Vito Scaletta is making a name for himself... and gamers get to watch. The word “watch” in the last sentence is meant to be taken literally, as all of the excitement and compelling drama 2K Games’ latest sandbox city title offers comes in the form of its storyline and cut scenes. Is this review about to tell the readers to expect a bad game? Fughettaboutit! The point any gamer reading this should take away from this review is that as a game, Mafia II makes a great movie. The compelling timeline, story and character themes are the stuff of Scorsese’s fantasies... as a game, however, the mundane mission design and total lack of anything to do other than work your way to the next cut scene is the stuff most developers get whacked over.
Players assume the role of Vito, fresh on leave from his tour of duty during World War II. It’s 1945, and all of that year’s splendid glory is on display here in the city. The cars, buildings, people and dress all convey the time period beautifully, and the radio stations are all playing the songs of the day peppered with wartime public service announcements. It’s at a point not too far in the game that a player will realize that most of the city and the surroundings are window dressing, simply a beautiful backdrop in which to tell this mafioso tale. Unlike the games of its ilk (GTA, Saints Row, etc), the sprawling sandbox you think you’re getting in the city is a Hollywood style facade. There is literally nothing to do in this city beyond driving from one mission checkpoint to another, and when some of these “checkpoints” consist of scrubbing a urinal clean only to have the guy behind you “dirty” it again, there is a chance for either boredom or confusion to set in. Sure, you can buy some new clothes at a highbrow tailor or get something to eat to replenish your health, but that’s about it. No strangers, no bizarre side missions, no creepy citizens to assist... just complete one mission and go to bed. When you wake up start another. Sanbox game fans (particularly those who have just finished Red Dead Redemption) and fans of the mafia genre may feel a bit cheated in this respect, perhaps feeling duped into purchasing a GTA-esque experience only to have it not quite be there. If this was a movie, it would be the equivalent of cutting to black at the film’s climax... which we all know no self-respecting filmmaker would do... right?
“Whoa! Eeyyy... yo... what da f%^& is he sayin wit his fingiz typin all tickety on the keys an sh^%?!”
Now that the painful part is over, it can also be said that what Mafia II does offer is pretty frickin’ sweet. The multiple timelines lend a genuine look and feel to the visuals, the audio production is first rate and when you do actually get to move thumbsticks and push buttons the experience is quite satisfying. At its core, the game is a third-person action title with stealth elements. There are hand to hand brawls and intense gunfights throughout the game’s mission structure that will have players on the edge of their seats, as well as skin-crawling stealth objectives in which being noticed or ringing an alarm spells certain doom. As Vito enters the world of high-caliber criminals who would sell their mother for a “few geez”, he begins to slowly realize that absolutely nobody can be trusted. Those who prove this notion generally end up shot, stabbed, beaten to death or tortured at the local meat rendering plant. Ahhh, the stuff of mob games!
“Dats better... a lil’ fricken respect won’t kill ya!”
Good point. The game does deserve some respect because, admittedly, despite its shortcomings players are likely to be compelled enough to finish it. The fun that the game does deliver when it decides to is nail-bitingly entertaining and, as stated above, the storyline is fantastic. If the mob genre was not so pervasive and overdone, the game’s cut scenes could have made one fantastic computer animated film. Actually, that’s the best way to look at Mafia II as a person who may be on the fence about a rental or purchase... it’s the best animated mob genre film that you can control. Weighing in at about 15-20 hours of gameplay before the end credits roll, it can be said that Mafia II is definitely worth your time. If you’re a working stiff moving boxes on the loading dock all day, perhaps a rental is for you. If you’ve just scored eight large selling stolen cigarettes, it’s a safe bet you’ll get your sixty bucks worth of entertainment from Mafia II. It would definitely be a better time than if you steal it, get sent to prison and have to fight back six guys in the shower... oh wait.