overseas to fight in the war. The game is set between 1943 and 1955, and the very first chapter of the game takes place as you fight in the war. It does not have much to do with the story, but is a fun little introduction to the combat system. The story itself really kicks in when Vito is injured and sent home. From this point on the game it is a tale of Vito’s rise through the ranks of the Mafia, to the status of made man. This leads to you as Vito taking on numerous tasks, some as menial as disposing of a body, to taking out a Mafia boss by blowing up a hotel room. But of course things do not always go quite as smoothly as you may expect or planned.
The gameplay, like I mentioned before, is typical of your open world games, combining a mix of walking and running around, driving and of course gunfights, which use the, now popular in so many action games, cover and fire system, and playing on hard difficulty you really do need to use that cover system. Thankfully it all comes together well in the gunfights as you quickly dive into cover with the tap of a button and lean out to aim and fire with your shoulder buttons. Aim well you must, as the guns in the game do recoil, the shotgun especially, meaning aiming carefully is a prerequisite.
The driving in the game feels right for the time period the game is set in. When you first begin playing, the handling of the cars feels slightly sluggish, but it is not long before you get the hang of it and you are flying along the highways and drifting around turns. You do however need to be a little more careful when you are travelling at high speeds on some of the games roads, as a head on crash can lead to a pretty messy case of being dead.
Another thing you need to be mindful of when driving in Mafia II is that the police are a lot more unforgiving in this game. The vehicles are fitted with a speed limiter that keeps you safe from unwanted attention from the law. This can be turned on and off at any time with the tap of a button for quick getaways or just for that moment of high speed madness. Mowing down civilians either with your car or a weapon will also have the cops on your tail rather quickly. The police are fairly easy to lose in the game. Just switching or repainting your car, or changing your outfit, all do the job perfectly well. Or if you feel so inclined, you can deal with the troublesome lawmen in a slightly more aggressive manner – if you know what I mean.
The game is set within ten square miles of the fictional city Empire Bay. The full map is open to the player from the get go, so there is no need to wait until you are half way through the game to unlock certain areas. This is mostly a good thing, giving the player free reign right away. But it also has a downside which I will get to soon. The whole city looks amazing no matter where you are at the time. Even if you go to the most obscure place you can find, it will still look as good as actual mission locations, which I may add are all perfectly suited for the gunfights that erupt throughout them, be it in a warehouse down by the docks, through the bombed out floor of a hotel or within a half built skyscraper. The missions themselves come in the shape of fourteen chapters which string together the story and mostly end in a sizeable chunk of action, although there are a few more mundane ones. One flaw when it comes to these chapters is the lack of checkpoints. They are in some of the larger missions, be it a single one midway through the chapter, but in general, and this mostly effects you if playing on a harder difficulty, if you die then you begin again from the beginning. Although this is not a huge problem, it can be a little annoying at times as I found out myself when playing through the game on the hard difficulty setting when I was stumped at one point in particular for a wee while.
So with the story and the gameplay both getting the thumbs up from me, does the presentation also impress? The simple answer is yes. The game not only looks great but sounds great also. All the vehicles are all really well built, I especially enjoy the greasers hot rods. There are over thirty modes of transport within the game and they all look as good as the last. I mean build wise, because there is a huge difference between a 1940s family car and a 1950s sports car. But as much work has gone into creating each and every one. It is not only the cars that look amazing, the whole city looks amazing be you in the suburbs, down by the docks, driving through the streets or in the middle of the city. The buildings and structures throughout the game, both exterior and interiors are pretty much faultless. Sound wise, the game is as equally well done and, for the first time in a long time, I found myself turning down the sound effects and turning the music up a little. With classic music and rock from artists such as Bing Crosby, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and Dean Martin amongst many others, even if it is not your usual fare, I challenge you not to enjoy the music within the game.
Up until now it has all been good news and quite rightly so. Mafia II is a great game in its own right, but it does have a few flaws. The first of these in my opinion is the length of the game. When it comes to open world games such as this you generally expect a lengthy gaming experience. But when it comes to Mafia II, the linear nature of its story and the lack of activities outside of the main story, other than searching for the games collectables which take the shape of almost one hundred and fifty wanted posters and fifty Playboy centrefolds, there is not much more to do in the game. This means that not only is the story over all too quickly, there is a lot of the games city that you will rarely see except in passing as you drive along between missions and or just sightseeing. Something else which could have given the game a longer life would have been a multiplayer mode, even something as simple as a run of the mill death match or co-operative story mode. With the absence of a multiplayer option and an enjoyable yet short story, any gamer with decent gaming skills can complete the game within a two or three days and once that story is done, there is a distinct lack of in game content to warrant you coming back for more.
So Mafia II is an amazingly fun game to play, but with a short story. When you reach the end of the tale there is not much to do other than gather the games collectible items. These can be a little frustrating as a lot of them are tough to find and seeking them all out is a personal test of patience. The lack of a multiplayer mode is also a little bit of a letdown in this day and age, when the majority of games do have some form of multiplayer gaming. Otherwise it is a very enjoyable game to play, with fun and exciting missions. Although the big gunfight scenes involve the same thing, the mix of locations for these action scenes keeps it fun and exciting. The one hope we have for the game is the Download Content, some of which is already available and I will review soon. However, the game as it comes off the shelf is more than entertaining enough if you enjoy the open world type of game. If this is the case, then this is one you may well want to check out.