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Review

Review: Mafia II

We rat on this year's big mobster game.

The Sicilian mob culture extends far beyond simple gangs of criminals. Mafioso refer to each other as “Men of Honour” as opposed to the ruthless criminal thugs that most of us have come to think of them as. But it is about honour. Sure, it’s a skewed perspective on the concept but the rigid rules and archaic customs are clearly defined and must be obeyed. Your word is your bond and if you break it you are nothing.

2K Czech have successfully captured that air of mystery, custom and intricate, time-honoured dogma. Unfortunately, that seems to be one of the few authentic things about Mafia II.

The game tries to set itself in a time, 1945-1951. The collectibles are pinups from a magazine (Playboy, which really did have some of the best writing on newsstands back then) which wasn’t founded until 1953. The soundtrack also includes at least a few songs (Long Tall Sally and Lucille by Little Richard and Smokestack Lightnin’ by Howlin Wolf from a quick scan of the song list) which weren’t released until 1956 or 1957.

Mafia II tries to set itself in a place, Empire Bay. The city is clearly intended to be a loose imitation of New York City but there are some landmarks which are almost identical (The Empire State Building and Brooklyn Bridge) among some almost desolate streets and what feels like a relatively small map for an open world game (or for a bustling New York City).

And there we have another case of awkward juxtaposition. Mafia II seems like an open-world game of a similar ilk to Grand Theft Auto, Saints Row, et al. The map-markers, waypoints, mini map and route divergence are all there but the mission progression is entirely linear. That little trick that Rockstar are so fond of where they give you several different characters, all offering you missions which intertwine, and you choose which order to do them in? It’s not here and it feels like it’s missing. In Mafia II you have a mission and you go and do it and then you get another mission. No messing around in between.

Sure, there are a couple of minor tips of the hat to the sandbox staples like the old “selling stolen cars at the scrapyard” schtick but it never feels like part of the world you’re playing in. It doesn’t feel natural and there’s barely any incentive to do it.

All of this may seem overly critical, and there certainly is an element of nitpicking here, but understand that this game is proud of its authenticity. Mafia II claims its attention to the detail of the period is impressive when it is actually rather obviously flawed.

There are moments of joy to be found among the linear mission progression, most revolving around all-too-brief sections of play involving the cover mechanism and gunplay (which are adequate but certainly nothing revolutionary). For the majority of your mission time you will be carefully driving (another element of the game which is merely “adequate”) from one point to another.

A typical mission might be to drive from one side of the map to another, watch a two-minute cut-scene. Drive, with a new passenger, back to the other side of the city. Work your way through a linear path shooting enemies and using the cover mechanism. Watch a two-minute cut-scene. Drive back to the place where you picked up your passenger, watch another brief cut-scene and collect some money. There is entirely too much travelling and not nearly enough action. That’s not all though, in many missions your final objective is simply to “Go home”. This involves more driving with little-to-no purpose.

Wouldn’t it have been just as simple, within this clearly lineated mission structure, to end the mission with the payout, fade to black and have you start the next chapter back in your bed at home (as most chapters of the game actually do start)?

There are even entire sections of gameplay which involve you following someone, on foot and at a locked walking speed (no matter how much you want to run in order to speed the process up), to meet another character for a cut-scene. And then you have to follow the person back before the game moves you on to the next section. Sometimes you’re allowed a one minute fist fight before you’re sent back to follow your guide.

The regularly tedious nature of the gameplay, punctuated as it is by enjoyable action sequences, may have been saved by the game’s narrative. Unfortunately, the effect seems to have worked the opposite way, with the narrative (which is immediately familiar to anyone who has seen the Godfather movies and Once Upon a Time in America) being hamstrung by the dire exposition.

The problem with this type of story is, that in order to sympathise with a protagonist who regularly murders people simply because they don’t hand him money, we have to understand why he is in this life. The main protagonist in this kind of story usually falls in to the life thanks to a corrupt police force, an abusive father, a family bereavement or simply because this is the life they were born into and have no way out. We need to sympathise with a character on some level. Vito, the protagonist in Mafia II, is in the life simply because he was a thief who was too lazy to work for a living.

There are a few early efforts to make it seem like he was trying to help out his family with a debt, left by a recently deceased alcoholic father, but even that pressure consisted only of a quick punch-up with a man who was shouting at his sister in the street a little bit.

Ironically, the game goes to some lengths to explain that Vito works with the Mafia in an effort to make his life more exciting than the drudgery of daily work at the docks. It then goes on to present elements of Vito’s life which are nothing but drudgery. Drive here, pick that up, go over there and talk to him, follow this guy, clean that floor. With the exception of an occasional visit to the cat-house, a few scuffles and the odd gunfight Vito’s exciting life in The Mob isn’t very exciting at all.

Pros:

  • Characters are enjoyable, familiar stereotypes.
  • The action sequences are often tense.

Cons:

  • Linear gameplay is littered with tedious mission progression.
  • The authenticity is simply missing in a lot of places.
  • The city feels lifeless.
  • Nothing stands out as a reason to enjoy the game.

Mafia II is a waste of a tried and tested concept in storytelling which fails to hit many of the right notes with the narrative. The gameplay has moments of pleasure but they are far too rare among the tedious drudgery of repeatedly completing mundane tasks without much of a pay off, either within the game world or without. Everything about Mafia II is average. From the tepid driving controls and the standard cover mechanism to the staid narrative which could still have been enjoyable, had they put a little more thought into it. This game is not terrible but it is some way from being good.

Score: 5/10

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50 Comments
  1. cc_star
    Team TSA: Writer
    Since: Forever

    This game sounds like it’s how I find the typical mapmarker… sorry, sandbox game just going endlessly from mapmarker to mapmarker repeating remarkably similar task, and repeat ad-infinitum.

    Good review Cb, I’ve even deleted it from the rental list

    Comment posted on 04/09/2010 at 09:23.
    • warp10ck
      Member
      Since: Aug 2010

      Actually calling this a sandbox game is like calling Duke Nukem a sandbox game.

      Its incredibely linear and the driving parts really starts to become tedious after a while.

      Comment posted on 10/09/2010 at 08:31.
  2. scavenga
    Member
    Since: Jul 2009

    Nice review! I’ve just started playing it, but I enjoy the linear story line so far, as I find it suits the mob style narrative – what with the chapters and soforth.
    I defo agree that the city feels somewhat lifeless, though.

    Comment posted on 04/09/2010 at 09:25.
  3. icuyesido
    Member
    Since: Jan 2010

    Well I was going to pick it up but I think I’ll wait for it to go down a bit first, thanks CB, saved me some money! ;)

    Comment posted on 04/09/2010 at 09:28.
  4. Dan Lee
    Common like the rest of us.
    Since: Jun 2010

    This is a weird one – looking at Metacritic the scores range from 94 right down to 40

    Comment posted on 04/09/2010 at 09:49.
    • DrNate86
      Member
      Since: Apr 2010

      Yeah, it seems some people are really won over by the story and the presentation of the (somewhat inaccurate) historical times, whereas others find it too tedious if they have not been drawn in by the story. I think I will get this when it is cheaper as I enjoyed the demo and am used to games like GTA having vast driving sections to, from and during missions. I wonder if they had just fleshed the city out a bit more, if the reviews would have been a lot more favourable as it would have made the driving that we usually put up with more enjoyable.

      Comment posted on 04/09/2010 at 10:15.
    • Lord_Gremlin
      Member
      Since: Nov 2009

      Some review scores are pre-paid by 2K. The 90-s ones.

      Comment posted on 04/09/2010 at 17:58.
  5. deadwelsh
    Member
    Since: Jun 2009

    I played this at a mates place yesterday. Most frustrating part was that there were no check points in misson, so after 20 mins of driving, shooting and fighting, you get killed and have to do it all over again. Straight back to lovefilm after a couple of hours

    Comment posted on 04/09/2010 at 10:08.
    • MrTwP
      Member
      Since: Jul 2009

      There are checkpoints in missions (:

      Comment posted on 04/09/2010 at 10:51.
  6. jamess109
    Member
    Since: Apr 2009

    Can somebody explain y it took them 8 years from the first game to come up with this “average” disappointment? Did it take them 20 years to come up with the original Mafia’s story because that was one of the best stories I’ve played, and so many people also commented.

    Wish they remade the first game with better graphics better controls basically have story, voices and all the original features built on Mafia II’s engine.

    Comment posted on 04/09/2010 at 10:40.
    • MrTwP
      Member
      Since: Jul 2009

      Oh, I heard it was originally planned for the ps2…

      Comment posted on 04/09/2010 at 10:53.
  7. gernboes
    Member
    Since: Oct 2008

    wow, thats a bit harsh i think, but obviously its an opinion, so thats fine.
    personally i didnt mind the sections where you are locked at walking speed because the atmosphere in this game is so dense i automatically try to play in a realistic way, i walked most of the time because i feel its weird to run when you are not in a fight but going shopping for a new suit for example. It was more annoying in MW2, in the no russian level you are also locked at walking speed, and its just plain boring…

    i do agree however that the open-worldness of the city implies a GTA kind of game and if you expect that and its not delivered, there will be disappointment. on the other hand, that allows to control the pacing of the story better which improves it in its own way.
    its definitely not like in GTA, where the city is a playing ground, but in mafia the city improves the great atmosphere. and i dindt care one bit that playboy was not there at the time and that some songs where written later, and i doubt that anybody playing this game would even be aware of these facts, so how those are “obviously flawed”, i dont really understand.
    but as i said, im not criticising the review, im just stating my own opinion. (i dont want to start a new discussion about reviews or something like that ;))

    Comment posted on 04/09/2010 at 10:40.
    • colossalblue
      Team TSA: Editor
      Since: Forever

      The inaccuracies wouldn’t be an issue at all if the game didn’t try to make such a big deal out of how accurate it is. If they just said this was mid-twentieth century, east coast US city then it wouldn’t be an issue at all.
      There were a lot (really, loads) of sections between cut-scenes that simply involved walking from the top of the stairs to the bottom of the stairs. There’s so much filler between actual moments of playing that the ~9hrs game time could, very easily, have been ~4hrs and we would have missed nothing of the story or the fun. In fact, I really got the impression that they put loads of tedium into it simply to increase game time and appease all those idiots that want a certain amount of time from their money, regardless of actual quality.
      Without the repetitive, tedious sections this could have been an enjoyable romp with a familiar and slightly tired narrative done reasonably well. Like I said in the review: it’s not terrible but it’s some way from being good.

      Comment posted on 04/09/2010 at 12:10.
      • gernboes
        Member
        Since: Oct 2008

        well, a 5 is in my opinion a terrible game…
        but that returning to the general discussion about reviews, which i wanted to avoid :)
        i also didnt really have the impression that the game as such is trying to make a big deal out of how accurate it is. do you feel that way because they give a specific date to the chapters?

        Comment posted on 04/09/2010 at 20:58.
      • colossalblue
        Team TSA: Editor
        Since: Forever

        no, but they should have avoided that and they would have gotten away with any discrepencies.
        The blurb that comes with a review copy plus the press releases (and what I subsequently read in other, poorly researched reviews) all talk about how it’s an accurate representation of that period (1945-1951). This is simply wrong but could have been avoided by not specifically dating it and just saying it was “mid-20th century”.

        Comment posted on 06/09/2010 at 14:58.
  8. Severn2j
    Member
    Since: Aug 2008

    Good review, but although I agree with pretty much all of it, I found myself enjoying it anyway.. I think its one of those games you can enjoy in spite of its flaws and with the fairly short playtime of around 8-10hrs, I’d say its worth a rental..

    Comment posted on 04/09/2010 at 10:49.
    • shields_t
      Member
      Since: Oct 2008

      Indeed, sounds like another rather anachronistic title to me, the Saboteur, I knew it was crap but couldn’t help myself!

      Comment posted on 07/09/2010 at 13:38.
  9. Loxstokk
    Member
    Since: Aug 2010

    Pretty disappointed by this. I was hoping this game would keep me going until FIFA comes out. Although it would of had to of had some pretty shining reviews to get me to look at another third person perspective game anyway. I think RDR has satisfied that thirst for a few months…

    Comment posted on 04/09/2010 at 11:10.
    • BigCheese
      Member
      Since: Feb 2009

      Exactly my feelings. I was planning on maybe getting this if RDR runs out of fun, until FIFA arrives, but I might give it a miss now. I just want FIFA. So bad.

      Comment posted on 04/09/2010 at 11:58.
  10. Foxhound_Solid
    Is a smart cookie.
    Since: Dec 2009

    Never really been interested in these games. interesting read mate.

    Comment posted on 04/09/2010 at 11:33.

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