All Dressed Up with Nowhere to Go
Eight years after its predecessor, 2K Czech brings us the long-awaited installment in the Mafia series, appropriately named Mafia II, which hit Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and Windows-based PCs in August 2010. This time around, the game moves away from its sandbox-style, open-world environment a la Grand Theft Auto, instead leading the player through a decently satisfying, yet tragically unoriginal storyline set in the 1940s and early 50s. Nonetheless, the sheer quality of the game makes takes us on an exhilarating thrill ride, albeit entirely too short-lived.
A quick word of warning — this game is not for the easily offended. The game is littered with plenty of swearing, racial slurs, and a little gore, too. If any of that stuff makes you queasy, go pick up Nintendogs (or the likes) instead.
In this vintage-styled third-person shooter, we take on the role of up-and-coming mobster Vito Scaletta, a young, fresh-faced Italian World War II veteran who has recently returned home to Empire Bay, a city architecturally based on New York City (“the Empire State”), as well as San Francisco (“City by the Bay.”) See what they did there?
Vito gets up to no good alongside best friend Joe Barbaro in a Niko-Bellic-and-cousin-Roman-esque pairing, both rising through the ranks of the notorious Falcone family to become made men.
The city itself is one of the most impressively detailed settings to hit gaming platforms in a long while. From the massively sprawling cityscape to the smallest of details, such as snow and grime accumilating on your car, the attention to detail put into this game is nothing short of outstanding. One could spend hours exploring every nook and cranny of Empire Bay and not get bored; just be sure to do it before reaching the mission’s intended destination, as there is no free ride or exploration mode of any sort to be had as of yet. While driving to our next mission in one of the 30-40 accurately-depicted vehicles that you may or may not have acquired legally, we can listen to one of three radio stations, all playing licensed tunes from the era, ranging from rock and roll to blues to doo-wop, separated by dated news reports and humourous advertisements.
The game comes chock-full of numerous adventures (fifteen of them, if you’re counting), from starting off in World War II Italy, shooting up rival gang’s bars to blowing things to bits with dynamite, yet at the same time, also comes with a fair amount of less thrilling moments. We spend a good deal of time driving, and a lot of it sadly isn’t edge-of-your-seat, white-knuckled joyrides with a myriad of police cars hot on your tail. The rest of the time is spent watching incredibly-produced cutscenes as the story unfolds, which isn’t such a terrible thing, but if I wanted to watch a good mob flick, I’d rent Goodfellas. That leaves a tiny bit of room for doing what we want to be doing – running around, shooting things with Tommy guns while wearing a fedora hat, and other such general mobster activities.
Despite using the all-too-familiar cover system, the action-packed shootouts of the mission are still quite enjoyable, when we do finally get to shoot things. Vito slides behind cover with a certain cool, collected demeanor, making mobster gunfighting look good. While doing so, he’ll be sporting any number of chronologically accurate weapons, from the returning Thompson submachinegun, Colt 1911, pump-action shotgun, to the newly added MP 40, M3 submachine gun, MG 42 and Beretta Model 38. We needn’t worry about ammo, either—while there are gun shops around the city to fill up your choice gun, there is plenty of ammo to pry from the cold, dead hands of your not-so-innocent victims throughout the mission chapters.
When we’re not in the middle of a shootout, chances are we’re driving around Empire Bay, either heading home or to the next mission. There are a number of sweet rides Vito can acquire, all varying in style and performance. Seeing as the police either don’t care or simply can’t see us at certain velocities, we’re also fairly free to do as we please on the streets of the city when it comes to traffic violations. Even if a cop does happen to notice that you just ran over that sweet old lady crossing the street, the game has one of the flakiest Wanted systems known to mankind, and you’ll be scot-free in a matter of minutes.
One thing I still haven’t quite been able to figure out was why certain functions were included in the game at all, such as turning the lights on or off, flushing toilets, and so on, when there is absolutely no clear purpose or intent for them to exist. If, say, turning off the lights granted us stealth, or flushing the toilet granted us… well, something flushing toilets would grant us, then maybe I would understand why time (and money) was taken to code, animate, texture, record and implement said features, but until toilet flushing becomes necessary, I’m completely stumped.
The tragedy of Mafia II is we are given a beautifully detailed world that we never get to truly appreciate. It’s almost heartbreaking to know a team of individuals spent all that time building such a rich, immersive environment that players would rush through to get to the next chapter. While I could certainly appreciate the elaborate intricacy of the city, I found myself far more impressed by the cinematic value of the visually stunning cutscenes and voice talent, simply because it seemed that’s what 2K Czech intended. The story kept me interested, but once that was over with, there was nothing left for me in Empire Bay, and sadly, despite the superb quality of the production itself, with zero replayability (save hopefully-worthwhile DLCs), the bottom line is this game is absolutely not worth the hefty $50-60 pricetag, unless you’re a die-hard fan of the franchise, or just have money to burn. Personally, I’d rather put my money toward something that’ll last me longer than a few hours at best.