Mafia II

Fallen Empire

Mafia 2 makes an offer I don't have much trouble refusing...
Author: Aram Lecis
Published: October 5, 2010
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When Illusion Softworks released the original Mafia back in 2002, it got a little lost in the shuffle and faced unfair comparisons to Grand Theft Auto 3. Thankfully, it turned out to have lasting appeal and was ported from PC the Xbox and PlayStation 2, retaining some level of cult appreciation to this day. Illusion Softworks eventually got snatched up and became 2K Czech, doing little except the Vietcong series, before finally releasing Mafia 2 last month. That lack of branching out into other projects is readily apparent when you sit down with Mafia 2 and compare it to its predecessor.

In Mafia 2, you play as Vito Scaletta, whose story is told through a series of flashbacks seen through old Vito's eyes. Turns out Vito was born in the old country, and his family emigrated to Empire City when he was a wee bairn. Life is hard in America, and soon Vito falls in with a bad crowd, eventually getting pinched in a petty robbery, whereupon he is forced to choose between jail and joining the Army to serve his country overseas in war torn Europe. Vito being Vito, he elects to head to Italy to fight under General George S. Patton and see a little of the old country. The game picks up with you fighting to liberate Italy, and regardless of your prowess at World War 2 shooters, Vito is eventually shot and gets sent back to America to recuperate for a bit.

When he arrives home, his old buddy Joe meets him at the airport and as he drives Vito through the bustling city we learn that Joe has gotten more serious about his criminal enterprises. A few phone calls later. and Vito is honorably discharged from military service, freeing him up to start doing some work for the "family". These early parts of the game are the most compelling, and the story, while a little trite, is well told through in-mission conversations and well rendered cut scenes. Alas, things never really go anywhere, and Vito never really gains any prominence or power, much like Niko in Grand Theft Auto 4, and remains a lackey throughout the experience. With a few notable exceptions, the rather drawn out story is forgettable, with many of the missions dragging out well after they ceased to be enjoyable. Unlike the very powerful and memorable ending to the original Mafia, the sequel just eventually runs out of steam, with little to no closure on the Vito story arc. I suppose in the age of DLC, we can expect to see the further adventures of Vito played out in the future, but how many people will still be hanging onto their copies of the game at that point?

In terms of gameplay, Mafia 2 takes its cues from the original, and retains all the same high points and low points. Those high points seemed a lot higher ten years ago though, and those low points seem a lot more nagging today. Most missions in Mafia 2 consist of three parts; First you drive (slowly) to a set area, then you get out and play some clunky third-person shooter, then you drive (slowly) back home, unless you have to drop someone off first. The only missions that really deviate from that are the intro mission and the (very well done) mission where you are serving time in jail. Otherwise, rinse and repeat that formula, ad nauseam. Mafia 2 might be billed as an open-world game, but in truth there is little reason or time to do anything other than drive from one mission marker to the next. At no point are you not actively on a mission, and while you are free to take as much time as you'd like on many of them, there really is nothing to do in the world to distract you. Other then shopping for new clothes (there are only about 6 outfits) and guns, nothing is happening in supposedly cosmopolitan Empire City. I guess the 50's really were a simpler time.

Remember how in the original Mafia, if you drove too fast or disobeyed traffic laws, the police would come after you? While it was nice to have that touch of realism, you could get a little tired of running through a red light too close to the cops and suddenly having to either pull over and pay a fine or run off and start a bigger, potentially fatal car chase. Mafia 2 tones this down, as running through traffic lights seems to not arouse the cops ire, and you have to be going a good 20mph over the speed limit (a whopping 60mph!) before they see fit to turn on the sirens. That DOES mean you still have to drive pretty slow though, and since many of the missions require multiple trips traversing the entire map, keeping things slow can get a little grating. Going faster has its own annoyances though, besides the police. Cars of the past do not handle very well, nor can they take much damage before the engine dies (although you can easily fix the engine as many times as you like. I guess the Army has a great training program!). Vito himself cannot take much damage either, and I probably spent more time dying like James Dean than any other way in the game.

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