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Mafia II Review

Mafia II pack shot
Developer:2K Czech
Publisher:2K Games
Genre:Gangster action
Platform:Xbox 360
Official Site:http://www.mafia2game.com/
Release Date:August 27th, 2010 (UK)
Reviewer:Andy Hemphill (Bandit)
 

Vittorio 'Vito' Scaletta is not an evil man. He may kill cops, rob banks and socialise with the scum of Empire Bay, but he lives by a strong moral code - it's a delightfully perverse lifestyle.

That's the first thing you realise about Mafia 2 - there is no black and white, it's all just endless shades of grey. The game - the sequel to the reasonable, if uninspiring Mafia - is a brilliant return to the seedy underbelly of 'Family' life.

Picking up just after World War 2, the game opens with a simple tutorial which teaches you everything you need to know, as Vito serves time in Italy taking on the Blackshirts.

After getting sent home for leave, the young future-mobster discovers an Empire Bay in the grip of the war - rationing is at a high, cars cruise the streets amid the snow and Vito's best friend, Joe, has mysteriously done rather well for himself.

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This moment, when Vito decides "Life is better when you have more stuff", sets the morally ambiguous character off on an adventure fraught with betrayal, action, brutality, hookers, drugs, guns and sex, and though it takes a while for the plot to really get cracking, stay with it and Mafia 2 becomes an offer you can't refuse.

Beginning in 1945, the game moves through a decade or so of Vito's life, following his journey from enforcer up the line of one of the four 'Families' who run Empire Bay's underworld. A massive cast of characters flesh out an enticing and thrilling story, which can often leave you wondering who to trust as the city starts to fall apart.

The voice acting for the cast is superb, and though the animation sometimes fails to match the brilliant vocalisations, you'll quickly fall in love with the no-nonsense enforcers of the Families, Joe's southern drawl and the curt put-downs of police officers who wander the streets.

The city itself is the other star of the game. In the 1940s - the first quarter of the storyline - the city is cold and dark. Snow litters the streets as trench-coated men stumble along, the icy conditions making driving the wonderful selection of period cars all the more difficult.

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Vera Lynn and Glen Miller pipe out of the three radio stations as you cruise the streets, the gaudy neon of shops throwing shadows across the pavements. Later, as America recovers from the devastation of war and enters the 50's, rock n' roll is king. It's all Hawaiian shirts and hot-rods as Buddy Holly blares from every radio, and scantily-clad ladies adorn the posters slathered on the wall.

The attention to detail is delightful, and though the city itself isn't a massive area (about a third of the size of GTA4's Liberty City), it has enough variety in the districts to keep the action fresh and exciting. And a lot of action there is to be had.

While the early part of the story is all legwork - answering phones and doing odd-jobs for mob bosses - give the game the time to reach its stride and before long you'll be engaged in rolling shootouts, assassinations, brutal, close-range firefights and more fist fighting than you can shake your fist at, literally.

All of this is made all the more fun with a brilliant selection of period weaponry, from ex-Marine Garand rifles to the ever-popular Colt .45, a magnum that would make Dirty Harry proud and, of course, the Thompson sub-machinegun - the Chicago Typewriter itself.

Add to this a great (if rather small) collection of snappy suits and fedoras, and before long Vito goes from street-level punk to fully-fledged member of the Family, with the duds to match. Outside of the story missions however, which play out chapter by chapter, the game is sadly lacking in other activities.

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Add to this a great (if rather small) collection of snappy suits and fedoras, and before long Vito goes from street-level punk to fully-fledged member of the Family, with the duds to match. Outside of the story missions however, which play out chapter by chapter, the game is sadly lacking in other activities.

You can scrap cars for extra cash, piss off the cops, rob stores and generally raise hell, but there isn't really any point to it.

You can pay to upgrade your cars, change the number plates to lose the cops, or get that stolen hot-rod a new coat of berry red, but there's simply not enough to do outside of the campaign, and that's a real shame. In a world where Just Cause 2 and Red Dead Redemption make such good use of their massive, open worlds, Mafia's city is the odd one out.

Graphically the game is pretty stunning, with the city looking spectacular as the years roll on. The animations can be a little jerky at times, but the little touches - like snow sliding off the roof of your car as you screech around a corner, and the clouds of cigar smoke hovering in front of the camera in seedy diners - bring the game to life.

The control scheme is a little harder to get to grips with, however. The driving is simple and easy to pull off - but don't expect to go like a cannon out of the windshield if you crash - slam a heavy chunk of Detroit iron into a wall and you're dead, it's that simple.

The cover system is pretty decent, with Vito only hugging the occasional invisible wall. The button to detach from the wall is a little trickier however, leaving the Italian-American either jumping from cover to cover like a jackrabbit or running straight towards the enemy.

The gunplay is also a little stiff at points, and the accuracy at long ranges often leaves a lot to be desired, but this is not a problem all that much as most of the gunplay is close in and brutal - one stand out battle takes place in a meat locker, with hanging slabs of pork and beef taking Tommy Gun fire as the characters duke it out at short range.

Summary

Mafia 2 is a brilliant, story-driven campaign with some likeable characters and a fascinating world to explore. While it's a shame the city wasn't used to its full potential, as the game is begging to be a free-roaming epic, the campaign is an enthralling ride through life in The Family - and its burdens. Give it time to get to the meat of the story and let the brilliant writing and stellar voice acting take you away to a world of girls, cash and death.

The bottom line
8.0 / 10

Good stuff

  • Brilliant voice acting
  • Slick, exciting world to explore
  • Great musical score

Not so good stuff

  • Empire Bay is begging to be a sandbox, but isn't
  • Lots of legwork early on
  • Tricky driving


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