When a game is released to some great reception, it can almost be assured that at some point in the future, a sequel will be released. But for Mafia II, things were handled a bit differently. Most often, a developer will capitalize on the game’s initial success and release a sequel as soon as possible. That sure isn’t the case for Mafia II, though, which sees its release almost exactly eight years later.
Although the large gap between releases was undoubtedly difficult for fans to deal with, Mafia II does a lot of things right, and though I haven’t had the pleasure of playing the original, I found Mafia II to be refreshing, and one of the best and more interesting games I’ve played in a while.
Like many Mafia-themed games and movies, the story of Mafia II isn’t too original, but there are enough plot-twists and misleading outcomes that still manage to captivate. The lead character is Vito Scaletta, a Sicilian-born World War II veteran that finds himself in the United States, thanks to a move that his family made earlier in his life.
Vito is a man that is never far from trouble, and it’s been that way ever since he met his best friend as a kid, Joe Barbaro. As a result of being caught by police after a robbery, he finds himself back in Italy fighting in the Invasion of Sicily. Due to an injury, he’s sent back home and discovers that his father, who passed away while he was at war, borrowed $2,000 from a loan shark and is required to pay it back. Getting a hold of $2,000 in the 1940’s isn’t a simple feat, so Vito quickly found himself living the life of a gangster, and ultimately working his way into a Mafia family and subsequently working his way up.
For the most part, there has never been a large number of Mafia-themed games to choose from, so for fans of such content, movies have been almost the only real option. But Mafia II manages to kill two birds with one stone, because while it’s a game, it plays like a movie in many parts, and unless you couldn’t care less about the story, the cut-scenes found here are quite welcomed.
The game consists of 15 chapters and covers the time period between 1943 and 1957. To help add to the game’s realism, the cars and music available change over time, and believe it or not, so does the pricing of some things, due to inflation. For example, a $7 set of lockpicks at the start of the game are $10 down the road, so there’s good attention to detail here.
Mafia II is often compared to Grand Theft Auto, and for good reason. The game takes place in one large city, Empire Bay, and load screens are minimal. You could literally run (or drive) from one end of the map to the other without a loading sequence, and likewise, you always have a map of the city available to you at any time, and also the ability to create personal waypoints.
The city design is inspired by both San Francisco and New York, and throughout, you’ll find many neighborhoods, buildings and other things that are reminiscent of the cities at that time. The overall design is one of the game’s best features, as its construction is quite believable. You won’t see a building copy and pasted a thousand times, which helps add to the realism.
The most noticeable difference between the GTA series and Mafia II is that the latter doesn’t feature side-missions. While GTA IV could easily encapsulate a gamer for over 100 hours, Mafia II can be completed in about 10 hours, if exploration is kept to the minimum. If you want to explore, and especially find all of the Playboy magazines and “Wanted” posters hidden around Empire Bay, then you could likely add another 10 hours to the gameplay (these collectibles are not generally stumbled on… they have to be searched for).
Throughout the span of the game, you’ll find yourself walking a fair bit, but driving far more so. There are a total of 36 player-drivable vehicles in the game, ranging from cars to trucks. There are no motorcycles to be found in the game, which I find a bit strange and unfortunate. Of the autos that are available, all feature unique names, but are modeled after real cars from that era.
There is more than one user-accessible garage that will become available to you throughout the game, and in total, you can own 10 different autos at any time. To get these cars, you must steal them, and to make them “legal”, you can bring them to a shop to have the plates changed, while also customizing the color, tuning and rims. Not all of the cars in the game are available from the get go, with the fastest models being found later in the game.
Both at home and in a car, the you can listen to the radio, which similar to GTA once again, will feature music and also some clever banter from the show host. The game features over 100 songs that were released in the 40’s and 50’s, and many are easily recognizable. Some of the notable artists include Muddy Waters, Louis Prima, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Bing Crosby, Bo Diddley and many, many more. If you’re a fan of this era of music, the selection found here is almost epic and does a great job of making you feel like you’re actually experiencing life in the 40’s and 50’s.
The same can be said about the weapons, which covers pistols, machine guns, shotguns, rifles, grenades and Molotov cocktails. Though some of the gun shops have rockets on the shelves, they can never be wielded by the player. Each of the guns you use will have a unique crosshair, and you can either aim from your default stance, or zoom in a bit to help secure the kill.
One ability you’ll use a lot is hiding behind an object and then peeking around. This is imperative to survival, and quite easy to pull off. On the PC, you simply hit Ctrl when you are near a corner or object, and from there, you can either peek around the left or right side – of if it’s a smaller object, such as a barrel, you could also shoot over the top of it.