It’s a tough time being a Mafia member, if you’re not getting shot at from a million different angles you’re picking up your drunken friends from the bar, selling cigarettes on street corners or robbing jewellery stores. Poor Vito Scaletta has a tough time ahead of him in Mafia II’s world of crime, murder and betrayal.
Coming eight years after the original a lot has changed in the world of open world shooters, from the size of the environment to the range of activities the player can get involved in. And while the city has the size, there’s very little to actually do in it. Side missions are non-existent and the open world seems to only exist to shepherd the player from one story mission to the next, sometimes getting in police chases along the way. The police chases themselves even lacking the tense action of something like Grand Theft Auto. The city of Empire Bay (Mafia II’s fictional New York) is left feeling disappointingly barren.
It does go to show how strong the main story is that the lack of side objectives were never that disappointing, mainly because we were always eager to reach the next story chapter. It may be as cliché ridden as you can get, but they still managed to make the story an enthralling experience. Each character in the game is never black and white, the city often being filled with sympathetic characters drawn into this world, or ones that are borderline psychotic. The protagonist Vito has such a story arc, starting off arriving from Italy to a run-down part of the city, soon finding himself in a life of crime. It’s from these humbles beginnings that you witness Vito rise the ranks of the Mafia. It’s not exactly on par with the gangster fiction you can find on the big screen, but it is the best alternative you can find in game form.
Being set around the 1950’s definitely gives the game a unique flavour. Cars from the period are represented, and what we imagine are true to their real life counterparts, can be difficult to handle. As the game begins during the winter the roads are completely snow covered and the early cars you’ll be driving aren’t particularly tuned well to take corners. However, the addition of classic music made the constant fights with the steering all the more bearable. No matter what you’re driving, cruising down the roads listening to Long Tall Sally can make any game great.
When Mafia II switches to shooting, much like the driving, there’s a slight learning curve as you get used to the feel of each weapon, but eventually it does click. Once again the era means you’ll be handling old school pistols and tommy guns while making the best use of cover. If there’s one issue with the combat it’s the use of a black and white damage effect. Even taking a couple of hits and with half your health remaining the screen fades to black and white. At first it’s all too easy to think you’re close to death; causing you to take your eyes off the prize, glance at your health which quickly leads to a few more bullets landing in your cranium.
Mafia II also features a fair bit of bare knuckle fist fights. It’s the simplest of systems and instead of choosing whether to engage in fisticuffs yourself the game decides for you. The game cutting to Vito with his fists up, pressing buttons to punch and counter, it’s not particularly impressive, and makes you want to just pull out a gun and shoot them Indiana Jones style.
Mafia II may not be the most technically impressive open world game you can find, but that’s not to say it doesn’t do what it does well. A solid gameplay framework built around a story of intrigue, betrayal and murder. The setting itself making it stand out amongst others on the market. So if you fancy trying out life as a mobster, it’s certainly worth your time and money.