Game Review: Mafia II

By Tim Boswell  |  08/30/2010

Mafia IIAfter nearly 8 years in between title, 2K Games returns with Mafia II, the sequel to the popular mobster title from 2002, titled Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven. While the game definitely stands out among other mob titles, it's not an open world game like the GTA franchise that some are thinking. It does take place in an open world environment, but is a linear narrative that guides players from one chapter to the next, in the shoes of mob soldier Vito Scaletta and his rise in the Falcone Crime Family.

The good people at 2K blessed our staff with an advanced copy of Mafia II, which we've been playing and evaluating all week.

From the beginning, we noticed that while it's a sequel, the story in the second installment in the franchise tells a brand new tale, complete with new characters and and their own journey. The game is set in Empire Bay during the '40s and '50s, which is a fictional city based on 1950s New York. The title is a play on the city's nickname, "The Empire State".

Right away, you'll notice that developers took their time in creating the environment. With meticulous detailĀ  in capturing the time period, via its gaming environment, gamers will be thoroughly impressed with that they see. The details they put into it -- from the city landscape, the pedestrians' clothing, the voice work, the atmosphere ... all the way to the cars, the music of the times, and weapons being used -- all are done magnificently and consistently throughout.

As Vito Scaletta, gamers open the game in a post-World War II metropolis, where Vito has sent home on leave after being injured in the war. From there, he enters the world of organized crime, and you control him as he rises in the ranks.

Mafia II has 15 chapters, and you watch Vito's engaging story unfold in the game's well-designed and produced cut-scenes. This, along with the script, voice overs and score give you the feel right out of a mob movie. As mentioned, the action is pretty straight-forward, with missions running consecutively throughout the open-world environment. Extra-curricular fun is scarce in MII. While GTA would offer a scattered selection of tasks and missions to choose from along the way, gamers follow the plot via a linear chapter-based format. It's a shame there's not more -- outside of missions -- to the beautifully designed Empire Bay. However, the linear set up helps in pacing the plot, so gamers stay busy rather than randomly roaming the city. Each mission is designed well with the time period in mind, as well -- from jewelry heists to mob hits to stolen cigarette sales, gamers perform missions typical of a 1950s gangster.

Aside from taking cars to various chop shops to earn cash, or finding collectible Playboy centerfolds, there isn't much to do outside the game's campaign. You can roam the city if you choose, however, you'll find there's not much to do besides admire the scenery.

Unlike GTA, the game's AI is on-point, so speeding through Empire Bay's streets or slamming into pedestrians will put you on the cops radar. However, you can switch out your vehicle's license plates or change your clothes to get the cops off your tail.

The actual gameplay during missions isn't bad at all. It offers a smooth third-person shooting experience where gamers will mostly utilize guns (Tommy Guns, pistols, shotguns, explosives) to make their way through challenges. Most of time is spent ducking behind objects and firing away at opponents when bullets are whizzing by though. But, sometimes fisticuffs are called for, or your skills behind the wheel of a vehicle.

When it's time for hand to hand combat, Mafia II's melee system was a surprise, offering more than just button-mashing to eliminate your foe. You'll dodge blows, throw counter-punches, and even apply finishing moves to dispose of your opponent. However, the use of the hand-to-hand is limited in missions. There's also a wide array of vehicles to use for getaways or drive-bys, all of which handle and accelerate differently.

Overall, Mafia II delivers a stunning portrayal of '50s mobster culture, complete with striking atmosphere, an engaging story told through cut scenes, a careful selection of music typical of the time period, and solid gameplay, making it worth-while gaming experience. However, gamers expecting something along of the line of a GTA title, will be disappointed.

Our Rating: 3.5 out of 5