It has been a long wait for budding Mafiosos, who have been waiting since 2002 for a sequel to show its face again - like a freshly found bobbing corpse laden with concrete boots. OK, this isn’t a colourful opening for this review, and I am sorry if I have ruined your lunch, but being part of the Mafia isn’t pretty, so you’d best toughen up, else you’ll be entering the water with some heavy shoes, capiche?
2K Czech’s Mafia 2 opens up with a joyous rendered sequence that showcases the world you are about to play in, harnessing the whole era that this game is set in – that’s the 1940s-1950s if you were not aware – why I orta! You play through the game as Sicillian, Vito Scaletta, as you play out certain daily events in his life in each of the 15 chapters of the game.
The start of the title caught me a little unawares, because after being caught during a robbery Vito is given the option of being locked up in the slammer or enlist into the Army during World War 2 - taking part in operations to free his home country. Vito decides to help free his motherland and heads East to fight in war torn Europe. This is where you’ll be drawing first blood in the game via some over-the-shoulder action reminiscing some of the Call of Duty days of old, as you get a feel of the well implemented combat and cover system. Before you start to question if you have purchased the right game Vito is soon injured in battle and is transferred back to USA and the city of Empire Bay, which is your home for the rest of the game.
After being reacquainted with Vito’s old friends and family, Vito soon turns back to his old dark ways, mostly influenced by his close friend Joe Barbaro - the same ‘friend’ that got him into trouble in the first place. Having learnt that Vito’s family still owes money to a loan shark, Vito starts out his mission to repay this loan and bring peace to his family by earning money in any way he sees fit. But peace doesn’t come cheap, and sooner rather than later blood needs to be shed and lives need to be extinguished by the hands of Vito himself and his partners in crime.
And thus begins the many chapters of Vito’s life as he restores order to his family and the mob, whilst making new friends, creating many enemies and generally killing off as many people who stand in his or his bosses way. There certainly sounds like a lot of killing that needs to be done, right? Well I thought that too, but sadly this is where Mafia 2 disappoints and my impressions drop into a well dug grave of a ditch that its developers have decided to create.
I was such a fan of the original title, enjoying the many godfather-like missions and fisticuffs, but I cannot remember having to do as much driving than I was required to do in this sequel, to a point that you could quite easily rename this game to ‘Driver’. Don’t get me wrong, there is a fair amount of blood shedding throughout the game, and it is a lot of fun when these events occur in each chapter, but sadly before you get to these quite rare moments you have to either drive yourself or someone else around the city for what seems like an eternity before you can flash your piece around and cap some wise guys.
You may be thinking: ‘But this is a sandbox game, like Rockstar’s finest GTA IV. Surely there are side missions to break all this up?’ Well no, there are none. There are stores you can visit, such as diners, garages, fashion stores, gun shops and gas stations, but most of these are rarely required to be used throughout each chapter, yet they are littered everywhere in the city. You can attempt to rob these places if you are after ways of topping up your money stash, but in all honesty I never had the need to worry about my in-game finances until the near end of the game. Sadly Mafia 2 is yet another title over the past few years where having a currency system just felt a little tacked on in my book, where you never felt that you had to watch your spending or had to seek any additional money throughout the entire game.
It is sad to see such a visually rich city environment go to waste on some poor gameplay decisions that leads you through Empire City in a very linear route, without any distractions or side missions that could have helped break up the experience or create some additional variety, and as a result could have increased the longevity of the game.
The only feature that helped in breaking up Mafia 2’s linear path is the quite male-focused collectables – or what I shall call ‘eye candy collectables’. Fulfilling the 18 certificate that this game has been given, the developers have teamed up with Playboy Magazine and have brought you a tissue-friendly pack of centrefolds from the same era. A little bit of cunning and genius has gone into this addition of the game, but with that said I wasn’t all too fussed in spending any amount of spare time in the game running about, like a 10 year old whose just found his dads porn stash, looking for these busty ladies from the 1950s.
As I have already stated, there is a fair amount of driving to be done in Mafia 2, so how does that all work out? Well, like the original, the cars of the 1950s have been faithfully recreated, including all their handling quirks, such as super soft suspension, severe under steer, extremely slow acceleration and as much variety in each vehicle as a packet of Polo mints. If you find a decent fast car then you’d be best off sticking with it, parking it in your garage and reusing it as your fastest means of getting you from A to B. You can also take a trip to a local custom garage to give it better handling and acceleration, or you can change plates or re-spray the entire car to fool the local rozzers who maybe after you. Younger gamers may find this era frustrating and slow, but being an 18 certificate, gamers of such age should acknowledge that kind of experience in this game.
Mafia 2 is a well-crafted title that its developers should be proud of, and it is a lot of fun to play despite the many disappointing game decisions and niggles that has tarnished my overall impression of the game. Each lead character in the game has been created with wonderful realism with each having believable voice acting to boot. The story, although jumping around Vito’s life, does carry some weight and is enjoyable from start to finish. So, endless driving tasks aside, there is plenty bang for your buck on offer in Mafia 2. With just over ten hours of gameplay you could get by with renting this game and playing over a few nights, yet I find it frustrating that I have to recommend this way for a game that has been through so many years of development and shows so much polish but is hindered by some disappointing level design and gameplay decisions.
On the bright side there is planned DLC content, with the PS3 already getting its first lot for free; featuring some Arcade gameplay and mini tasks to the city which brings some new meaning to the featureless areas of Empire Bay. Personally I feel these modes didn’t make it in time for the final release. Sadly though, it is the true fan that has to pay the extra cost of DLC on top of a full retail game for features that should have already come bundled with the game. It would be crazy to buy at full price and purchase this DLC after. I would wait a while and get this game on the cheap along with the newly released DLC to increase this games longevity from the off and enjoy Mafia 2 how it is meant to be.