Reviewed: November 2, 2010
Released: August 24, 2010
In my time as a gamer I have found very few titles that have captured a true sense of an actual time period. Unfortunately, I never had a chance to play the original Mafia when it came out. I had only heard about it many years later brought up in a conversation about the new Godfather game that was coming out at the time. Mafia II for PC has arrived much to my colleague’s pleasure and I finally got my own insight as to what made this series so special.|
At first look you would think that Mafia II is just another free-roaming sandbox extravaganza, but you’d very wrong. Unlike Grand Theft Auto and the likes, Mafia II features a linear story-based presentation that is one of the coolest stories I’ve played in some time. Taking place in the mid-twentieth century, Mafia takes us through the 40s, 50’s and 60 in the most historically accurate world I’ve ever seen or heard. The city might be fictional but the atmosphere is about as real as it gets.
Mafia II tells the story of a young Italian immigrant named Vito Scaletta that makes a new home in the fictional coastal metropolis of Empire Bay with his parents and sister. Your father works at the dock, blows half his money on booze and leaves you with a feeling of becoming someone better off in life. You decide to go to college and meet up with Joe Barbaro, no-good friend and main partner in the game, and end up getting caught by cops after trying to rob a store.
So taking the better to two options, army duty or jail time, you enlist and head back to the old country and join in on the war efforts. This is actually the first level of the game and serves as the basic tutorial. After a while you take a bullet and get sent home on leave. It is here where you meet up with your old pal Joe and via a quick phone call gets you discharged from the military. From here you play as Vito and work your way up the chain alongside Joe and make yourself part of the family.
While Mafia II is a mostly linear story revolving around you doing a mission or two on a “daily” in-game basis, there are little moments of exploring that you can do. While you can frequent the various bars, restaurants, gas stations and garages there is little to do outside the story. Though hitting any of the above places help in some ways such as upgrading your car, filling up your gas tank, eating food or buying new threads. There are little car theft missions that you can do for two different people, which serve mainly as a means to get some quick cash. I must say that cruising the town in a fast 1950s car listening to the radio is fun in and of itself.
Navigating the city of Empire Bay can be done one of two ways, depending on your tastes. You can choose the default keyboard and mouse route, which works pretty well while on foot but I found it a bit tricky using this combo to drive vehicles and was similar to titles like Saints Row and Grand Theft Auto. This is where the second control scheme, a 360 or similar gamepad, comes into play. I’ll actually recommend playing with a controller for parts of Mafia II because I feel you have more control over vehicle controls as well as the ability to move more fluently around the world much like the console versions.
The missions in Mafia II are pretty straightforward and vary from pure kill everyone between you and your objective to more stealthy endeavors like one of the earlier missions involving gas stamps. I’m not usually a fan of stealth missions but I really enjoyed that one. I really liked the combat system, as it is fluid and has a great cover system. Players can have Vito take cover behind walls, pillars or whatever may be in the area by hitting the Ctrl key. Mafia II uses the tried and true lean out system using the Right mouse button and Left Mouse button to fire. It makes headshots a lot easier to do thanks to the mouse.
I really enjoyed a lot of the missions in Mafia II but a few here and there stood out as particularly memorable; one in which involves riding home after a night out on the town with Joe and a friend and finding out about said friend’s “business” which was priceless. Another involves lighting up a distillery, gangster style with a Thompson while it’s about to burn down around me. The story missions are so tightly scripted to the point it really pulls you into the experience. I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next.
Besides completing the missions there is a little extra fun to be had on your way up the criminal ladder. Hidden throughout the game are collectibles that include 150 Wanted Posters and 50 historically accurate Playboy centerfolds. Before you rush off and buy the game I will say that the game actually keeps track of how long you read the articles. A lot of the 50 Playboys are hidden within missions so it takes a keen eye and a bit of deviation to find them. The same can be said for the Wanted Posters as they are often hidden really well or blend into their surroundings. One even has you taking a leap of faith.
Mafia II not only has a great story but is backed up by amazing visuals, awesome physics and very nice level of detail. The city feels like it is alive and I could walk down its streets if I wanted to. I really liked that the way that the city actually changes a bit with the times. The changes between the snow covered streets of Empire Bay in the 1940s, which is historically accurate in real life, to the thawed out lush greenery of the 1950s. The changes are really cool and that’s just the beginning of the level of detail the developers at 2K put into this game.
Cars models, and their locks, change to match the era that they inhabit. This is really cool when you “find” a hot little number waiting to be plucked from some parking lot. The 50's were the years that gave birth to some of my favorite cars and some of them make an appearance in Mafia II albeit in a less official manner. I also like the amount of customization you can do to the vehicles. While it is not much more than a paint job tune up and wheels, it plays its own part in the experience. The locks come in play when you’re jacking cars but they do increase the difficulty of the boost as the lockpick mini-game blocks out your map so you never know when a cop is just going to stroll by.
But what impressed me more is all the different parts of the city that you can visit. Complete with docks, slum, estates, suburbs, and downtown high-rises, Empire Bay is brought to life as a diverse metropolis. The developers did a fantastic job of capturing the essence of mid-20th century America right down to cost of food and news headlines. I also love the cinematic montages that show the change in the game world such as the clothing styles, cars and music.
The cinematics in Mafia II are also some of the best that I’ve seen in this type of game. There are quite a few of them and each made me want to keep playing long after my hands begged for me to stop. The dialogue that comes out of Joe’s mouth at every turn is priceless; actually the whole game has an amazing array of voice actors to complement the great story and I totally think Mafia II would make an excellent movie.
Another aspect of the visuals that I like is physics that you encounter throughout the game. Especially during missions like the distillery one, where the place is on fire when your trying to escape. The fire and smoke detail was awesome. I also liked that your cover is destructible and you get to see the layers of the pillars that you’re hiding behind in a firefight slowly break apart. The level of detail in the PC version of Mafia II is definitely better than the console versions as it should be. The only drawback is that you need a fairly decent rig to play Mafia II at its minimal settings or a really good one to play it in top form.
As in all the video games, the audio helps seal the deal on whether I like the game or not. Mafia II soars into the atmosphere with its use of audio. The music featured within is some of the most influential timepieces to ever grace a video game and marks only one of two games that I would play again just to hear the music. I also love the banter that you hear while on the streets or in a mission. I couldn’t contain myself on the conversations about the ideas of “video games” and other luxury inventions that we take for granted these days.
Mafia II comes in two versions for the PC, the standard package release and the Mafia II Collector’s Edition. Each includes the core game but for those that get the bigger version you get access to the Made Man pack which includes a few clothing outfits as well a couple of nice cars to drive. You also get a hard Steelbook case, Official Orchestral Score, 100 page art book and tear resistant map of Empire Bay. For those seeking more Mafia content and fun there are also several downloadable packs that give you new cars and outfits. There is also the alternative view of Mafia II with the Jimmy’s Revenge DLC that is a lot of fun to play. One thing that I will mention that is really important is that you need an Internet connection for a one-time Steam authentication.
I walked into my experience of Mafia II with no real expectations other than hearing my colleague's praise. What I walked away with after playing through the story was a sense of awe and amazement that I haven’t had since Alan Wake. There are very few games out today of this caliber that I really enjoy and wish it wouldn’t stop. Mafia II is a definite must buy and one game that I won’t soon forget. Family, loyalty and betrayal never looked so good.