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Submitted by Gwynne Dixon on August 27 2010 - 18:25

Eight years after the original game's release, 2K Czech heads off to Empire Bay for the second instalment in its Mafia series...

The original Mafia, for all of its merits, was also a little too realistic. There were cars so finely replicated to their 1920s/30s time period that they struggled to top 30mph and, as a result, attempts to drive these cars up a moderate incline resulted in them grinding to a halt and rolling backwards down the hill. Gamers will be glad to hear then, that while Mafia II remains true to the authentic feel of the original, it's also not quite so gratingly realistic.

Car crashes of 70mph+ can result in death, as they would in real life, but it's not as if you have to drive like a saint to actually get anywhere in the game. Mafia II is more forgiving in this sense but it also has speed limits that coppers will notice you breaking and, likewise, you'll also be stopped for walking around with a gun in public (even if you don't fire it). If the fuzz spot you committing a significant criminal act, then both your appearance and the car you're driving can become 'Wanted'. Unless you subsequently change your clothing or the plates on your car, then this 'Wanted' brand will remain and hinder you considerably until you do.

Because of this, it's a refreshing take on open-world sandbox games; a genre that's swamped with titles which put an emphasis on over-the-top action ahead of authenticity. So many games, like Mercenaries or Just Cause, focus on the question 'Wouldn't it be cool if you could do this?' that they forget to ask whether you should be able to. Mafia II is very clear about the world it wants to construct and unrelenting on the level of detail that it puts into that vision. Because of this, the city of Empire Bay is certainly an immersive one. Granted, it's nowhere near as large as most of its competitors, but that also allows the city to appear more dense and believable. There are fewer recycled assets, a map that doesn't aimlessly sprawl, and you can get to know the setting more intimately as a result.

And then there are the finer details: cars that are well varied in performance and reflect the 40s/50s era well, radio music superbly selected from the time (as well as the occasional news report updating you on the War effort overseas), and numerous other facets from clothing to building design that have clearly been painstakingly researched and crafted. It's perhaps a shame that 2K Czech hasn't taken full advantage of this world by offering up more side missions and odd-jobs to do around Empire Bay away from the main campaign, because this would only have enhanced the immersive feel further. What time it hasn't spent developing these features, though, has been well spent elsewhere.

Mafia II provides one of the most dedicated and well produced campaigns of any sandbox title on the market today. The story and cut-scenes keep you hooked more than most (even if some of them are a bit indulgently long) with characters, voice-acting, dialogue, and plot that present the kind of classic mafia story which has been severely lacking in competing titles like EA's Godfather series. Individual missions aren't only varied enough to keep gameplay interesting but also add in a few surprisingly novel touches, from Shenmue-esque menial tasks in the day-to-day life of a gangster (e.g. selling cigarettes from the back of a truck) to missions with varied plots depending on how you execute them.

All of these tangential missions (three or four of them in total) ultimately end with the same conclusion to a chapter, but precisely how you get there is what varies by executing hidden tasks and opening up additional cut-scenes as a result. It's a fairly straightforward touch but also one that we're surprised other developers don't use more when it adds so much to the experience. Beyond this, Mafia II seasons the experience with everything from some solidly designed stealth missions to a twist towards the middle of the story that takes Vito Scaletta, the game's protagonist, away from Empire Bay. We're not going to say where he ends up to avoid spoilers, but let's just say that copious fighting goes on there and it's more than just knuckles that are bare on one particular occasion.

The fighting system that propels this section's gameplay is another pleasant surprise. It's a simple three button system with dodge, light punch, and heavy punch attacks that sound basic enough (GTA IV has something similar). Having said that, the system then has combos, counter-attacks, and finishing moves layered on top to add a little depth, while decent camera work around these fights then punctuates the experience. What's left is the best brawling in any open-world game, ever. It's just a shame that 2K Czech didn't use this mid-section of the game (chapter 6 to be precise) to do a little more than just fighting as it's rife with other gameplay opportunities.

Of course, the bread and butter of any open-world game of this type are FedEx quests and gun combat, and Mafia II has its fair share of both to flesh out the campaign. Gun combat is heavily cover-based as straying out into the open during fire-fights will get you 'whacked' fairly promptly. Thankfully 2K Czech has constructed a good cover system to make sure that these shoot-outs don't become frustrating. One minor criticism of the AI is that it will stick to one spot in cover fairly exclusively and avoid flanking, so the combat gets a bit whack-a-mole heavy at times. In the final few chapters, the difficulty is dialled-up with enemies that will actively pursue you, although this then goes too far in the kamikaze direction. Somewhere between the two extremes would've been the perfect balance really, although the gun combat remains largely enjoyable nonetheless.

Inevitably the shoot-outs get larger and heavier as the story roles on and reaches its climax. At the same time, these heavy combat sections are largely the result of a plot that feels more convoluted and drawn out in its closing chapters. Perhaps it's just us but precisely who was back-stabbing whom and why had become a point of confusion at the end of what was otherwise a very well balanced plot and this did leave a slightly sour, drawn-out feel to the final few hours of the 12-15 hour campaign. That said, it's all made up for by a brilliant twist at the end.

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  • Graphics: 93%
  • Sound: 97%
  • Gameplay: 89%
  • Originality: 87%
  • Longevity: 85%
Overall Score: 8/10
Mafia II refuses to follow the crowd of open-world games by putting authenticity at the head of its agenda instead of sheer scale and off-the-hook action. The fact that it tells you what to do rather than asking what you'd like to do is somewhat counter-intuitively what makes the game feel so original and immersive.

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By: freeradical

Added:Mon 20th Dec 2010 12:23, Post No: 10

I'd argue that Mafia II is actually less linear than most open-world games in some ways. For a start, there are a handful of missions that change around the storyline depending on how you play them.

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By: Anonymous

Added:Sat 18th Dec 2010 21:04, Post No: 9

Mafia II is a game??? When I was playing it I thought it was an interactive movie. Silly me.

No seriously, this game sucks, I traded it to someone for a better game as soon as I could. WOW, what made these czechs think that we wanted to play a game that has zero diversity and was completely linear after we have all been playing Grand Theft Auto for the past 10 years or so?

Even the story would've made a mediocre movie!

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By: Anonymous

Added:Thu 16th Sep 2010 00:34, Post No: 8

lol quite a hypocrite arnt you, you hated the saboteur yet it had some origonality (with the black and white into colour) all because of topless women in 1 small part of the game, yet you say mafia 2 isnt a bad game really i thought you might have learnt somthing when i dropped this argument but there you go again with a medicore sandbox game and say its not bad (just 1 DLC with nude women and youll suddenly say its rubbish) lmfao.

By: freeradical

Added:Wed 15th Sep 2010 09:39, Post No: 7

Wow, you really didn't like it. I think all of your criticisms have some truth behind them, but perhaps you're being a touch harsh on the game. You seem to be judging Mafia II against some perfect standard that doesn't really exist rather than comparing it to competitors.

Yes, the story is something of a Mafia flick pastiche; yes, the police can be easily fooled with a swift U-turn during car chases but, if you look really hard, you can level these sorts of criticisms at most half decent games of this type.

The bottom line is, despite its faults Mafia II was enjoyable to play through in my opinion. The game seems to have divided opinion though. Some are willing to forgive the game's shortcomings for what it gives you in return, whereas others don't seem to enjoy the game's merits quite so much.

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By: Anonymous

Added:Wed 15th Sep 2010 00:00, Post No: 6

Personally I was very disapointed by Mafia 2.

1.The story everyone was hyping about is nothing more than cut and paste from mafia movies. There is nothing really original about it.

2. The AI is not very good. The behavior of the cops is not very convincing. They are easily fooled. They come after you when you are speeding or are involved in a carscrash, but they do not care about every other traffic violation you can think of.

Also when not in a scripted mission you partners in crime will totally ignore the police, even if dozens of them are shooting at you.

Every male, even the elderly, can fight like pro's. It is ridiculous.

Your tough mafia friends keep whining about traffic lights and speeding.

3.Many of the animations are seriously lacking. For example people who jump away from your car skip animations. People regularly are standing in their cars wth their upperbodies through the roof.

4.The cover system is quite bad. You are unable to shoot through a piece of cloth(emipire hotel), while the enemy is able to shoot you through walls.

5. Weapon models are badly aligned. When you think you shoot the enemy it is not unusual you are shooting walls.

6. Saving is abismall. It is almost as terrible and just as irritating as in GTA IV.

7. The game tries to tell a realistic story, but you have a magic garagebox and a magic dresser. What is that about? It is ridiculous.

8. Cars can not really touch eachother.  There is a very noticable space between the cars, even whe they do damage. Very sloppy.

9. I am not against linear storytelling (GTA4 has it too), but in Mafia 2 that is all there is. The city is dead. Nothing to do there. Nobody to meet outside the linear story. Because of that the city is like a piece of dead cardboard decor. Not once I got the feeling the city was alive and real. It is fake and it feels fake and empty.

10. The game is only about 10 hours. THat is ridiculously short in my book. Some cool sidemissions would have served at least two purposes, making the city feel more alive and immersive, and adding some very necessary playing time to the game.

11. The camera is terrible. When you drive and look around the camera keeps tugging at you. And during indoor shoottouts the camera regularly ends up inside walls and other stuff.

The game does not live up to the hype at all. I consider it to be a failure.

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By: famalegoods137

Added:Fri 10th Sep 2010 12:42, Post No: 5

This comment has been removed by a moderator.

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By: djjjmz

Added:Sun 05th Sep 2010 14:41, Post No: 4

This comment has been removed by a moderator.

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By: Anonymous

Added:Mon 05th Jan 2009 04:57, Post No: 3

looking good

By: julez316

Added:Wed 09th Jan 2008 12:24, Post No: 2

the first mafia was a much overlooked game and hopefully this will be a lot better than the godfather game

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By: Anonymous

Added:Tue 21st Aug 2007 21:04, Post No: 1

Wow Mafia is looking good, hopefully they'll tone down the realism of 1940's cars and their "limited" top speed.