In many ways, Mafia II does several things right for the sandbox genre, which may have come as an insult to sandbox gaming purists. For starters, Mafia II isn’t a true sandbox game by today’s standards. The game stages you in a pseudo open world, where the only form of exploration and side missions comes from stealing cars and robbing various stores; the latter of which most gamers won’t realize they can do until very late in the game. This illusion will leave several gamers confused as to why the 2K Czech development team decided to negate side missions. Secondly, money isn’t persistent throughout the game. It’s not like you get robbed, but more like the game robs you – making you wonder if you should have spent all that time amassing riches. However, beneath the façade is a game and story that is quite compelling to play through. It paid homage to mafia films like A Bronx Tale, Goodfellas and The Godfather. Beyond that, it’s a game that you want to and can feasibly finish without getting trapped in monotonous, endless side quests. Mafia II is a reminder that sometimes less is actually more, especially when the story and characters are there to back it up – in addition to a few added DLC adventures that make use of the world.
Mafia II begins with Vito Scaletta’s staring down at a photo album, while reminiscing about his family’s move from Sicily to Empire Bay. For some reason, a gloomy atmosphere seems to be sitting over the scene. Much like a movie the game starts in the present then takes back in time to see how Vito got to where he is and what seems to be the cause for all the gloom and doom. During loading menus, gamers will get a feel for the full scope of the world Vito lives in as anecdotes from court cases and newspaper clippings are shown on screen. You’ll also learn bits of trivia, like the fact that Mafia roughly translated means “swagger” or “boldness.” Good to know.
Your first mission serves as a tutorial mission and also the foundation for your character’s skill with firearms. After Vito’s father passes away, Vito joins his friend Joe Barbaro in committing petty crimes. One job goes awry, and Vito ends up in jail only to get drafted into the war. As you are sent off to war, you learn how to use firearms and drive. It also serves as a moment where Vito gets a sense of right and wrong. Upon returning to Empire Bay, Vito reconnects with Joe and the two begin their journey into mafia infamy. The story is more than a simple tale of two guys who commit crimes to make money and become the greatest kingpin of all time. Mafia II is more of a family drama and a tale of two guys who become brothers in arms.
“The working man’s a sucka. That’s for damn sure.” Joe Barbaro quotes this famous line from A Bronx Tale. The game makes several references like this to popular mafia movies as well as real world mafia references from the news (the names of which have all been changed to protect the guilty). This helps make the story more entertaining, while building archetype familiarity.
Much like Grand Theft Auto, you can steal just about any car you’d like. If the cops are chasing you down, you can make a dash for a garage to change your license plate number or car color so that you no longer fit the description they’re looking for. If you were actually seen committing the crime, then you may also have to change your outfit. You can store several cars in your garage. While your money disappears frequently throughout the game, as you are incarcerated or robbed, your cars actually stay with you. One thing you can’t do is rob people on the street for money. It seems that everyone in Empire Bay doesn’t walk around with cash on hand.
Periodically, you’ll need to raise cash outside of the standard missions to either pay back someone you owe or to buy product to sell. You can make money stealing cars at Bruski’s Scrapyard for about four hundred dollars a pop or robbing stores. The game doesn’t really enlighten you to the fact that you can rob stores until you’ve finished over half of the story. Stealing cars involves either bashing in the window, which will more readily alert police to your activity, or through a lock picking mini game.
The game features a wealth of weaponry as well as vintage cars. You can carry around more guns that Master Chief which is a little fictitious. Each gun can be selected using the D-pad. Each direction holds a different type of weapon from handguns and rifles to automatic weapons and projectile weapons like the notorious Molotov cocktail.
All the missions in Mafia II are directly tied to the main story. If you’ve ever played sandbox games, you know that the side missions amount to no more than fetch missions, escort missions and time trials. Usually, the style isn’t even gracefully hidden. Someone will randomly challenge you to a race, need you to deliver a package or turn you into Hoke so that you can begin Driving Miss Daisy. Since several of these side missions are not tied to the story, you wonder what’s the point of playing through them besides earning your Xbox Achievements or Playstation 3 trophies.
If game designers are going to put them in the game, then why not tie it more cohesively the story so that they can actually affect the outcome of the game. Often the average gamer gets so caught up in doing the second missions that they forget about the primary story and eventually put the game aside for the latest hot title.
That’s what Mafia II is about: stripping out the extraneous effects and focusing on the core game. While there are several car missions of ‘outrun the baddie’ as the game progresses, they all serve a purpose. There are also hand-to-hand combat missions that get progressively better as the story unfolds. Of course, these are all tied to Vito’s story and not just tossed in as forgettable side quests. Yes, after a while, some of the missions do get repetitive. First you get into sticky shoot ‘em up situation, the cops are waiting outside and then it’s time for the high-speed chase through Empire Bay. Thankfully, the story urges you to play through. What will Vito do next? Will he always choose the crime life? Or, are family and personal relations more important than a mafia bond made behind closed doors? There are several twist and turns that play out that keep the game engaging.
The M rating is adequately earned in Mafia II. In addition to the graphic violence, excessive cursing and racially derogatory dialogue, gamers can also collect nude Playboy Playmate pinups.
Mafia II brings home a hearty soundtrack of excellent Crooners’ songs, including: “Ain’t that a Kick in the Head” by Dean Martin, “Boom Boom” by John Lee Hooker, “Mambo Italiano” by Rosemary Clooney, “It Don’t Mean a Thing” by Duke Ellington, “Baby It’s Cold Outside” by Sammy Davis Junior and “Manish Boy” by Muddy Waters. When Sinatra’s not doing it for you, gamers can also turn their station to the news and hear in-game updates of what’s going on in Empire Bay. Mostly, gamers will hear about crimes they recently committed on the news.
2K Games has already started releasing downloadable add-ons to the game including Jimmy’s Vendetta, which introduces a new character who has been burned by the mob. There’s also Joe’s Adventures DLC, which uncovers the truth behind Vito’s prison sentence and what’s really going on in the Clemente family.
Mafia II is an excellent game well worth picking up. This game is about rich story and characters. The exploration of Empire Bay isn’t about side quests; it’s about exploring the world of Empire Bay, which comes in DLC. If you haven’t played Mafia II yet, it’s definitely worth checking out. As Joe Barbaro would say, “Chop, chop!”