Release Date: August 24, 2010
Publisher: 2K Games
ESRB Rating: Mature
In Mafia II, you play as protagonist Vito Scaletta, an Italian immigrant whose parents brought him to the United States in the hopes of building a better life. The opening cinematic follows him as a child leaving the old country, to causing trouble as a teen, before planting you back in Italy, this time as an American G.I. fighting Mussolini’s soldiers in the streets. It’s here that he learns his first lesson of just how powerful a well respected man can be.
Eventually Vito finds his way back to the States and his home in Empire Bay, a post-WWII era New York clone populated by a similar mix of races, creeds and cultures. And of course, wiseguys. While mamma is pressuring him into finding honest work, Vito feels the weight of a debt left behind by his deceased father. If you’ve ever seen a mafia movie, you can guess where this plot is headed.
Not to say that the story is completely predictable- there were a few ‘oh nice!’ moments in my experience- but the majority of the path taken here is definitely well treaded. The mission structure is incredibly linear, with most of the tasks being your typical, “go here, start trouble, escape the cops” style errands.
The lackeys that accompany you on most of these jobs are incredibly one-sided as well. Imagine your typical “Mobster #2” casting call, and you have a pretty clear idea of who Vito surrounds himself with. There are no James Caan or Al Pacino calibur performances here. The lack of a real standout supporting cast member just makes Vito’s entourage blend into a gray background of violent thuggery and F-bombs.
As far as gameplay goes, vets of games like Grand Theft Auto and Saint’s Row will not be surprised by the typical mix of driving and gunplay. The vehicles handle all right for the most part, but take a while to get up to speed. Different makes and models do perform differently, and you can even spend your ill-gotten gains to improve that performance. Of course, considering the fact that half the missions require you to drive someone else’s car anyway, the upgrades don’t seem worth the effort.
The other half of gameplay, running and gunning, is similarly generic, neither rising above the rest of the pack nor bad enough to interfere with getting the job done. Targeting is a bit sluggish, but once I adjusted the right stick sensitivity I was able to quickly fine tune those head shots from cover without much difficulty. Switching between targets still wasn’t as fluid as I would have like it to be.
There are no real side missions or meta challenges to be had here, aside from the obligatory collectibles. While stopping between missions to search for collectibles in these sandbox games always seems somewhat forced to me, somehow it’s even worse in Mafia II. In Empire Bay you’re seeking out wanted posters and vintage Playboy magazines. When found, the latter unlock real photos of past centerfolds. When added to the aforementioned violence and strong language, this cements the game’s mature rating. Mafia II‘s linear, almost movie-like, direction makes breaking the narrative to look for 70-year-old nudie mags an inadequate diversion to the game’s rehashed tale.
2K Czech does get one thing right in crafting Empire Bay. The city’s great look and gritty feel makes it arguably the best character in the game. This, complemented by an expert score and soundtrack selections, makes Empire Bay a place I would have been thrilled to explore thoroughly given the right encouragement.
Truth be told, I am still drawn to Empire Bay despite my complaints. Granted, I am a big fan of these types of games. There is just enough here to sink your teeth into if you can overlook the C+ performance of the B+ script and the middle of the road gameplay. If only there were a few more diversions to the main storyline, maybe then Mafia II wouldn’t feel like a sandbox that’s missing its shovel and pail.