Reviews: Mafia II

A Quick Family Reunion, Before Mafia III

The original Mafia set a high bar in terms of meticulously crafting detailed locations, capturing a time period, and presenting a love letter to gangster archetypes. Back in the day, it was called a GTA clone, and yet it is one of the few that I have remembered far better than GTA 3. With Mafia III due out soon, I thought I should take another look at Mafia II, which lacks the fond memories somewhat.

The main thing Mafia II gets right is how it paints a picture of its time period. This game meanders from the 40s to the 50s, and throughout there is a huge amount of detail and intricacy. It's a world I find more interesting to explore, and even "photograph", than most other historical periods (which we only ever see in games about stabby knife handed heroes). It looks gorgeous and has buckets of atmosphere.

Unfortunately, almost everything else is weak. Having learnt nothing from the previous game, most of Mafia II is about slowly commuting from one location to another in classic cars which handle badly and punish you for speeding. On one hand, I do like to cruise around the city, on the other, I hate how often I am forced to do it. What makes it worse is that the mission check-pointing is so atrocious. Once you have driven to your mission location, the game often won't save until you are a good way into a dangerous situation. Fail a mission (and there are plenty of ways to do that instantly), and you'll usually have to start from the beginning, with another ten minute commute.

Once you get to where you are going, there are some lovely set pieces and lots of places to shred up with tommy guns. When you get to that is. There is a lot of dull busywork in the form of box stacking, cigarette picking and fuel stamp selling. The combat is more exciting, though a little restricted; even with way more guns than the previous game (including five types of near identical machine guns), you don't get things like sawn-off shotguns or sniper rifles. You can no longer shoot from vehicles either, which is unfair because everyone else gets to.

Then there is the story itself. The previous game took inspiration from glamorising titles like The Godfather and Little Caesar. This time around it's the grittier LA Confidential and Shawshank Redemption. It works to tell a "crime doesn't pay" story, but it is presented with a bland protagonist, surrounded by characters who's stony faces are incapable of conveying any of the drama or urgency of the voice actors. The result is a story that is much harder to invest in. After you kill off the final villain (who's presence in the story I could scarcely remember), the game tries to end on an abrupt shocker twist. But by this point it has no impact.

There is not a lot I can sell Mafia 2 on. Maybe if you really like classic cars and pretty locales I could recommend it. But that's it.
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