In all honestly I wasn’t expecting too much from my time with Mafia II because I was never able to finish the one Grand Theft Auto game I started because the gameplay just wasn’t for me (which Mafia II closely resembles), and in all honesty I think The Godfather is pretty overrated. With that said I decided to give this game a try anyway because the video footage I had seen prior did seem pretty promising. Before I knew it I was so immersed in the game that my inner voice was verging on switching over to a poor imitation Don Corleone’s speech. It may not be perfect, but that’s a pretty powerful game in my opinion.
It might be well known that it is hard out here for a pimp, but no rap song is necessary to know that the mafia is no picnic either. In Mafia II, protagonist Vito Scaletta knows this better than anyone. In order to escape the poverty he was raised in he turns to crime, a lifestyle that will eventually lead to the organized variety with his entry into the mafia of Empire Bay, a path he hopes will lead to him having everything he ever wanted but never had.
This line of work is not for those with pesky morals getting in the way when it comes time to do some crime, so the good vs. evil choice scheme that is common in many of today’s games is left out. Instead Mafia II sticks to a very linear story without much else to do other than what the family asks of Vito. To start the missions are pretty small, such as robbing a jewelry store or stealing a car as Vito works to prove himself, but before you know it he will be providing an endless supply of bodies for the fishes to swim with as each mission further progresses the main storyline.
Unfortunately this does little to take advantage of the beautifully created and detailed open word provided, most of which will only be glimpsed at through the window when driving past it to the next mission. Cruising around in a stolen car is fun for a while considering that the cops look the other direction for most traffic violations, including mowing over a pedestrian without hesitation, as long as it is committed while keeping within the legal speed limit, but eventually the amount of time spent behind the wheel becomes a little much. The radio stations do give an upbeat soundtrack of some classic music of this era, but other than some humorous conversation from the occasional passenger the time on the road becomes more like a roadtrip, and before long I was hoping for the ability to fast travel to the next location like in Read Dead Redemption (goodness knows I spent enough time on my horse in that one too).
Luckily enough the cutscenes and missions that further Vito’s engrossing story break up the time in the car enough to forgive the game of this repetitive task for the most part, as well as to keep the disappointment at the lack of side missions around the city at bay. Plus it does not hurt that the collection of missions provided include some great gameplay. As Vito the player will demand respect from the citizens of Empire Bay by pounding messages and threats into their heads with his fists or by raiding other gang hangouts with his guns blazing. The gunplay is similar to other games, working in a cover/ pop-and-shoot system that should be taken advantage of considering Vito will kiss the ground with just a few bullets in his gut unless given time behind cover to build his health back up a bit. On more than one occasion you will find yourself in one of these sticky situations, but luckily enough Vito’s allies have decent AI to help fight off larger numbers.
Mafia II feels very similar to many other crime games, from the Grand Theft Auto series to Red Dead Redemption, but this comparison does not keep it from becoming a game worth playing thanks to its fun gameplay, beautiful environment, and engrossing story verging closer to cinematic than many games can claim.
Final Grade: 8/10
Mafia II is available now on the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC.