Mafia 2 Review
Too often we think of the quality of games only in extreme terms; usually we either say a game is amazing or not good. And that’s it.
Mafia II is neither amazing nor not good. It’s just good.
Mafia 2 (PS3 [Reviewed], XBox360, PC)
Developer: 2K Czech
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date: August 24, 2010
What we have here is a game that is unusual. It’s an open-world game, but it’s very linear all the same, not unlike Crysis. A chapter begins, typically, when the main character, Vito, wakes up and gets a phone call. You want me to meet you somewhere, Joe? OK. You go meet Joe or whoever, do something, shoot some guys and go back home and go to bed. Chapter over. There’s not gonna be much dicking around on the player’s part, because there’s not much dicking around that you can do aside from robbing stores for little money or running over pedestrians in your car. The only extra thing I ever did after a mission was go to the store and buy a new outfit with my hard-earned cash from the day.
The story is pretty slight. It’s a typical coming-up-in-the-mob tale, and it takes elements from most mafia movies you’ve seen, but it still manages to surprise in some very pleasing ways. The game opens with Vito fighting in Italy in World War II, and you actually spend an entire chapter in prison.
The game moves along at a brisk pace, and it’s a good ten hours long. In a way, they’re taking a lesson from GTA IV, which was so long and meandering that some gamers never finished it. But the story suffers because of it. At one point, while Vito and his friend Joe are driving through Empire Bay’s nicest neighborhood, and Vito says he’s gonna own a house there one day. And he does, but the game doesn’t give you time to appreciate that fact before some bad s**t goes down and you lose the house.
This is my main beef with the game. Yes, it’s all a generally pleasant experience, and the driving and fighting are, while not spectacular, efficiently executed, and the productions values are quite high, making it one of the best looking games on the 360, for sure. But the story just does not breathe, and the story is as important as anything else here.
The game has fifteen chapters, and Vito experiences a major life change about every five chapters. The problem is that the chapters are too short, usually encompassing only one event, whether it be a mission or going to a bar to pick up Joe because he’s drunk and waving a gun around. This is a big problem because the scope of the game is so large. It takes place over eight years in Vito’s life, and in order to make the player feel that, the pace of the game needed to be much more relaxed than it was.
People liked to complain about GTA IV’s time-wasting elements, like when friends would call Nico to go drinking or bowling or whatever, but those things were absolutely crucial to immersing the player in Nico’s life. Because there’s no extraneous material and because the story moves so quickly, the player is more like a spectator in Mafia II.
One big nitpick: the checkpoints in this game are horrendous. You might go through ten minutes of combat and then die, only to have to do it all over again. The worst part comes when you have to come up with about $1500 by robbing stores or crushing cars; I had robbed five or six stores, and then I got shot up by the cops. And then I had to start all over again, because the game won’t save until you get all the money and deliver it to the loan shark you owe it to. This is abuse.
So what are we left with? Mafia II, despite those flaws, is still a good game. The story is interesting and engaging, and there are some great character moments scattered throughout (my favorite is when Vito drives a couple drunk mobsters home and they sing along to Return To Me by Dean Martin). And it’s fun to play, pretty much. But while it’s ultimately a title that won’t be mentioned on best-of-the-year list come January, I doubt many folks are going to regret spending the time it takes to complete it.
Interesting characters, great voice cast
Super high production values
A generally pleasant experience
Poorly paced plot lessens the impact of some big events