Mafia II – PlayStation 3
Platform: PlayStation 3
Developer: 2k Czech
Publisher: 2k Games
Release Date (NA): August 24, 2010
Written by ChronoSloth
Mafia II is not like other open world games. While its contemporaries such as Grand Theft Auto IV and Saints Row 2 offer near endless side missions, mini-games, and territory conquering, Mafia II’s Empire Bay serves only as an immersive canvas that protagonist Vito Scaletta’s story is painted upon. Some may view this lack of additional content as a negative, but I believe it aids in keeping the player focused on the game’s undeniably strong missions and narrative.
Vito is born into poverty in 1925, in Sicily. His family moved to America in search of a better life while he was still a young boy. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the new beginning they’d hoped for, as they still struggled financially. In school, Vito befriends a local bully by challenging him to a brawl, and they become very close. Always troublemakers, in 1943, the two attempt to rob a jewelry store, and Vito is caught by the police. Due to his status as a Sicilian immigrant, he was given the choice of serving in the Italian campaign of World War II or serving jail time. Mafia II gives the player control as Vito takes part in a mission to save a prisoner from Italian forces.
The introduction of the game where that bit of story is given to players didn’t compel me. It was interesting, but I wasn’t hooked. It wasn’t until the tutorial in Italy ended and Vito returned home after being shot in battle that Mafia II dragged me in. Vito reunites with Joe upon arriving, and he drives him to a local bar to have a drink and catch up. You get a beautiful real-time view of the snow-covered city along the way. Using his newfound connections, he changes Vito’s “on leave” status to “discharged,” much to Vito’s surprise and cautious happiness. He tells Vito to check back tomorrow as they have business to discuss. Upon being dropped off a block from home, the player is given control. Players can just walk straight home, but it was exploring during this early part of the game that truly got me into the experience.
If you walk into the nearby diner, you’ll hear decade appropriate Christmas music humming out of the radio and a girl who recognizes Vito and strikes up a conversation. All of this is real-time, with no cutscenes breaking the experience. You can approach the cashier and browse their menu for things like Cola (priced 3 cents) or a hot dog (for 15 cents). There’s a jukebox in the back of the room that Vito can interact with as well. You can visit the local clothing store and realize that Vito’s financial problems aren’t exclusive to the game’s story, as you don’t have enough money for any of their items.
Closer to home, a local business owner you recognize is boarding up his shop as he tells Vito how hard times are. A window shatters and the glass shines on the alley floor as a couple is heard arguing from an upstairs apartment as you enter the complex. Vito is then greeted enthusiastically by his mother and sister, still living in their tiny apartment from earlier in Vito’s life. It was all so believable. These events are scripted, of course, but all but coming home are missable, and require the player to take in the sights and sounds of this area for a full experience. Empire Bay doesn’t feel like an open-world playground but a lived-in area that Vito calls home.
Gameplay in Mafia II isn’t incredibly varied, but it is solid. The majority of missions will task you with driving somewhere, sometimes within a certain time limit, and oftentimes fighting hand-to-hand or engaging in a shootout. Driving in the game works fine, and I actually enjoyed the vehicle physics more than in Grand Theft Auto IV where all vehicles feel top-heavy. Cops will actually react to players who go over the speed limit, and the game allows you to toggle a speed limiter in game, which serves to both keep the pigs off your tail and help keep you from barreling into a wall and dying in the crash.
While fist fighting, the camera is pulled in to highlight Vito and his adversary, and three buttons serve as light punch, heavy punch, and dodge. These encounters usually boil down to holding the dodge button and then mashing either of the two buttons afterward until the enemy is finally downed. While predictable, the camera angles and finishers make it cooly cinematic.
The cover based third person shooting in the game works well enough, and I was impressed by how well the cover system itself was implemented and controlled. Shootouts usually consist of waiting to see enemies heads pop up and taking your shot, while some encounters will have a few braver enemies try to rush you with heavier weaponry.
While none of these three activities on their own will blow anyone’s minds, they are quite fun, and it’s the way that they’re framed that makes the game truly entertaining. While some open-world games will throw repetitive mission types at you seemingly only to pad completion time, Mafia II‘s missions have many unique objectives. Stealing cars for a connect, stealing a truck transporting cigarettes and taking it to a spot to directly sell to customers (you even have to give them the type they prefer), breaking into a building and stealthily stealing gas stamps to sell to local stations, disguising as window cleaners to plant a bomb in a building with high profile targets, driving your drunk friends to the graveyard to bury a body they’d forgotten was left in the trunk, and more. Almost every mission in Mafia II feels like it would be the stand-out or highlight from another open-world game.
The graphics of the game are as good as can be expected of an open-world game released halfway through the run of the PlayStation 3. Character models look very nice, and cloth texture and movement in the game is especially impressive, even now. Otherwise, the graphics are serviceable. The overall presentation of the game is excellent, however. The well-made character models, combined with great voice acting and good animation, create very believable, interesting characters. There is an impressive amount of variety in the game’s locations, as there are many more interior spaces that are fully detailed than in most open-world titles. The ability to turn lights and water sources on and off within them adds even more to the immersion. The game encourages exploring these locations during missions with collectables in the form of Playboy magazines. Though the game takes place a bit before the time of the magazine, its retro photographs fit in well with the game’s aesthetic and match the seemingly prudish, yet still sexualized time period. Retro music plays from radios in shops and in cars, and a large amount of 40’s and 50’s styled ads were created to adorn the game’s billboards and flyers. The period is successfully captured and the characters, city, and story are compelling.
I truly enjoyed Mafia II. Though there was no “wow” factor in gameplay, and I was never really challenged, I could never wait to see what the next arc of the story would have in store for Vito. More than just another silly crime game, Mafia II portrays the life of a man who became a criminal to escape a life of poverty and anonymity, only to find that it may lead to a life just as hard and empty. With awesome characters and an interesting immersive city that makes you feel like you’ve gone back in time, Mafia II is definitely worth a play.
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