“It makes no difference. It don’t make any difference to me what a man does for a living, you understand. But your business is a little dangerous.”
The famous quote from The Godfather is a fitting introduction to Mafia II, the sequel to the 2002 classic Mafia. Like the original, Mafia II puts you in the shoes of a young Italian immigrant in America, who, through a series of events, winds up working for “the Family”. The game is a linear, story-driven experience that manages to capture a lot of the appreciated flavour of the original while delivering a gripping, emotional glimpse into the life of a mafioso.
[singlepic id=2249 w=605 float=center]
Mafia II is played from a third-person perspective and handles like a typical shooter. The influences it draws from are very obvious at first glance. *cough* GTA *cough*. Your character, Vito Scaletta, is at home in a big, well realized approximation of New York City of yore. However, unlike its inspiration, Mafia II is not an open-world sandbox, but rather a tight, linear action game with minor exploration elements. Admittedly, a lot of the charm of the city is lost due to the lack of side missions and exploratory elements, but this allows the story to keep you reeled in so that the emotional impact of its developments isn’t diluted over the course of the nine-hour campaign.
Since the game is primarily a shooter, its immensely gratifying that the game does the gun play extremely well. You have access to pistols, shotguns, machine guns and even a brief encounter with an MG42. Weapons are superbly modelled with each one packing the appropriate punch. It’s one of the highlights of the game. A cover mechanism has been introduced to the series that’s crisp and reliable and actually makes the gunplay more fun rather than being the hindrance, like it is in some games. There are some curious omissions, such as the inability to shoot while driving and the lack of blindfire from behind cover. These, however, do not break the gameplay in the least.
[singlepic id=2247 w=605 float=center]
The other highlight is the vehicles. A large part of the game is spent driving around Empire Bay and once again, the developers have taken cognisance of this to provide players with a plethora of four-wheeled vehicles of different specs, designs and performance to satisfy your lust for speed in the middle of the twentieth century. Vehicle handling is well realized, with the game providing options for on-the-fly switching between normal and simulator style handling to cater to varying tastes. The simulator mode is almost good enough that it won’t feel out of place alongside many sims from the previous generation.
The game allows you to experience its fine gunplay and vehicle modelling over a 15-chapter campaign that spans a time period of approximately 10 years from the middle of the 1940s to the 1950s. Missions are a mix of “whacking” folks, driving deliveries, and busting heads. Vito’s back story is well laid out and told through a mixture of in-game dialogue as well as first-person narrated cutscenes between game segments. In some nice twists, the game takes you to unexpected environments and places you in unique situations that make for a diversion from the driving and shooting antics of the main chapters, while adding to the flavour of the protagonist’s life. Some of these situations require hand-to-hand combat, which has been well implemented. When a melee combat situation arises, Vito enters into one-on-one mode with the enemy. There is a pretty basic but entertaining combo and doge mechanism built into the system and once an enemy has been hit enough, you can execute a finishing move. It’s a well executed and satisfying gameplay gimmick.
[singlepic id=2245 w=605 float=center]
Being a story-driven game, full credit must be given to the developers for brewing a rollicking good concoction of friendship, betrayal, brutality, danger, fun and heartbreak into the campaign. The protagonist and most of the supporting cast are memorable, with splendid voice acting and character animation. The lip syncing is not up to snuff, but it’s not a deal breaker. Thankfully, none of the characters come off as annoying.
The friendly AI is generally competent and is able to hold its own during a firefight. The enemy AI is a mixed bag though. The mobsters are generally very good at ducking behind cover and rolling out of the harm’s way. The cops, however, have exceptionally bad behaviour. It’s almost as if the developers had a bone to pick with the men in blue and vented their frustrations in the AI coding for the police. They are easy to escape from, easy to sneak by, and very easy to kill, which makes breaking some of the real world rules in the game such as driving within speed limits and avoiding accidents, less punishing than it ought to have been. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t ship with the awesome free ride modes from the first game. This glaring omission seriously detracts from the replay value of the game and is probably a victim of the DLC craze that has taken over the industry.
[singlepic id=2250 w=605 float=center]
The game’s visuals are spectacular; no other way to put it. The engine is a masterpiece given the panache with which it pulls off its rendering of Empire Bay. Textures are sharp, the screens pops out at you with crisp, colourful renderings of the environment, and the draw distance is quite impressive, even if the LOD cut off is a little aggressive. On a beefy PC, the game is a visual marvel. Vehicles look fantastic and the weapons and explosions are generally great. The environments look especially stunning at night, with crisp lighting, beautiful shadows and an array of colours that dance off your retina in various shades and hues.
The key ingredient in the graphical mix is the physics engine. The game supports Apex PhysX on supported GPUs as well as on CPUs, but with or without PhysX turned on, the game looks gorgeous. Snow drifts off moving vehicles, bullets blow chunks out of objects in their path, leaving mounting piles of debris, vehicles display hyper realistic damage modelling and blow up in spectacular fashion when subjected to enough bullet abuse. The realisation of the city also shows off a lot of attention to detail, with the environment evolving visually over the course of the game’s timeline. Characters look sharp and well detailed with special TLC having been lavished on Vito’s mug.
[singlepic id=2246 w=605 float=center]
Like the first game, Mafia II features a period-authentic licensed soundtrack that is played on the radio in vehicles as well as in your home. There only three stations to choose from, however, which is a bit of a letdown. Sound effects in the game are generally top notch, especially the weapons, which pack a satisfying aural punch. Appropriate ambient sounds such as traffic sounds, random NPC conversations and vehicles add to the overall flavour. The radio also features a nice throwback for fans of the first game.
Mafia II is a stellar game with high production values, an entertaining campaign, and beautiful visuals. However, some obvious deficiencies keep the game from true greatness. As it stands, Mafia II is definitely a game worth playing and those that have played the first game will derive a lot more enjoyment out of it thanks to the numerous throwbacks.