This add-on is a hollow return to a distinctive city.
- Great opening sequence
- The core action is still great
- The best missions give you a chance to make things go boom.
- Too many missions are boring
- Too many missions are frustrating
- Too little narrative context
- Mafia II mechanics don't lend themselves well to timed objectives.
Mafia II featured great shooting and fun fisticuffs, but it was the story and set piece levels that gave it that extra punch. The game's first premium downloadable add-on, Jimmy's Vendetta, is a sizeable one, but it's a dim shadow of its big brother. An action-packed and chaotic opening gets your blood pumping, and some missions provide ample opportunity to blow up volatile vehicles. But overall, this mission-based romp through Empire City is a disappointment. Mission quality is all over the place, ranging from deadly boring, to fun and satisfying, to frustratingly cheap. There isn't much story to give your actions context, beyond a mission description and a couple of short but snazzy cinematics. Mafia II's core action remains solid, but it's stuffed into an uneven package without character or soul.
Your initial reaction to this downloadable content may very well be: "Who's Jimmy?" PlayStation 3 owners were given an introduction to this bald brigand in a free add-on called The Betrayal of Jimmy; everyone else will be hard pressed to wonder why they should care about this character beyond his frequent and amusing use of the f-word. Raspy voice acting and dark shades give Jimmy a barely veiled air of acrimony, but aside from the great-looking cutscenes that open and close this adventure, mission descriptions are the only source of context for his crimes. You may think that the exciting prison escape that thrusts you back into the atmospheric Empire City sets the stage for another thrilling and tightly scripted mob romp. Instead, Jimmy's Vendetta is more of an arcade take on Mafia II's mobster mayhem. You drive from one timed mission location to the next until you reach the inevitable final showdown, getting scored on your performance and a chance to see how well you did compared to other players on the online leaderboards.
Unfortunately, the lack of narrative really hurts Jimmy's escapades. A number of missions involve stealing a vehicle and driving it to a garage, often located a good distance from your starting location. Several of these vehicles, like a police transport and a giant tanker, are slow, cumbersome, and boring to drive. In Mafia II, longer driving sequences had context in the larger story, and the chatty and funny Joe Barbaro was usually there to provide a few laughs and groans. After all, a road trip is always more fun when you have someone along for the ride. Here, not only do you drive more sluggish vehicles, but you also have no company, and there's no attempt to elevate these missions beyond "drive truck from point A to point B." Action-based missions are thankfully more stimulating because they rely on Mafia II's strong combat mechanics. Several of them are quite good, and the manner in which you earn more points for stringing kills in quick succession has you pushing forward to get headshot after headshot. The best of these missions feature opportunities to blow up cars and trucks, which is always fun due to Mafia II's impressive explosions, which look and sound terrific and leave behind husks of flaming metal. A couple of missions in which you protect a vulnerable civilian are also enjoyable because they give you a chance to pick off incoming enemies from behind cover and rack up the points.
Other shooting missions are incredibly frustrating because they lack the clever cover and enemy placement of the main game. In many scenarios, you face legions of angry adversaries but are given few, if any, places for a respite. This is an unusual design choice, given that Mafia II's shooting mechanics are derived directly from modern-day cover shooters like Gears of War and Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. All too often, you are stuck out in the open with only your wits and luck to save you, and Jimmy is remarkably fragile. And because you are usually in a hurry due to the ever-ticking timer, you will frequently deal with cops in addition to your main foes. As Mafia II fans know, Empire City is crawling with fuzz craving to chase a speeding vehicle, and because the timer encourages you to move at top speed, they're on your tail constantly here. These two elements--oversensitive police and a clock pushing you to rush--don't fit well together; some missions are already exasperating enough without throwing cops into the fray. The final operation is the most maddening; on top of these other annoyances, you engage enemies in the tight confines of a mansion. Remember how the camera pulled in extremely close to Vito whenever you entered apartments and hallways in Mafia II? Now, imagine trying to handle a shotgun or tommy gun at the same time. You can't see, you can't maneuver, and you can't wring any fun out of it.
The slapdash nature of this DLC is disappointing, considering Mafia II's outstanding sense of place and time. Empire City is a wonderful place, and the day/night cycle and weather effects make the world come alive. The game also comes alive when you get a chance to light the skies with flames and fury, taking down nearby enemies and racking up the points in the process. But these sparks are too often snuffed out by frustrating mission design and deadly boring driving sequences. It could take you five hours or so to gun your way through Jimmy's Vendetta, which at $9.99 sounds like a great value. But there's only so much value in an add-on this inconsistent, and even the most fanatical Mafia II players should give pause before devoting time and money to Jimmy's revenge tale.