Mafia II
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2010-08-24 Xbox 360 Action M (Mature) 2K Games

We've been waiting for Mafia II for some time, and luckily, 2K Czech doesn't disappoint. Mafia II follows Vito Scaletta, a young Sicilian who, as a child, escaped to the US with his mother and father. Growing up in the slums of a New York City clone called Empire Bay, Vito quickly found himself hanging with the wrong crowd, and was given the choice of jail or heading off to war - World War II to be exact.

After returning from the war, Vito finds his now dead-father's debt hanging over the heads of his sister and mother. Rather than work at the docks as his father did before him, for what amounts to pennies a day, Vito once again enters into the dangerous world of organized crime to pay off their debt. You'll play as Vito as you work your way through the gritty underground of Empire Bay, experiencing the full range of ups and downs that can and did occur to the average member of the "family."

Mafia II is set in the 1940's and 1950's, and while comparable to Grand Theft Auto in terms of the grand scale of Empire Bay - a fully populated living world - the game is far from open-ended. Gameplay here sees one main mission active at a time, and it holds your hand through the gameplay.

That is, you could travel down the GPS labeled routes on your mini-map for the entire game and never really stray from the established path if you chose not to. If you do, however, you'll find that the world is almost entirely empty when it comes to side activities, save for a few clothing stores, gas stations or the occasional Playboy magazine scattered on tables or benches (Mafia II's form of a collection feature).

Luckily, this lack of side activities doesn't doom the game to failure, as the main storyline is so fun on its own. The storyline is engrossing, with most of the noteworthy characters having truly interesting backstories that are told during driving sequences or cutscenes. That being said, there is a lot of dialogue in the game, containing sarcastic, funny one-liners and jokes - if you're like us, you won't want to actually reach your current target destination without exhausting everything your companions have to say first.

In the middle of missions, you'll find a slew of munitions at your disposal, and an aiming system that caters nicely to those who will take the time to aim precisely, as the position of your shot matters greatly in how fast your enemies are defeated - aiming for the leg may be a great way to stun your opponent, but if you can go for the head-shot, even better.

In addition, Mafia II places a lot of emphasis on hand-to-hand combat, allowing you to punch, kick or otherwise beat the living hell out of anyone who stands in your way, whether armed or defenseless. The combat is simple and intuitive, which is a lucky thing, as there are quite a few instances where you are forced to battle a foe using nothing but your bare hands.

As you might expect, the police won't take too kindly to your actions throughout the game, with an interesting mechanic being added to the traditional "you did something wrong, we're going to chase you" setup. If you speed, hit a pedestrian, etc. there's a chance that the police will see your face or write down your license plate number, turning the standard star-based wanted system (which still does exist, and is the norm) into something more dangerous. Become a wanted man, and you'll need to change your clothes to escape it, even if there isn't a cop to be seen in your vicinity. Likewise, if your car is wanted, you can either ditch it entirely, or you can take it to a Chop Shop to be repainted, or to change the license plate number.

If Mafia II has a flaw, it's in the length of some of the later missions, and the lack of checkpoints therein. To be specific, if you fail a mission towards the end of the game, you could find yourself having to replay 15-30 minutes of content. Luckily, the game's normal difficulty setting isn't terribly difficult, and if you use the ample cover given to you during firefights (rather than, say, running into the middle of a shootout, guns blazing like a mad man), your deaths should be kept to a minimum - even more so due to your regenerating health.

In terms of the game's technical aspects, Mafia II is one of the prettiest games we've seen in a while. The first portion of the game, that portion set in the 1940's, takes place during the winter months, with snow on the ground and streets. As you walk through snow, your feet leave prints, and you'll find that your car becomes covered with falling snow and dirt that has splashed onto the sides from the wet streets.

The game just feels real, with real music from the 1940's and 50's playing on the radio as you drive (Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters being just two examples), and news broadcasts talking about real-world events that occurred during that exact time frame - news about Germany and Russia, or of meetings between Winston Churchill and FDR. The developers did their homework, and it shows.

Even with its lack of side quests and flawed checkpoint system, Mafia II excels in the major areas that count - the storyline and voice-acting are top notch, the graphics are something to behold, and the game is just downright fun to play. If you have any interest in the game whatsoever, you're doing yourself a disservice by not picking this one up.

Special thanks to Jennie Sue and 2K Games for providing a copy of this title.

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