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Platform

Xbox 360

 

Genre

Platformer

 

Publisher

2K Games

 

Developer

2K Czech

 

ESRB

M (Mature)

 

Released

August 24, 2010

 

 

- Stellar voice acting
- (Mostly) accurate historical setting and aesthetics
- Occasionally thrilling missions and sequences

 

 

- Not much to do outside of story missions
- Monotonous, lengthy driving
- Zoomed-in camera during indoor sequences

 

 

Review: Mafia II (PS3)

Review: Dead Rising 2: Case Zero (360)

Review: Red Dead Redemption: Legends and Killers (360)

 

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Mafia II

Score: 6.0 / 10

 

mafia ii          mafia ii

 

It should go without saying that the Grand Theft Auto series can be credited with kick-starting the Sandbox genre of games, the term referring to a highly-detailed open world where players can do virtually everything they want within the game’s established mechanics…except play as an upstanding citizen. In order to progress in the story, players usually must commit violent acts of crimes in order to appease

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(and eventually overthrow) a host of sleazy mob bosses and crime lords.

This is because practically every sandbox game, including the GTA series, takes its influence from crime movies, especially those about organized crime. Film buffs that play any one of these games will instantly see nods and references to classics

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like The Godfather, Goodfellas, and Dog Day Afternoon, to more recent films and shows such as Pulp Fiction and The Sopranos. To that end, the amount of Sandbox games that focus primarily on the theme of made men are sparse, which is what helps give the Mafia series a notable distinction. Originally released by Illusion Softworks to depict criminal life in the 1930’s, Mafia gained a cult following on the PC, but was largely ignored by PS2 and Xbox owners who preferred running around Liberty City (while waiting for their next adventure in Vice). With more knockoffs these days than ever before, 2k Games is hoping for another round with Mafia II. Developed by their Czech studio, does this new sequel have enough gusto to roll with the big boys, or should the series be given a quick kiss of death?

Taking place during the 1940’s, Mafia II’s story focuses on Vito Scaletta, who makes his way back to his hometown in Empire Bay (a politically correct renaming of New York’s “Empire State”) after participating in World War II. After reuniting with his mother and sister, Vito decides to take the disciplined training from his tour of duty and settle down into a quiet and productive life.

Actually, scratch that, he decides to partner up with his old pal Joe in order to earn some big cash while making a name for himself with the city’s most notorious crime lords. At first Vito engages in these illegal activities in order to pay off a sizable debt left by his dearly departed father, but soon enough his motivation for robbing safes and jacking cars becomes an alternative to an honest day’s work. As is typical for the genre, however, things go wrong….constantly, even in the most mundane of missions. Bullets will fly, betrayals will commence, loyalties will be tested, and more than a few characters will find themselves fitted with a pair of cement shoes.

The game follows the basic third-person formula, with Vito possessing a plethora of abilities, from bare-handed brawling to scaling over ledges and fences, to taking cover while carefully aiming a .45 at someone’s cranium from several feet away. From a gameplay perspective, Mafia II offers nothing you haven’t seen a dozen times already, although it thankfully keeps its copied controls perfectly refined, with a better controlling targeting system than Grand Theft Auto as well as a less-robotic feel for walking and running.

 

mafia ii          mafia ii


What sets Mafia II apart is its aesthetics and attention to detail, depicting a city that’s still in its American infancy. The clothing, the cars, the music and the accents all convey the ‘40’s (and later on, the ‘50’s) as accurately as it’s been told by the people who have lived in those bygone days, although there are a couple of historic inaccuracies (collections of Playboy magazine, for instance, feature pinup models from the ‘60’s). This is a moot point, however, as the end-results feature a more detailed setting than GTAIV, with NPCs featuring more life-like animations and sharper visuals overall.

This extra amount of detail comes at a hefty price however, and that is linearity. Despite featuring a city that’s roughly the same size as other Sandbox games, Mafia II features virtually nothing in the way of outside content. Each of the game’s missions run sequentially, with one chapter immediately preceding the other; While players are free to explore in-between missions, there is hardly any reason to do so other than see the sights or to stop at one of the handful of shops (which include changing clothes, buying weapons, or repairing and customizing stolen vehicles).

Normally the linearity could be forgiven so long as it means experiencing shootouts and chase sequences quicker, but this is where the game’s biggest problem comes in. Even though the game focuses primarily on its story missions, players are still required to drive from Point A to Point B, followed by a detour to Point C and back again to Point A. Every mission requires that Vito wake up at his apartment, be given orders to meet with someone at a certain place, and then drive to another place in order to start the actual mission, then finally drive back to his apartment to start the whole thing over. Even worse, there are no shortcuts around the city (such as taxicabs), and driving past the speed limit will have the police chasing after you. For the game to artificially lengthen its overall run-time by forcing you to drive, it won’t be long before this monotonous practice will have you purposely engaging the police just to spice things up.

As mundane as the driving can be, the payoff is usually worth it. Missions are generally well done, featuring clichéd but otherwise engaging sequences such as a shootout with the police during a rooftop run, or escaping a burning building after a botched hit job. One particularly inspired moment features Vito receiving a “temporary change of venue”, adding more story-driven elements that will please fans of the organized crime genre. All of these scenes feature impressive voiceover performances by a cast well versed with depicting made men and Mafioso, and usually takes itself much more seriously than Rockstar’s self-parodies.

In the end, Mafia II has the makings of a quicker and darker paced GTA clone that is unfortunately short of greatness due to its forced driving and overall sterile setting. If you feel that you have enough patience, the payoff is well worth it, even if it’ll be a while before you can get your hands dirty.

 

- Jorge Fernandez

(September 30, 2010)

 

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