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PLATFORM: Xbox 360
(reviewed),
PS3, PC

ESRB

RATING: M
DEVELOPER:
2K Czech, Massive Bear Studios (PS3)
PUBLISHER: 2K Games
 
Playing Mafia II is like watching a really great mob flick, and there’s where people will butt heads on the quality of this game. Interested in a compelling (if familiar) story with first-rate voice acting and cutscenes, featuring great shooting and driving mechanics along a very linear path? You’ll love this. Wishing for an open world sandbox game with tons of activities to participate in? You’ll be disappointed.
    
THE PITCH

You follow young Vito Scaletta’s journey from Italy to a fictional American city called Empire Bay, which (as obvious from the name) is based on both NYC and San Francisco, with a little Chicago and Detroit thrown in for flavor.

If you’ve seen a mob movie, you know what to expect- Italian immigrants coming to America for a better life, not finding one, and turning to a life of crime instead. Vito starts off doing petty crimes with his pal Joe but then gets busted at the age of 18 for a robbery. To dodge the sentence he signs up to fight in WWII and actually ends up going back to Sicily to fight Mussolini.

(You actually start the first mission at this point in his life, making Mafia II technically a WWII shooter.)

After a stint overseas he comes home to America for a month on leave and finds out that his buddy Joe has been doing well for himself in the mob. He also sees how good it is to have connections- a phone call later and Vito is freed from his patriotic duty and ready to forge a new, brighter life in the Mafia.

THE PLAY



While the gameplay is familiar to anyone who’s played Mafia or a Grand Theft Auto title before (with plenty of driving around
the city, shooting people, driving around the city to shoot
people and shooting people and then driving away), there isn’t a whole wealth of things to do in your spare time. But don’t despair, there isn’t much spare time anyway! Since this is such a story-driven game they’ve decided to push you rapidly through it along a very tight path. The world might be fully-explorable 10 square miles but there are hardly any side missions to attempt, and not really any reason to embark on them. The main game will completely miss some of the biggest areas in the world, which seems a waste. As for side missions, there are a few scripted moments in the game where you’ll steal cars for a guy who buys them or knock off stores for a few bucks, so why do it on your own, especially when cash doesn’t get you much?

Unfortunately in this game money, like in many other open-world games, becomes no object at a point and you’ll run out of things to buy. There are clothes, weapons, cars and car upgrades, that’s it. Considering that you get all the weapons and cars you need when a mission requires it, there’s absolutely no reason to try and increase your stash.


CHUDTIP – The game does try to limit your cash flow, though. Spend it while you can.

 
But what the game does, it (mostly) does really well. The gunplay is really fun- there’s a great feel and sound to the weapons and the environment gets chewed up by bullets quite nicely. They smartly place you in a wide variety of environments so each chapter has its own specific feel and look to it, and keeps things feeling fresh. The cover mechanic works well and you’ll really need it, because the game is pretty uncompromising with your life… one direct shotgun blast can take you out.

The cars as well have a great feel to them, and I found no trouble in turning off the speed limiter and just zooming around the city, barely avoiding accidents. You can’t shoot while you’re in a car but occasionally you’ll have a fellow gangster riding shotgun, literally, who will absolutely decimate anyone stupid enough to mess with you guys.

(Note- while cops are much more aware of your activities than in most games and will try to stop you for speeding or leaving the scene of a fender bender, there are times when they don’t seem to know or care what you do. Poor AI or lazy cops? You decide!)



CHUDTIP – FINISH HIM.

  

There is also a fighting system in place that you’ll be forced to use during various missions. It doesn’t hold together as well as the shooting and driving sections. The fighting consists of a light hit button, a heavy hit button, and a dodge/block button. You’ll basically just dodge an attack and jam on the punch button and win every fight with no trouble. A few more combos, perhaps even some moves to learn, would have greatly improved this. Thankfully the sections are brief, even if some are critical to the story.
 
Ah, the story. While it’s certainly nothing new, feeling like a combination of several mob movies and characters, it avoids so many cliches of the genre and keeps you guessing where everything will end up. It frequently skips whole years to advance the story to a more interesting time in the main character’s life, something more games should do. Consider the gunplay a treat along the way through this tale.

But considering how great the story is laid out and how much time they spend introducing you to these characters and the world they live in, the brief ending can only come as a disappointment.
       


THE
PRESENTATION

 
Just wait till you get to the top of a skyscraper and can see for blocks and blocks with nothing marring the landscape. The sheer amount of detail that went into this world is truly impressive- even simply the people walking around the world interacting makes it feel like more of a real world than most. When Vito comes home from the war you can stop and interact with many of the people in his neighborhood, making it feel for once like you’re a part of it.


CHUDTIP – You won’t kill too many real people. Just cops.


The soundtrack is fantastic as well, a mob-friendly mix of tracks from the 1940s and 50s.
 
THE
REPLAY

 
Low. The game smartly allows you to replay chapters after you’ve beaten them, which you certainly might be tempted to try because some are just so damn entertaining (Chapter 10 in particular is a standout) but if you’ve played through the game once you’ve seen all it has to offer.

Then again, you might want to go back just to find all the Playboy magazines that are hidden around the world. Collectibles are more than tired in videogames at this point but most of you won’t mind collecting these, but they’re very well hidden and most likely you won’t be bothered. There are also Wanted posters hidden around the world but I didn’t see a single one in my 12 hours playing the game.


CHUDTIP-
They’re not censored in the game.


One caveat- this review is for the Xbox 360 version. The PS3 version comes with free exclusive downloadable content that seems like a blast. It’s called The Betrayal of Jimmy and lets you control Jimmy in a variety of challenges, from car chases and assassinations, a more action-heavy group of missions that sounds like it’s short and replayable in all the ways the actual game isn’t.

There is another DLC pack on the way called Jimmy’s Vendetta that will offer even more, for an extra ten bucks. Expect it on September 7th.
      


THE
VERDICT


Unfortunately, it’s no Grand Theft Auto IV. I hesitate to say that I enjoyed the story here better- the cutscenes are so incredibly cinematic and memorable and the opening scene alone better than any game in recent memory- but this is a once and done kind of deal. You certainly will love playing through this game and it has some really memorable sequences, but even if you take your time you will feel rushed through this world.

Which is a shame, because what’s here is so damn solid. Hopefully the upcoming DLC can give us some more of that great action experience, but it’s sad that something similar didn’t come with the actual game… or at least, the 360 and PC versions. Indeed, despite a few graphical shortcomings on the PS3 version, which doesn’t include a few touches the other versions have (like pools of blood and robust cloth physics) it’s clearly the one to get.

8.5 out of 10