In a sequel that’s taken eight years to see its release, Mafia II looks to give fans of the series copious amounts of what they love. As we’ve discovered, the game features a compelling story, fantastic acting, a vibrant city, and many movie-like moments. If you’re a fan of the Mafia genre, this one shouldn’t be missed.
I mentioned earlier that the game lacks side-missions, and as a result, it’s unavoidably linear. After you return home from the war, you side with Joe, and take his advice for everything, and as the story progresses, you are simply told what to do. Many of the missions require a LOT of driving, which adds to the realism, but does get tedious after a while – especially if you literally have to drive from one side of the map to the other.
Unlike Grand Theft Auto, cops are clearly marked on your mini-map so you can avoid them. If you speed in your car, you risk igniting a chase, and those accomplish nothing, except maybe to bang you and your car up. I don’t mind this mechanic, but I did find that there were an unrealistically high number of cops around. On bridges, you’re usually good to speed, but in the city itself, you’ll find yourself slowing yourself down constantly. For those who are patient, you can enable the speed limiter function in any car to make sure you’re always going the speed limit.
As a whole, Empire Bay isn’t a huge city, and compared to the city found in Grand Theft Auto IV, it’s small. But given that the game can be completed in around 15 hours if you take your time, its small size isn’t a big deal. It does mean that you’ll be revisiting certain areas more than once, but this is at least believable, as if you were really in the Mafia, you’d often be meeting up with the same people.
You can earn money by simply completing your missions, and a couple other methods, but ultimately, it’s almost useless. Purchasable goods include clothing (even this is limited), gas, food and guns. Clothing and food are sometimes important, but the most expensive items are weapons, and generally you’ll be able to pick those up from people you whack, so it’s a rare day when you’ll actually need to head to a gun shop.
The fact that cash is almost useless leads to a major gripe some people will have with this game… it’s too linear, and simple. Simple as in progression, not in difficulty. You don’t need to worry about side jobs (though DLC is sure to include these) and you don’t have to worry about much aside from simply following orders. You don’t need to save up money for anything, and as far as cars go, you’ll probably find yourself always using the same one, so customizing them might seem a bit useless. In truth though, if there were no customization options at all, it’d seem even worse.
If anything at all forces you to get out and explore, it’s the fact that Empire Bay is littered with many classic Playboy magazines and “Wanted” posters. Neither are that easy to find, although on occasion you will pretty much trip over some of them. The “Wanted” posters show a photo of a criminal (likely one of the game’s developers) and their crime, while the Playboy magazines will give you the respective centerfold from that issue, uncensored. Nothing special is unlocked from collecting all the pieces of either, but for completists, like myself, it tacks on a fair bit of gameplay time.
Though Mafia II might be a “simple” game, it’s captivating and features solid gameplay and a great story. It’s not often when acting in a game impresses me, but it did so here. In fact, I was simply blown away, because during some cutscenes, it felt like I was watching a movie, despite the fact that they use the game’s graphics. The voice-acting is top-rate and really portrayed emotions accurately.
Again, the cutscene element might annoy some people as much as it excites others. The fact is, there are a lot of cutscenes here, and if all you’re looking for is constant action, you might find yourself skipping some of them. To get the full story though, you won’t want to, because even when you finish the game for the first time, you’re likely to forget all about minute details that were mentioned earlier on.
The game ends in a rather open-ended way, so it’s clear that 2K Games is going to make use of DLC, or simply lead the story into another sequel. On the map legend, there is an icon for “Jobs”, and ironically, it’s never used in the game. So, it’s likely that the DLC will open up various jobs and then utilize this. The first piece of DLC will be called Jimmy’s Vendetta and become available over the next couple of months – not likely for free.
One aspect I haven’t touched on yet is that the game features heavy use of NVIDIA’s PhysX physics technology, and it has become the first title in particular to utilize APEX, the developer tool that allows easy manipulation of PhysX modules. PhysX isn’t something that stands out to a major degree through the entire game, but rather is seen in focused parts. In total, I found 4 major instances when PhysX was heavily utilized, and after comparing PhysX vs. non-PhysX, I found that having it enabled resulted in added realism, so I’d definitely prefer playing the game with it on than off.
I did run into a couple of PhysX-related issues, though. The first is that at certain points in the game, the PhysX was ramped up so high, that the game would slow to a crawl. After talking to NVIDIA about this, the company stated that anti-aliasing was likely the issue. After disabling it, I didn’t run into the issue again. Still, I am not completely confident that AA was indeed the issue, since the the problem was random even before. The second issue is that I had the game crash on me at inconvenient parts, and after reading around, it seems others are having similar issues, and it looks to be related to PhysX. Nothing’s confirmed, however, so if PhysX is indeed the issue, it won’t take too long before it’s confirmed.
Mafia II, to me, is one of the best games of the year thus far, and is a must-own for fans of the genre. It’s not perfect, but the rich story, fun-to-explore city, superb acting and solid gameplay completely overshadows the game’s issues. Do I recommend picking it up? Absolutely. This is one I can vouch for.
Overall Score: 85%
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