It was nine years ago that the first Mafia game won over legions of fans with its depiction of Mob life in 1930s America, and 2K Games has finally managed to produce a sequel that carries with it unbelievably high expectations that this will be a landmark game in the genre.
We’re in a new era and a new location. It’s 1945 and World War Two is in its dying throes: by the end of the saga we’ve moved into the Fifties where rebellion is in the air and the youngsters look like extras from ‘Grease’. You play as Vito Scarletta, a poor Italian immigrant living in the fictional US town of Empire City who’s arrested for petty stealing and, after a brief period fighting for the Italian resistance, he returns a war hero to find a family bereaved and deep in debt.
Inevitably he dismisses legit jobs for crime and swiftly becomes involved in Mob business through his childhood felon friend, Joe, and the storyline follows the upward curve of his Mafia career over 15 chapters. The only problem 2K Games had was whether to make a movie that combined the wit of Goodfellas, the brutality of the Godfather and the profanity of The Sopranos, or a game about the Italian underworld.
Mafia II’s visuals are absolutely stunning. The amount of detail effort that’s gone into creating Empire City is often jaw-dropping, whether it’s the old advertising boards, the late evening light across the cityscape or the cry of surprise as a pedestrian falls over on the snow. Realism is the keynote here and style is king – buildings, cars, fashions, music – yet while you can spend time freely exploring, there is little point in doing so as the action is so linear.
There are vast numbers of cut scenes (which are also breathtakingly cinematic) that carry the story along and many players will find the extensive driving sequences tedious after a while. Why, for instance, do you have to drive all the way home again after completing a task, when a fade to black would do the job a lot quicker? Apart from the driving (which is frequently haphazard), the gameplay involves one-on-one fisticuffs that use mouse and keyboard for hard and soft blows, blocking and special moves (and is often unresponsive when you need it most) as well as some stealth techniques and, of course, shootouts.
The shootouts are by far the most satisfying sequences, with an imaginative and powerful range of weapons plus destructible scenery, and the voice acting throughout is excellent. Yet this is where we come to the heart of the dilemma with Mafia II: it is wonderfully atmospheric (we love the car radios tuned to ‘authentic’ stations), graphically awesome and tells a great story with characters of some depth… but it forgets that its primary function is to be a game, not a movie.
Driving some drunken wise guys off to the park to bury a murder victim makes for jokey entertainment but contains no challenge whatsoever. By contrast, the time you feel most threatened in the game is when the cops recognise you or your stolen car and you have to make a run from their bullets and change your clothes or number plates. If as much time, love and attention had been given to the gameplay as to the visuals and the storyline, this could have been one of the games of the year.
Company: 2K Games