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Review: Mafia II

Mafia II is the sequel to the well received Mafia: City of Lost Heaven on the PS2. On the surface it’s a lot like Grand Theft Auto but this is only on the surface, it’s a much more challenging game on the one hand and a lot less free and open on the other.

You take the part of Vito Scaletti, a Sicilian immigrant – as a child – who moves to Empire City and grows up on the rough side of the tracks in the years before World War 2. Caught during a smash and grab, essentially marooned by his friend, Vito is given the choice between serving in the military as a translator or going to jail. Needless to say he takes the army option, getting involved in the liberation of Sicily from Mussolini’s soldiers. Injured, a little later in the war, he gets some leave and returns to Empire city only to run into his old friend who ‘arranges’ things so that he doesn’t have to go back.

From there it’s a story of climbing your way up the ladder of organised crime, started at the bottom rung, impressing people on your way up through the criminal underworld, getting involved in progressively more audacious crimes and increasingly bitter infighting between different criminal organisations and even going to prison all of which leads to confrontation with a new force in the underworld and a downbeat ending – crime doesn’t pay, at least not for everyone.

With a third person perspective you navigate a – needlessly – big city, following a radar and map to your mission points, completing a series of set-piece missions one after another. The game looks like a GTA-style sandbox, but it really isn’t. Even though you can free-roam the city there’s little reason to do so and you’re locked into the main storyline. In many ways the game might have been improved by losing the wider perspective and making each mission a true set-piece. As things stand the wider city is a distraction and unnecessary, not really exploited by the game’s storyline.

The game has third person controls with thumbsticks controlling movement and camera, buttons for interaction and close combat and shoulder buttons for drawing weapons and shooting. Fairly standard for a game of this type. Unlike its closest comparisons, Mafia II is a bit less action-film, a bit less rap video, a bit less cartoonish. Driving the cars is fairly sluggish and hard to control and breaking traffic laws will get the attention of cops in a way it rarely does in other games of this type. Until you adjust, this can take a bit of getting used to and can be quite frustrating.

The music, the cars and little – interesting – encounters on the streets draw you into the world and the part of Vito in a very cinematic way. The snow – in particular – is a nice touch and makes the city seem a little more real, in spite of going on for such a long time. The radio, with a good collection of songs from the period, also goes a long way to create the right atmosphere for play, even though the civilian world of the WWII period is less familiar to people.

The snow effects are a nice touch and the animations are mostly good, though a little wooden. This is one of the few games I’ve played lately that still feels like a PS2 upgrade, rather than its own game. The cutscenes are rendered using the game engine, which minimises the feeling of disconnect between play and exposition. Overall the look is effective, but not outstanding, good enough for the job. It would be remiss not to mention the collectible Playboy pinups which are historical and a collectible you might actually want to collect, for once!

A pretty good game with a good story which is only confused by the ineffective nods to sandbox play that are completely unnecessary. A more Heavy-Rain style approach, focussed much more on the story, would have been more effective, in my opinion.

On the Plus Side

  • Engaging – but familiar – storyline.
  • Classic playboy centrefolds!
  • Challenging – but not impossible – play.

On the Minus Side

  • A little too predictable.
  • Doesn’t need to be a sandbox.
  • Could do with a branching storyline/moral choices.

Style: 4
Substance: 3
Overall: 3.5