Mafia II Review
Mafia II's exciting action and uncompromising mob story make for an impressive and violent adventure.
The good news is that the missions are generally excellent and emphasize Mafia II's three pillars of gameplay: shooting, hand-to-hand combat, and stealth. The shooting is similar to what you would find in a third-person cover shooter. Most encounters are best tackled by sliding into cover behind a wall or under a window and popping out to blast away at your potty-mouthed enemies with a tommy gun, or peeking out long enough to lodge a bullet in your foe's brain with a Magnum. A great sense of weight, powerful sound effects, and convincing animations make shoot-outs incredibly satisfying, and your enemies put up a tough fight. Memorable shoot-outs occur in a Chinese restaurant, in a hotel bar and hallways, and in a meat-packing plant. These are thrilling sequences made even more exciting by the destructible environments; glass flies everywhere, boxes providing cover may splinter, and vehicles explode, which gives the action just the right amount of chaos. Outstanding orchestral swells in the soundtrack, and scripted events like sprinklers going off and fires spreading through the building, contribute to the tension. The only downside to the gunplay is the need to press a button to extricate yourself from cover. This is the most minor of quibbles in standard gunfights, but it's a bigger nuisance in a boss fight of sorts in a dock warehouse, during which you may wish you could move out of cover with greater ease.
Your fists also do some damage in Mafia II. Hand-to-hand combat is simple, but as with the shooting, great animations and potent sound effects give one-on-one brawls a great sense of impact. You land light and strong jabs, block incoming strikes, and finish off your opponent with a ferocious series of slow-motion punches. Smartly, the missions requiring you to flex your muscles in this manner are those in which Vito has a particularly personal stake, such as in a confrontation with an unfaithful husband. The camera pulls in close and might obscure your view during some of these encounters, but the outcome of your fight won't likely be affected by this bit of clumsiness. Not every mission requires brute force, however: you get a few chances to sneak your way to success, using the cover system to your advantage and choking unsuspecting victims from behind. You can even drag bodies and hide them where you hope they won't be seen. It's too bad there are so few opportunities to put your stealth techniques to good use, but it's hard not to appreciate how fully fleshed out this element is. In fact, it's a wonder that all three of these ingredients--the shooting, the melee action, and the stealth--feel absolutely complete and never half-baked.
It's unfortunate that you don't do more of those things in Mafia II. You spend more time driving from one place to the next, often only to trigger a cutscene, rather than to engage in some of these action-packed activities. Luckily, the vehicles strike a good balance between feeling authentic and being fun to drive. The driving in the original Mafia often felt like a chore rather than a pleasure. Fortunately, the sequel's vehicles are speedier and handle better (it's a few decades later, after all), and the police no longer pull you over for running a red light. They will, however, be none too pleased if you roar past the speed limit. You can lose them, pay a fine or bribe them, or resist arrest. If you've run over a pedestrian, robbed a jewelry store, or committed some other serious offense, the cops even set up blockades, though if you're chased down, it's not usually too difficult to shoot your way out of a bind. Or for the easy way out, lose the cops and change clothes, or steal a new vehicle.
If you aren't driving to and fro, you may instead be loading some crates, selling contraband smokes, cleaning a men's room urinal, or mopping up a puddle. The story offers good reasons for these tasks, but they're as thrilling as they sound. Yet while some undertakings might have you longing for Mafia II to deliver more action, the context granted by the story gives some of these mundane jobs an intriguing sense of urgency. A drive to the doctor's house may not seem all that interesting, but it is when you believe someone's life is on the line. Cleaning a window with a squeegee isn't all that electrifying, but it feels a lot more tense when you know an explosive turn of events is imminent. A few car chases with Joe hanging out the window taking shots at your target help speed up the pace. You might run into some weird annoyances during these vehicle-focused sections, however; the cops could arrest the driver you're discreetly following if he collides with a police car, for example, which ends the mission through no fault of your own.
Mafia II is an excellent return of a franchise with great promise. Vito and his associates are memorable characters in a city bursting with subtle visual details and violent undertones. The story pulls no punches, neither glorifying nor demeaning the difficult lives its protagonists lead--just presenting them with brutal honesty and letting you reach your own conclusions. After the 15-or-so hours it might take you to gun through Vito's story, it's hard not to come away with the sense that there should have been more to do in this beautiful city. Yet while you might be disappointed with what Mafia II doesn't do, it's hard to be disappointed by what this excellent game does do: deliver fun shoot-outs and pockets of shocking brutality in a world you're delighted to be a part of.