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Posted by moonhead on Sep 14, 2010
Review: Mafia 2 / 2k / Xbox 360

Review: Mafia 2 / 2k / Xbox 360

The American Gangsters in particular the Mafia have always been strangely fascinating to me.

It stems from films like the Godfather Trilogy, Scarface, Serpico and my personal fave The Goodfellas. So this sequel was always going to be of interest to me, especially after enjoying the first game in the series. Sure it was more than a little rough around the edges but its period setting and atmosphere marked it out from the crowd. So has this sequel ironed out all the wrongs from the first game and how does it compare to the new high watermark in open world sandbox games, Red Dead Redemption? The short answer is no but it is still a strangely enjoyable game if more than a little underwhelming.

The story is instantly familiar to anybody that has watched any of the films listed above. In the game you are a young Sicilian immigrant named Vito Scarletta whose family flee to the fictional Empire City in search of a better life (New York in all but name). Things do not work out as planned and your father is a drunk struggling to make ends meet. In search of better things, you get dragged into trouble with your best friend and companion throughout the game Jimmy Balboa. The gameplay spans 3 decades, charting Vito’s rise from petty hoodlum to full-blown gangster. It’s a competent if well-trodden story that’s told through cut scenes and decent, authentic-sounding voice acting.  It all remains true to its period stylings of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s and the pacing is absolutely spot on.

Graphically the game is competent but it’s nowhere near the standards of its contemporaries such as Rockstar’s classics Red Dead and GTA 4. Which  is a shame as the art style and the videos shown before release may have looked stunning but in reality it is very average. There is a constant horrible dot like film-grain over the images that cannot be turned off.

The sound is a mixed bag too with the excellent period soundtrack and voice acting being let down by shoddy vehicle sound effects. None of these issues are game destroying but considering the amount of time Mafia II spent in development it is more than a little disappointing.

In terms of the gameplay Mafia II is very similar to GTA IV in fact the only real difference is the period setting. Objectives are shown on a mini map in the same way and if you set a way point on the big map on the pause screen you will be guided to your destination in the usual manner. The mission structure and types again are also very similar following the usual themes. Steal vehicle at point A drive to point B to see a brief story interlude, drive to point C then shoot stuff and then escape from other bad guys / Police to point D. Its pretty monotonous stuff but thankfully it is just about saved by the story telling and the odd change in setting and pace such as the gameplay sequence based in a prison.

2K Czech do try some different angles to the gameplay by trying to make things more realistic. Such as the police being stricter i.e they will give chase for simple motoring infringements such as speeding and crashes. You can also repair your cars by the roadside and they will also run out of petrol. These little nods to realism though just become annoyances in the end especially with regards to the police as the AI is so poor as to be laughable.

Speaking of the cars I know that they are modelled on vehicles of the time but the handling is terrible. It’s very spongey and unresponsive and in the heat of a full-blown chase can  be a real struggle to control

The gunplay for the most part works well, once again achieved  by copying Rockstar’s titles, however even here problems raise their heads. The cover system is a bit shoddy, press A and you expect to stick to the nearest bit of cover but more often than not you are left overly exposed or just pop out of cover for no reason at all. It gets really annoying seeing as you can die from a single direct shot to the head. Mix all this together with dodgy AI, enemies that are bullet sponges and a severe lack of save points mid-mission, some missions border on Joypad smashing levels of frustration.

So it’s not sounding very good at all is it and I have not finished with the negativity yet? My biggest gripe with the game is the complete lack of stuff to do outside of the main story. 2K Czech  have made this fairly sizeable game world and filled it with nothing to do apart from follow the story which I consider to be a massive mistake in an open world game. Sometimes the game world itself, even mid-mission, feels empty with a lack of cars or pedestrians. I don’t know whether they were restricted in some way but the game just feels underdeveloped and considering again its elongated gestation period that is very disappointing. Especially considering the lengths they have gone to in search of period atmosphere.

I do have to say though I still enjoyed the game and this mainly due to the story and Mafia setting. Even here though with its one true redeeming feature it shoots itself in the foot by being way to short. It took me ten hours to complete it. If you compare that with both Red Dead and GTA 4 and it comes up short by at least twenty hours. Add on the lack of side quests or multiplayer and Mafia II severely lacks content. It is a definite improvement on the first game but pales into insignificance when compared to the likes of Rockstar’s titles. I would really only recommend this game if you have an interest in the Mafia and even then I think it’s a title to rent and not buy.

Rating 6/10

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