Platforms: PC (reviewed), X360, PS3
Developer: 2K Czech
Publisher: 2K Games
After 7 years of waiting, expectations are always going to be high. There are no excuses about curtailed production schedules, you've had plenty of time to get whatever you want to do done. 2K Czech may have undergone a name change since they were last with us, but they've been working on one game (that we know of) the whole time. Mafia II is their baby, an attempt to make the definitive trilby and tommy gun gangster game for the modern generation. Previews have been positive and everyone's been on the edge of their seats, waiting for a blockbuster. Have they waited in vain or will they be made an offer they simply can't refuse?
Mafia II exists in the same world as the beloved first game, just set in a different city and with a whole different set of colourful characters. There's one blatant, and welcome, reference to the first game in there, for those in the know, but it's pretty much a self-contained storyline. As Vito Scaletta, a streetwise young hoodlum who finds himself in trouble with the law, you start the story shipped off to Sicily, where you end up fighting Mussolini's troops as the American forces attempt to overthrow the slaphead dictator.
During his time on the frontlines, Vito witnesses the power of the local Don, and it makes a big impression on him. On returning to Empire Bay, his long-time buddy, Joe Barbaro, a real wise guy, gets Vito involved in more petty crime, gradually meeting local criminals and slipping further into a life of money, women and power.
That's all for the plot, as saying anything else would be to enter spoiler country. Suffice it to say, the story, characterisation and things of that ilk are easily the best part of the game. Just as with the first, real care and attention has been put into making sure the participants are believable, that they look great graphically and that you always feel part of a grand story.
The actual act of playing the game is a little bit more difficult to critique. The obvious comparison is Grand Theft Auto, although Mafia II isn't trying to be a GTA clone. It's much shorter, for a start, less bloated and you never get to the point where you just want the whole damn thing to end, as has been the case with the most recent GTA games. But yes, you do drive around a city doing the regulation open-world missions – following cars, getting betrayed in incredibly obvious set ups and shooting your way out of impossible situations.
For a game that took 7 years (give or take) to make, there's a distinct lack of ambition in the actual gameplay. There's nothing here you won't have seen or done a hundred times before. The fisticuffs system is decent, but repetitive and farcically easy, the shooting is acceptable but suffers from massive crosshair syndrome (where a controller's lack of accuracy is disguised by having your character be stupidly inaccurate anyway) and the scenarios where you get into said shootouts are generally less interesting than in the first game.
Perhaps the thing the game needed the most though, aside from a bit more inspiration in its general mechanics, was some degree of choice, like you'd get in a BioWare game. It seems clear that 2K Czech had a story to tell, that they wouldn't be swayed from telling that tale, and, to be fair, there are points where things can go differently depending on what you do, but only in very minor, superficial ways. Like changing your stinking clothes after doing a mission that involves wading around in a sewer, for example. If you don't, your colleagues look on you disapprovingly. That's about it, though. Nothing like the level of choice you get in The Witcher or Mass Effect, for example, both of which have storylines that always end up in pretty much the same place. You can tell a story and still give the player some choice, so it's a shame that 2K Czech refused to budge on this.
Mafia II is definitely too linear, both in that sense and because there's no real point exploring Empire Bay either. There's nothing at all to do there, really, other than go home and sleep after a mission. Nobody's expecting GTA levels of interactivity here, but a few things to do would have been nice. Making money is also irrelevant, too. You can only spend it on a few types of clothes and repairing or respraying your car. It feels like there was a point to earning lots of money, but they just took it out. Guess we'll never know. All you'll do is wake up, do a mission, go back home. You can do plenty of exploring during the missions anyway, so there's just no incentive to do anything other than follow the story. Maybe even just giving us a few side missions, like, say, a bit more involvement in his actual family's troubles, rather than a token “smack around the husband a la Sonny from the Godfather” mission.
Having said all this, Mafia II is still good fun, as long as you go into it not expecting a big open-world game. Approach it as a linear, story-focused action title and you won't go away disappointed. It's not set itself out to rival GTA IV's expansiveness, so it would be unfair to kick it too hard for not providing bowling clubs or base-jumping. You'd just expect a whole lot more than a relatively short, linear game with generally adequate mechanics that does a lot less than its predecessor.
- Great story and characters
- Always entertaining
- Empire Bay is an interesting and beautiful city...
- ...that you can't actually do a whole lot in.
- Not ambitious enough
- Should have had plot choices
The Short Version: An offer that's easier to refuse than the last time it was made.