Review / Mafia II (PC)

For the sake of full disclosure, let it be known that, as of this writing, I have not beaten Mafia II. This isn’t due to a lack of trying. Quite the contrary, actually. I very much tried to beat Mafia II and I’m confident in my abilities to beat Mafia II, but Mafia II won’t let me beat Mafia II. You see, I have fallen victim to what is being referred to as the “Mona Lisa glitch”. Near the end of the second-to-last chapter, I was supposed to enter a bar called the Mona Lisa where I was to meet up with some people. I drove to the bar, pressed the E key so the door would open, and it proceeded to not open. I reset the game, drove to the Mona Lisa, and the same thing happens.

I went online to see if this was a recurring issue, and it turns out that I’m not the only one having this issue. Not by a long shot. Apparently restarting the whole chapter was a possible solution, so after spending around 90 minutes replaying the 14th chapter all over again (which included the most tedious part of the entire game up to that point), I waltzed right up to the Mona Lisa bar and watched in mouse-shattering frustration as the door refused to open.

So yeah, I didn’t beat it, but unless the game pulls a Blazing Saddles in the final chapter and busts out into a 4th wall breaking Busby Berkeley style musical number, I highly doubt my opinion on the game would be any different than it is right now.

One game I was able to successfully finish was the original Mafia way back in 2002, which I happened to have enjoyed quite a bit. In the aftermath of Grand Theft Auto III and the tsunami of me-too GTA clones, Mafia’s deliberate pacing and mature setting were highly refreshing. Driving through the city of Lost Heaven in those old, crappy cars had a undeniable charm, and the game’s great narrative helped Mafia rise above its contemporaries as one of 2002’s best games.

Fast forward eight years, and developer 2K Czech has essentially delivered the same game. Granted, it looks a heck of a lot better, you can now take cover during the shooting segments, and the cars are slightly improved over their early 30’s brethren, but from a structural standpoint, you’d be hard pressed to find too many differences between Mafia II and it’s predecessor.

The game puts you in the custom made alligator skinned shoes of one Vito Scaletta. After serving a tour of duty in Italy during WWII, he heads back home to the definitely-not-New-York-City town of Empire Bay where he hooks up with his old buddy Joe (not Joey), who now happens to be a fairly successful wise guy. Vito decides working at the docks ain’t for him, so he teams up with Joe to live the highly glamorous gangster lifestyle.

It’s a good mob story, but that’s kind of the problem, as the game does a truly exceptional job of hitting just about every single mob movie cliché in the book. The lingo, the locales, dead guys in trunks, the right off the boat, overly protective mother along with the pure & innocent sister, beating up said pure & innocent sister’s deadbeat husband, everything going to hell once heroin gets involved, burying dead bodies, and many, many more.

Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as Mafia II’s tale of crime and corruption is still highly involving, but if you’re looking for a innovative or distinct mobster story, it isn’t here. Also, Vito’s story bears a striking resemblance to Tommy Angelo’s journey from the first game, as Mafia II hits many of the same beats and scenarios as the original title. The only difference being that Mafia II is about five hours shorter than its older brother.

One thing that does thankfully carry over from the first game would be its fantastic production values. The voice acting is excellent across the board, the sound design is well mixed and bombastic, and the original score is also quite good. It also looks great, with really well detailed character models, and like any good Eastern European developer should, 2K Czech has made the PC version the best looking version available if you got the rig to handle it. Mafia II also features a strong selection of period piece music that plays on the game’s three radio stations, but many of the tracks are woefully out of place.

Quick history lesson: While the origins of the genre are debatable, the first true rock ‘n roll hit single was Crazy Man, Crazy by Bill Haley and The Comets in 1953. Considering the game mostly takes place in 1951 and never reaches 1953, it’s a little jarring hearing a multitude of classic rock ‘n roll hits technically before the genre was even created. Also, the game prominently features Ain’t That a Kick in the Head, but Dean Martin didn’t record that song until 1960. Granted, you’re not going to notice this unless you happen to be a big music aficionado, but the key to any period piece is authenticity, and 2K Czech didn’t do their homework properly in this department.

As was the case with the first game, Mafia II is technically an open-world game, but the reality of the situation is far different. The city of Empire Bay only serves as eye candy on your way to your next mission objective. You can buy clothes at numerous identical looking clothing stores, upgrade your car at numerous identical looking auto body shops, or rob one of the numerous identical looking gas stations, but that’s about it (one mission involves driving to multiple gas stations in a row, and entering the same station and talking to the same gas station attendant over and over again became laughable near the end).

The lack of things to do is a complete waste, as the city itself is actually rather detailed and lively, but since you can’t really do much in it, driving becomes more of a chore as you drive all the way across town repeatedly to further the plot. This was fine in 2002, but in the post GTA IV/Saints Row 2/Red Dead Redemption era, Mafia II feels distinctly lacking in the content department. At least driving is more fun this time around since you now get to drive cars that don’t take a fortnight to reach 40MPH, but it still isn’t exactly Forza 3.

When you’re not driving around or watching cut-scenes, you’ll probably be in the process of shooting guys. Once again, the shooting feels a lot like the first game, but it’s far more forgiving thanks to a solid cover mechanic. The shooting primarily takes place in close quarters, so you can really see and feel the impact of your weapons. Using a shotgun in a crowded hallway can be downright unfair to your adversaries. You’ll occasionally partake in fisticuffs when guns aren’t available, but the hand-to-hand combat is incredibly shallow and repetitive, as the game gives you a whopping two combos to work with, which will make you wish you could just shoot whoever you’re fighting. Also, the game doesn’t exactly hand out checkpoints like candy, so be prepared to replay large chunks of treaded ground when you die.

Mafia II is an odd game. It features so many of the things that made the original Mafia such a special game, but using an eight year old design template in a medium where things can feel dated in mere months is puzzling. Other than the spiffy graphics, Mafia II just doesn’t feel like a game made in 2010. 2K Czech obviously put a lot of work into this game, and if you don’t want to watch Goodfellas for the 92nd time, this is a good alternative, but anyone who has been playing sandbox style games for the past few years is going to see Mafia II for what it is: dated.

+ It looks great
+ It sounds great
+ The core shooting action is highly satisfying

– Game breaking bugs
– Highly derivative and way too much like the first game
– Out of place music

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