It's good to see Mafia II's Joe Barbaro again; it's just too bad this add-on isn't worthy of the character. Mafia II: Joe's Adventures does have its shining moments, however. Multiple story-based missions are electrifying and recall some of the main game's fantastic set-piece shoot-outs. It's unfortunate that the side missions surrounding them range from plain old boring to downright awful. One of Mafia II's most special qualities was how the excellent story and banter between characters gave context to your activities. Even the most mundane tasks were exciting because you felt invested in them. Joe's Adventures, like the downloadable content for Mafia II that came before it, fails to provide adequate narrative to motivate you. As a result, driving from one mission across town to the next becomes laborious, especially when you discover that the mission you drove to is aggressively unenjoyable. There are incredible moments that Mafia II fans should experience--just ready yourself for some drudgery that misses the mark by a wide margin.
At the very least, Joe's Adventures gets off to a good start, putting you in the shoes of Vito Scaletta's boisterous, puffy-haired sidekick and sending you to a wintertime shoot-out. The locale for this bloody battle is beautiful and atmospheric, and a car chase across a slippery frozen lake is an enjoyable finale to this introductory mission. There are a few other such story-driven missions, including a gunfight in a supermarket that ends with an explosive escape and an action-packed sequence that begins in a bordello. Like Mafia II's best moments, these scenarios are made all the more exciting by the game's excellent visuals and audio. Glass shards fly around you, police barricades explode as you drive through them, and your potty-mouthed foes call out that they need to hurry and put a bullet in your head because the wife has a delicious dinner planned. The brothel's interior is ostentatiously decorated and richly colored, while the market's shelves are stocked with fictional products that nevertheless strike the proper old-timey vibe. Good animations and great sound effects make it fun to shoot your foes, whether you're wielding a Magnum or a tommy gun.
The majority of Joe's Adventures, however, is structured like the Jimmy's Vendetta add-on. You drive from one stand-alone mission to the next, earning points by filling your assigned enemies with lead or by maintaining high speeds in your vehicle of choice. Each mission comes with a time limit, and once you complete a mission, you can compare your performance with other players on the online leaderboards. This setup was, and still is, a poor fit for a character-driven game. The timer encourages you to rush, yet Mafia II's mid-1900s vehicles aren't built for precise handling at high speeds. Furthermore, the game's oversensitive police and busy roads aren't conducive to speeding about. Seven cars lined up at a stoplight might make for a frustrating barricade, and going over 40 miles per hour alerts any cop that notices you--and considering that a single city block might be patrolled by three or four policemen, there's a good chance you'll be noticed. This lack of cohesion between Mafia II's mechanics and the new content's structure is evident time and time again. For example, one frustrating mission has you driving as fast as you can through a series of checkpoints, but roads slippery from the rain, congested traffic, and a strict timer make this race against the clock anything but enjoyable. (It doesn't help that in two different key turns during this mission, the game's GPS can go haywire and send you off in the wrong direction.)
Some other missions are just as frustrating. In one teeth-clenching task, you must deliver gun shipments to several weapon shops, which entails driving a slow, and slow-to-accelerate, wagon. The moment you make your first shipment, a speedy sedan gives chase while three mobsters hanging from the window fire at you. Because the enemy spawn point is much too close, your vulnerable vehicle might get blown to smithereens before you can even turn the corner, and your foes will chase you all over town if you can't shake them. You might take the time out to gun them down, but doing so wastes precious seconds. In an on-foot chase sequence, your target might go running off in a direction the game doesn't intend, breaking the mission. And as in Mafia II and its previous downloadable content, you might fail a mission through no fault of your own should your target get hung up in traffic, or get arrested by a policeman. The fact that these side tasks have no mid-mission checkpoint makes these kinds of moments even more annoying.
Not every side mission is so vexing, though many of them suffer from a lack of inspiration. A short series of fistfights is too easy to be frustrating, but it's not very exciting either. Ditto for stealing a vehicle and delivering it to a garage. If these tasks had been given proper story context, they might have been more exciting, but side missions are delivered with bits of expletive-filled text that leave too much to the imagination. The story missions take an extra step, setting up the ensuing action with a full-fledged cutscene, complete with more of the excellent voice acting that helped make Mafia II's story so immersive. Joe is a great character, and his smirking line delivery is always a delight. Yet these cinematics are short and contain minimal dialogue, and the facial animations are stiffer than they were in the main game, which is distracting. The add-on closes with an eerily silent scene that feels more like a mild interlude than an actual conclusion, and then deposits you back into the beautiful Empire City, where you can return to any side mission you like.
Mafia II: Joe's Adventures delivers several moments of absolute brilliance that remind you of what makes the initial release so special. But these moments are too often overshadowed by aggravating missions that focus your attention on the game's flaws while minimizing its strengths. Six or seven additional hours of content that returns you to one of 2010's finest fictional cities seems like a steal at 800 Microsoft points ($10). But that's not such a good value when so much of the content is obvious padding that fails to capitalize on the main game's best qualities. That's too bad, because this add-on's best missions are awesome and hint at the great DLC that could have been.