Mafia II Xbox 360 Review

August 30, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews & Features, Xbox 360, Xbox

Publisher – 2K Games – Developer – 2K Czech – Genre – Action – Players – 1 – Age Rating – 18+ – Other console/handheld formats – PS3

All games don’t have to be like the Grand Theft Auto series. True, being a crime game featuring driving and shooting, Mafia II was always going to be unfairly compared to Rockstar’s series, but the truth of the matter is that this is actually quite different – the game is more linear and story driven, which certainly makes the city of Empire Bay feel rather restrictive.

At the beginning of the game, it’s the 1940’s and Vito Scaletta is returning home after he is wounded during the war. The city is covered in a thick layer of snow and Vito meets up with old friends and family members, but it’s not long until Vito finds himself in a life of crime, wanting to become someone in this New York inspired city. The story largely feels mature, with its twists and turns and dialogue, and there are some memorable characters, with various sides of Vito showing their faces through the game.

Some may feel that the game is a little slow to get going, with long spells where you are just driving around from Point A to B. But the 1940’s and 1950’s atmosphere is so well developed that this should only really bother those who play games exclusively to shoot things. It’s well paced and certainly helps with sweeping the story along, as placid as it may initially be for a game with “Mafia” in its title.

The vehicle are very reminiscent of the primitive kind that you’d find in the periods in which the game takes place. The handling feels fairly heavy and vehicles can be stored in your garage and upgraded, improving their performance during chases. Being more realistic than many of its peers, you’re also supposed to obey the traffic laws, sticking to the speed limits (there’s a speed limiter that can be turned on, if you find yourself unable to keep your foot off the accelerator) and respecting other road users. The police will chase you in a bid to fine you if you disobey the rules of the road, of which you can then either stop and take your fine like a man or put your foot down. I found that speeding around the city and ignoring the laws rarely found me in dire straits, as the police are very easy to shrug off following minor offenses.

In a system which reminded me of Driver: Parallel Lines, Mafia II’s police will put an APB out on your offending vehicles if you do something truly bad. They will also broadcast your description if they see you walking about. A wanted vehicle can be abandoned or swapped for another, or you could always change the number plate. As for Vito himself, you’ll have to change his clothes if the police are aware of his description.

The shooting portions of the game (there is stealth, but very little of it, if you’re wondering) are brutal and impactful, complete with period weapons. Indoor areas crumble, splinter and break with gunfire, and Vito can’t take too many shots before his criminal life is brought abruptly to an end. There’s a trusty cover system to get you through these gunfights, in which you’ll be popping out and shooting at your targets, with no available blind-fire option to help you out. The AI is certainly nothing to shout about, but it’s all satisfying and heart pumping stuff, and as it’s not made up of gunfight after gunfight, the shooting actually feels better off because of it.

The melee fighting is also satisfying enough for what it is. It’s a three button system, with two attack buttons and a single dodge button. It’s context sensitive, which means there’s potential for different animations to play out, determined by you and your enemy’s position in the environment. It’s all nicely animated as well.

All the above does come together nicely, although sadly checkpoint placement does leave a little something to be desired. The shooting parts are the main culprit here – you can knock up an impressive body count, make a mistake which ends in Vito’s death, and then you may find yourself having to do it all again. It can be tough and frustrating, making the longer shootouts a bit of a chore.

Some may not like Empire Bay’s lack of activities. Mafia II is story driven and linear in its nature, and outside of finding wanted posters and Playboy centrefolds, there’s very little that you can actually do in this city. To be fair, 2K Czech never implied anything other, but this is definitely not the game to play if you are seeking a virtual city to be your virtual playground.

Visually, Mafia II is a very attractive game. The early moments in Empire Bay are wintry and give you a real sense of place, with a blanket of snow decorating the city, and snowflakes gently moving in the breeze. It’s all enough to send a chill down the spine. In fact, weather conditions and lighting are wonderfully captured, with rain, sunlight and darkness beautifully realised. Character models are also fantastic and are quite emotive during cut-scenes. Top this all off with quality voice acting and period tunes, and it all certainly makes Mafia II a very atmospheric game, which is rich in its authenticity.

Mafia II is certainly atmospheric and remains true to its periods, but it’s also an enjoyable crime caper, with highly successful gameplay mechanics. The city of Empire Bay may not have side activities around every bend, although the story is so solid that many will be able to ignore or at least forgive this tight and unwieldy structure.