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Mafia II Review

Sparky Clarkson's picture

Actually, it is for Nothing

Mafia II Screenshot

HIGH Eddie and Joe singing along drunkenly to "Return to me" in the car.

LOW The preceding half-hour, during which they vomit constantly.

WTF I failed one mission because the guy I was tailing ran into a taxi of his own accord.

Another crime story features another immigrant. Will he ascend the ranks of a criminal organization on the backs of a hundred bullet-riddled bodies? Will he carry out a series of missions for his bosses, each of which goes FUBAR? Will he rise to riches at the cost of friends and family, and ultimately come to regret his decisions in life? Mafia II answers those questions in precisely the way you expect. Now, you lucky fellow, you can skip playing the game.

Mafia II follows the criminal career of glass-jawed immigrant Vito Scaletta, who comes to the city of Empire Bay as a child and grows up to become its greatest mass murderer. In the space of about nine months as a free man, he kills his way through four major criminal organizations, plus a few assorted street gangs and couple dozen cops. He also finds time to sample conversations and events that loosely paraphrase whatever great crime or prison movie can be shoehorned into his plot. Mafia II is strictly rewarmed leftovers, repeating themes and plot points you've encountered a dozen times already in films that had better presentation and much better writing.

This isn't to say that the presentation is poor. The city of Empire Bay is beautifully crafted, the cut-scenes are rendered with great care and attention to detail, and the voice actors almost universally deliver fine performances. But Mafia II, though it's a strong effort, cannot rival film in visual or emotional fidelity. The limited expressiveness of the character models makes them unable to support Mafia II's slow fizzle of a story, or to imbue the game's more subtle sequences with the necessary emotional punch.

The problem is most acute when it comes to Vito himself. Games have featured blood-spattered sociopaths before and will again, but this man seems curiously passive about his killing sprees. He plugs gangsters with the furious intensity of a man sorting the mail, yet late in the game he agonizes, without apparent irony, over whether or not to sell drugs. That kind of incoherence can be supported, but the writing and the visuals never rise to the occasion. 

Mafia II Screenshot

It is telling that the scenes of the game that resonated most with me all took place during conversations in the car or on the phone, when I could not see the person speaking. I often felt that Mafia II would have been better as a radio drama.

Characters end up talking in the car a lot because the gameplay focuses so greatly on driving that I occasionally forgot Vito had a gun. Generally, the driving isn't really integrated into the mission; it's just insisted on by a structure that tries to compensate for the game's lack of true open-world character by sending you on a tour of the city in every chapter. Mafia II goes to laughable lengths to get you to  drive, whether it makes sense for the story or not.

We're taking Joe's car? You're driving. Marty's the getaway driver? You're driving. Henry shows up at your house and wants to take you for a drink in his car? You're driving, a very long way, in a finicky vehicle, through a city with very little regular grid structure, alongside AI drivers who can't seem to negotiate a turn at a green light.

Fortunately you can pass right by most of it, as the cops seem not to notice minor infractions like running red lights, driving on the wrong side of the road, or chasing a speeding limousine while your best friend leans out your window peppering it with bullets from his Tommy gun. Heaven help you, though, if you speed where the cops can see you, or accidentally bump into the back of yet another car that interprets a green light as a signal to stop dead in its tracks, because they will try to take you out.

Getting out of your vehicle does little to improve the situation. Mafia II too frequently relies on a clunky boxing mode with a control scheme too simple to allow for strategic play, but with fights so unforgiving that I longed for it. I had particular trouble getting the camera to where I could see what was going on in these fights for more than ten seconds, and the game constantly fought my efforts to maneuver the camera in tight quarters.

Although I didn't enjoy a minute of them, I found the presence of the fistfights interesting, as I did the game's occasional depiction of gangster drudgery—including an extended sequence in which you must choose the right cigarettes from the boxes in the back of your truck. Although it's difficult to accept subtlety from a game that asks you to look at some breasts every fifteen minutes, one can almost sense a desire to create a realist mob drama in this effort to flesh out criminal activities other than gunplay.

Mafia II Screenshot

When the guns come out, of course, the bodies pile up into mountains and that sensation vanishes. In its gunfights Mafia II shows off a solid, if unremarkable, cover-shooting system with regenerating health to compensate for Vito's papier-mâché body and the enemy's dead-eye aim. Levels are designed with copious, naturalistic cover, although often I found it difficult to tell just by looking whether or not a given object would leave me vulnerable. Some cover proved to be surprisingly destructible or porous, and in other cases Vito would lose health seemingly just because bullets were hitting something near him. The AI also showed an occasional tendency to charge, a tactic that proved successful because I couldn't get the camera or reticule to keep up with them.

The shootouts also showcase Mafia II's irritating collectibles, the anachronistic Playboy magazines, which end the surprisingly brief reign of Alan Wake's coffee thermoses as the worst collectible ever placed in a game. What exactly is the concept here? Is Vito going to rub one out while Joe and Henry exchange gunfire with the Tongs? It feels a little more sensible when you find one outside of battle, laying around somebody's apartment or office, but frankly, the Playboy pics come across as nothing more than a craven and desperate ploy to sell the game on the basis of T&A.

In defense of its presence, the collectible pornography perfectly suits the game's misogynistic male characters, who treat women as disposable playthings. If a woman shows up in the game, it is to serve as a sex object or a proximal cause for Vito to punch someone in the face (or both). The men in this game don't appear to have serious relationships, or even serious conversations, with women. Hilariously, although it's willing to shove breasts in your face in the middle of a shootout, Mafia II is so terrified of the male form that it depicts men wearing boxer shorts during a shower scene and an attempted homosexual rape. The game's sexual mores seem to have been precisely engineered to appeal to teenage douchebags who have no idea how to interact with an actual female human being and an unholy terror of accidentally seeing a penis.

There is a trace of a worthwhile game here, one that emphasized the drudgery and tedium of organized crime, which would have played out in beautiful irony against Vito's fantasies of an exciting life, money, and power. That game might not have been any fun either, but unlike Mafia II it would have at least been original and intriguing. Instead, those elements have been interspersed with maniacally escapist shootouts and pornography, and shoehorned into a story stitched together from the corpses of a dozen better gangster and prison movies. Mafia II is every bit as soulless and dull as its bland sociopathic protagonist. Rating: 3.5 out of 10.

Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail store and reviewed on the Xbox 360. Approximately 12 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed 1 time).

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood, intense violence, nudity, sexual content, strong language, and use of drugs and alcohol. A man is hacked to death with butcher knives. Men drink too much and, aided by the stench of a decaying body on a summer's day, they vomit. A man infiltrates a slaughterhouse through a sewer and is showered in excrement. A woman fellates a man and shortly after he calls her a "f—king c*m dumpster." Even by the standards of video games, Mafia II's content is especially cruel, vile, and misogynistic. Do not buy this game for your children, or even any adults you happen to like.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: Subtitles are available and there are no essential audio cues. However, the music on the radio is an essential component of the era aesthetic and the game will be less impressive without it.

Category Tags
Platform(s): Xbox 360   PS3   PC  
Developer(s): 2K Czech  
Publisher: 2K Games  
Series: Mafia  
Genre(s): Shooting   Driving   Open World  
ESRB Rating: Mature (17+)  
Articles: Game Reviews  

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At Least You're Honest

Gotta say, this is the most honest review I've read for Mafia II. Most reviewers seem to have worn a pair of rose-colored glasses when playing, taken in by the gorgeous graphics and ignoring the rest. I was intrigued by the concept and I enjoyed the first Mafia even if it was a bit rough around the edges, but I haven't even bothered with the second.

Maybe I'm just sandboxed out with games like RDR and The Saboteur lately, or maybe sandbox games are focusing too much on the sand and not enough on the story told inside the box.

I completely agree with

I completely agree with Ashley's first paragraph, but not so much the second. The problem I have with most sandbox games is that they give you this huge area to play in, but most, if not all, of the time, missions are completely linear. No way to implement your own strategy or way of playing, it's always "go from a to b, b to c, kill something, back to a again".

That's what I get the impression Mafia 2 is like.

Well, everyone has varying

Well, everyone has varying tastes, so it's difficult to condemn other reviewers for enjoying the game. Some people will love this game. However, most reviewers have found Mafia II to be average, as opposed to great or flat out terrible. Despite the score, Sparky seems to find the game bland, rather than terrible.

Mafia II, unlike the excellent RDR (for instance), seems to be confused about what defines an open-world experience. RDR features unique missions, a plethora of things to do between said missions, and rewards the player for exploring the environment. Mafia II: Chauffeur's Quest, is open-world lite. Seriously, it's like they ignored the last 9 years of progression in the open-world genre.

Maybe my memory of the first

Maybe my memory of the first one is completely false, but Mafia never was an open world game. It was a linear game placed in an open world. Actually similar to Mario 64. Afaik after you finished the game you were able to do 30 missions in an open world manner. (that is missing in the sequel until DLC...) While the actual game ran, there was hardly anything to do beside the next single "quest", i.e. main story mission.

If someone expects GTA-style he will not find it in Mafia 1 and i guess also not in Mafia 2.

semi-open world

Mafia II has a strange construction, as crackajack pointed out. It's really quite a linear game, but the setting is a large open world. I don't think this decision was particularly wise. There's not a lot to do in the city, and even if there was, the linear nature of the game makes you feel like you're not supposed to be doing the few side activities there are. Also, I can't help but feel that the enormous amount of driving is a result of trying to squeeze enough gameplay out of the (mostly wasted) city to justify the expense of creating it. Although it's a lot prettier and has more decorative events, Mafia II's gameworld has less engagement and activity to offer a player than Deadly Premonition's, a game that had some similarities in its construction.

That said, I can understand the appeal of this game for some players. If you really take to the driving, like Russ Pitts, or you find the gunplay especially rewarding, or you're taken in by the voice acting (and let me reiterate that it really is phenomenal) then I can see giving this game a high score. But, for me there was no escaping the feeling that the fine presentation work was wasted on a recycled story and lousy gameplay, spiced up with some really grotesque moments that I didn't feel were earned by the rest of it.

I'm surprised by the

I'm surprised by the critical reception Mafia II has received. Usually I'm pretty harsh on games but I personally found Mafia very engaging; yes, the story has its problems, but there seems to be a trend among critical gaming circles today that overlooks the fact that these products being reviewed are GAMES.

If you're going to criticize the fact that bodies pile up, thus rendering the story less believable, or the fact that you have to do a lot of driving, you might as well forgo gaming altogether. The developers do their best to immerse you in the Mafiosi world. Sparky, as you point out, you deal with cigarettes and other fairly humdrum tasks, but the crux of the game lies in shooting and driving.

Why is it any surprise then that you do plenty of shooting and driving? Were it emulating real life properly, Joe WOULD drive, there wouldn't be Playboy magazines littering the world and you might even see a penis or two.

I like your reviews a lot Sparky. Personally I think you're a brilliant writer. But I find this nitpicking trend (one that applies to many other sites too) troubling. You're not watching a film or reading a book; this being a game, you sometimes need to suspend your disbelief.

It's not difficult to do. It really isn't. No game can match our expectations of real life accurately. If it did, it wouldn't be a game, and it wouldn't be fun either. I understand the sentiment that there was TOO MUCH driving in Mafia II, but to criticize the game for getting you actively involved seems perverse in my eyes.

I apologize if I sound harsh. I don't mean to be, and as I said, I think you're a great, interesting writer. Moreover, I'd like to hear your thoughts.

Kind regards.

re: Edward

My problem isn't with the shootouts per se; after all, games like The Saboteur and Red Dead Redemption have similar bodycounts and I wasn't particularly bothered by them. The problem for me was that there wasn't a coherent aesthetic here. On the one hand you have these realist tasks like the cigarettes and the driving, and on the other hand you have these ludicrous shootouts. Then there's the world that's very clearly meant to be immersive, and the Playboys, which can't do anything other than break that immersion.

If the game had been about the shootouts, with more arcade-like driving and a lighter plot, I would have liked Mafia II much more. And, as I said in the review, if it had really focused on being a serious story and bent more towards the tedium of being a mobster, I would have respected that more, too. It's the combination, where these elements that just don't make sense together are jammed into the same game, that really turned me off. I just felt that the world it was trying to present was really incoherent, and that made the weaknesses in the individual components of the experience all that much more obvious and irritating.

I realize that the first

I realize that the first Mafia wasn't an open-world game, but the sequel tried to sell itself as one; bringing comparisons (oddly enough) to games such as GTA IV. Mafia II is mostly open throughout the entire experience, the first game didn't open up until you completed the story arc. It makes no sense. Like Sparky said, they should have just simply focused on the action.

Problems in story

I was expecting this game because I loved Mafia (first game), I found it's story very compelling and real (accordingly to mafia movies and books), it had a lot of innovations in the combat system (much better than GTA3) and I love old cars!

Although it's storyline was linear and not truly an openworld game, it was very detailed and it had some classy details. Also the limited firepower you could take with you improved the sense of immersion.

Then it came Mafia2, a beautiful city, a lot of beautiful, fantastic old cars, but the story is just wrong. It's wrong in it's bases, Vito seems the wrong dude for the job, it doesn't properly connect with Mafia1's story, the fight for power between the 3 families was to rash (taking out entire families instead of tweaking the balances kills the possibilities to the end game and also for a possible Mafia3) and worst of all the story fells like is in fastforward all the time.
The "fastforwarding" renders the openworld useless (I've finished the game and I'm sure I didn't even saw the all city), also there is absolutely nothing to do in the openworld, just take a drive around... It could and should have been much more, much better.
Other thing I truly disliked it was the end (if that is an end at all), it doesn't connect with Vito's previous actions and it's just a kind of a tremendous cliffhanger. Mafia1 had a proper end that honoured all the mafia movies and stories and it was shocking!

Regarding the driving, I like openworld games because of the driving, and I loved Mafia1 because I could use my wheel to drive in 1st person instead of the keyboard. But in Mafia2 that was cut out. Also the amount of vehicles you can have (all stolen!) is bad for the game immersion, you should have 1/2 cars, that you paid for it so you could really value them and the stolen ones are only used in emergencies.
About other mechanics, like cameras and such, I didn't have any problems, but I played on the PC and the review is from a X360.

Resuming: this game is to fast, to short (took me a little over than a night to see the disappointing ending) and to under achieving for it's potential. I can't stop feeling the game was rushed out unfinished and now they will sell us DLC's to get the full game and it will be still under it's possibilities.

awful

This has to be one of the most disappointing games I have ever played. At times I didn't even feel like I was actually playing anything. It's almost insulting how superficial it is. The whole presentation is excellent. Graphics are dated in some areas, but very pretty on the whole. The city feels like a proper city the way it's layed out. The voice acting and sound are good. The cars are pretty decent, too. Basically, if it's gonna show up in a promotional trailer, it looks good.

The rest just isn't there, or if it really, absolutely has to be, with the minimum amount of effort. The standard selection of guns, the standard melee moves, the standard amount of cars you need to be convincing in screenshots. Oh, and you can customize them too, which means rims, paint and some performance tweaks that don't make much of a difference.
The voiceacting is great, lots of familiar voices and decent performances all round. But that's just a case of paying enough good actors enough money. Sadly, strong perfomances can't save the script. The protagonist is self absorbed and arrogant, which are his only distinguising features. It's hard to believe he cares about anything that's going on, or the people around him and that makes it hard to care about him, or the people around him. Joe is supposed to be his best buddy and the comic relief, but the best lines he can come up with are flat jokes delivered in a knock-off Italian accent. The story attempts to be epic, but what characters that are cardboard cutouts and don't draw you in and starts to feel like a montage of mafia-cliches. There is nothing of the subtlety and intrigue of a good mafia epic. It also doesn't have the lived in realism, grit and shock value of a more street oriented story. It just hangs somewhere in between, vaguely remeniscent of just about every mob story ever done.

The missions have an interesting setup. They are like slices of Vito's life (yes, of course he's named Vito), which could've been cool in theory. In practice, it's an excuse to draw out the action segments, if any. A lot of times missions just involve watching a cutscene, driving somewhere, watching cutscene, driving somewhere, change clothes, driving somewhere, listening to dialogue, driving home. That may seem an exaggeration, but you will spend a lot of time driving. Luckily the cars are decent and the city looks good. But the police doesn't pose much of a challenge. Either you can outrun them easily, or you piss them off so much escape becomes impossible. There is nothing even remotely approaching the excitement of GTA's chases. You will also not engage in spectacular chase as part of missions either. I remember one where you chase a much faster car on a highway only to lose track of him (he drives into a tunnel and we all know how easy it is to get lost in highway-tunnels, so many exits.) So you have to drive somewhere to ask where to drive next. It's incredibly tedious and seems to assume that I like listening to the casual bantering in the car. But I don't, it tries to be witty and edgy like GTA but it's some of the blandest potty humor I've heard in sometime. It rarely has any importance to what's going on or how people are feeling about it, it's just more fluff.

Then there's the action sequences. Either a fight or a shootout. I've seen someone here compare the bodycount to Red Dead, but he must have a very different playstyle from me. There were only a couple of half decent shootouts. Padded with backtracking as they were I found them short. There's a minumum of strategic possibilties. You can't flank enemies unless the game specifically directs you to do so. It's cover shooter, but it has no tools to flush enemies out from their cover so it often boils down to taking potshots at each other. The guns feel like they belong in a different era, of gaming, not in a nice historically accurate way. They lack punch and hit detection seems off a lot of times. Every shooting section comes down to shooting baddies untill you reach the elevator or some other button. None of them takes place in interesting locales either (scrapyard, office corridor, warehouse) and they are far and few inbetween. Especially during the beginning there's also a lot of melee combat, but this again feels like padding. The system is the obligatory punch-heavy punch-dodge-counter and the opponents aren't challenging. You mostly face them one on one and can be beating by repeating the same combo's a couple of time untill the quicktime finishing event pops up. The game never challenges you, in any way. It never forces to think strategically or make a choice. It's just: go to X and hit or shoot everything that gets in the way, except when driving, then you need to avoid it. As you should with this game.

I didn't mean for this to become such a long post, but I was expecting good things from this game. I love open world games, I love mafia stories and history even more. I enjoyed the first Mafia despite it's flaws. This seemed to be up there with GTA, but it's a cheap knockoff. What pissed me off about it especially was that it seems to be intentionally designed that way. On the outside it looks great. High production values, a good publisher, good pedigree. But on the inside there is hardly any gameplay to be found and what's there is unimaginative and just barely adequate. It's all just enough.
But no, fans are gonna say... you're comparing it to GTA, you get it all wrong.. this game is about the story, the characters, the cinematic experience. But I ask, what is a cinematic experience? Isn't that a passive experience at heart? Is that even going to work for a game? Especially if that game tries to portray realistic humans instead of more stylized ones. To me, the outlandish characters and stylized designs of GTA make the story resonate more. For all their exquisitely modeled detail, mafia's character come across as robots doing pre-programmed gangster routines. You don't live the story with them, you don't care and no one seems to be motivated by anything other than simple greed. The game also completely fails to challenge you, or even give you rewards for continuing. You don't get better weapons, moves or collectables. You have some sense of accomplishment when you get a nice house (the one you start in in the demo), but you lose it just as fast and the game knocks you down to start at the bottom again. There is no incentive to keep playing this game, other than seeing what happens in the story (everything important happens in cutscenes), but you'll probably already know what happens, it's that cliched.

This is a very negative view of the game, I know. It does a lot of things rather well, but I hope i've managed to point out that's only superficial. Everything that's good about it is good because you can make it good by throwing a lot of money at it. The driving and shooting is passable, but it already was in the first game so no achievement there. The rest is just a lot of filler. People say it's all about that story, but I found it to be disappointing with broadly drawn unsympathetic characters, vague motivations and by the numbers plot twists.

Grumpy Reviewer

It seems that the reviewer was really unhappy while he was playing the game. This is a game not a movie y the hell are u comparing it to a movie......the game has been degraded to such an extent that anyone reading this review will most likely not pick this game up.......Ive played the game and ive enjoyed it.....its true tht for a lot of missions u need to drive around and do some tasks wich are not interesting but these activities suck u into the story. I must say this is a very polished game as I have not encountered any problems in the entire playthrough.

Thanks

huh.

I gotta admit, I was pretty surprised by this incredibly harsh review. To each his own, but I really loved both the first game as well as this one. I thought that the open world was a nice touch, as long as you take it the way I believe the developer designed it as--an added sense of immersion. I think the main missions were varied, if not in mechanics, by situations, and that every shootout felt different and unique. I actually loved the serious story as well.

Where the first one was a bit more of a romantic, mob film sort of story, this one felt closer to reality, where the "family" facade behind the mob falls away and it's really one everyone betraying everyone else...so I appreciated that the developer wasn't content to provide us with just a retread of the first game's plot. I also liked how the plot tied into the first game.

As for the playboys, I just opted not to bother with them. I doubt that particular feature interested anyone over the age of 12 anyway, and that's not even the target audience for Mafia II. While it may seem that I'm just bitching about the review, I thought it was a well thought-out and well written take on the game that happened to be very different than mine. I appreciate the honest opinion!

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