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‘’’Mafia II’’’ is a third-person style viewpoint game along the crime/adventure genres. The explanatory nature of the title suggests the storyline will be set amongst one incarnation or another concerning the world of organised crime.
It is the sequel to the fairly successful game ‘Mafia – City of Lost Heaven. The original game’s premise was similar in nature to a mob movie where you start as a straight-laced taxi driver and eventually descend into the murky world of a fictionalised portrayal of New York City and the low-lives that inhabit it. The first game is very reminiscent of movies such as ‘Goodfellas’ and ‘Casino’ although it takes its cues from the older style of mobster in America. Mafia was set in the 1930’s but the sequel has updated things to initially the 1940’s and eventually 1950’s. While the first game was praised for its story and approach, it was limited in some of its scope and the new designers, Czech company ‘2K Games’ have tried to refresh the formula by updating and expanding on the plot, history and ideas of the original game.
Mafia II was released in 2010 on all major computer gaming platforms and is easily available wherever you go. The controls for the game are very straightforward and providing you are comfortable using a control pad of some kind, you will pick them up very quickly. However, I will say early on that this game is not on for the kids and in the UK it is rated an 18. It also possessed the dubious title of the ‘game with most profanity’ in its audio at the time of its release which is probably not the best selling point. I have to say, I didn’t even notice this until I read it after completing the game so I can’t say it is a particular overbearing element, despite its slightly unflattering image. In some ways, the game plays like a movie once again. The original Mafia screenplay (script) was in the hundreds of pages and the storyline/dialogue is more than double in this volume in the sequel. The other parts of the game are made up of small amounts of roaming around on foot throughout the city of Empire Bay, driving what seems like quite a long distance to various points of interest throughout the city and the inevitable portion of gunplay in which you despatch unrealistic numbers of criminal henchmen in your quest to reach the game’s final conclusion. As a follow-up, it does well to build on many elements of the original and really adds a lot of the depth and realism that lacked into the new representation of this fictional mobster’s stomping grounds. One of the downsides I would say is that the advance in era to the 1950s incorporates a different age of organised crime that is perhaps not as aesthetically and spiritually pleasing as the faux-respectable gangsters of the prohibition era.
Brief Storyline Introduction
You play as Vito Scaletta, a Sicilian immigrant to America. He is a typically nondescript an unassuming character. He is a fairly modest and stony faced hit-man with which you carry out your dirty work although his character does interact and develop throughout the story. He is the typical hero playing his cards close to his chest. You are regularly joined in the escalating mischief by his childhood friend an initially small time gangster named Joe Barbaro. He is the loudmouth and slightly overweight mouthpiece of most situations to complement the ‘ice cold killer’ characteristics of Vito.
The game begins with a hefty cut scene that sets out the beginning of events. It shows Vito explaining his birth in Sicily in 1925 and his subsequent emigration at a young age where he soon runs into Joe Barbaro, after a brief and predictable initial dislike, the two become best of friends and the game jumps forward to one night in 1943 when 18 year old Vito and Joe try to commit burglary in a shop overnight, they are spotted and Vito is detained while Joe escapes. Vito manages to avoid prison by using his Italian heritage to give reason for him to fight for the US in World War 2 in its battle in Southern Europe and Italy.
This is where the fun begins; the first mission is refreshingly set during a military assault of an army prison in Southern Italy. This is basically the game’s tutorial mission and will teach the player the basics of movement and how to understand the icons on the screen and ways to interact with the game. It also teaches some elements of gunplay and tactics when fighting in a gun battle. After the necessary lessons and a few bullet hole ridden Axis troops later, a cutscene picks up the story and depicts an old Sicilian Mafia Godfather approaching the fighting in a tank and convincing the Italian troops defending against the Americans to lay down their weapons. This emphasises the power of the mafia in this region at the time and is meant to be a subliminal starting point to reference the power the mafia can have in certain places.
The movie style cutscene plays again and it is explained how Vito was shot in combat some months later and was sent home to America to heal from his injuries. Here he meets up with Joe in a bar and his old friend who has made contacts in underworld of Empire Bay during Vito’s absence, manages to procure false military discharge papers to get Vito released from his service and here the main story begins...
The basic elements of the game are very impressive. There is a large map to explore throughout your stay in the game. There are a variety of shops and businesses that you can purchase new clothes, weapons and upgrades/repairs to your vehicle – you can even rob them if you are down on your luck and feeling a bit wreckless. The graphics are impressive and the city feels very realistic and vibrant in most areas. The game is complemented by three radio stations, initially the only music on offer is somewhat slow and old-fashioned although it does complement the setting and add to the realism of the whole thing. I will reveal a little piece of detail in that during the game, your character is sent to prison, much of which you have to act out yourself making for interesting if yet at times tedious gameplay. Anyway, after your spell of incarceration, you come out of prison and things change. Everywhere is covered in snow and the city is experiencing a harsh winter. Rock ‘n’ Roll has emerged and the radios now play all kinds of rock and roll, big band and doo wop. It adds a very authentic twist to the game that makes you really have a chance at experiencing how it might feel to completely lose three years of your life to a prison cell. The game’s cutscenes are created in the same way the game is, they are not just movie files like in most games. This means, if your car has lost a wing mirror, it will show in the cutscene, your clothes or blood, etc will be represented and it does make the whole thing that much more believable.
The game has a similar element of realism to the first game in that you initially are tasked with doing an honest day’s work. You get a job packing boxes onto trucks at a factory. You can do this as long as you like and will earn $10 a day. The mundane nature of this task should prove too much for any player to endure indefinitely and eventually you will fall victim to the lure of the criminal circles and go and find some slightly more seedy work. This will take you through a path of missions that will advance the story and introduce all sorts of characters and staple gangster tasks to complete. Unfortunately, there is not much opportunity to freely explore the city without neglecting your current mission goal since once completed, the game is just finished any you can either replay missions or start again. Most games of this type allow you to cruise the city that is now your own and reek whatever brand of mayhem you choose.
The driving aspect of the game may strike some as difficult at first but it soon becomes second nature after a few crashes. The shooting is very straightforward at for the first few hundred bodies you leave, is fairly entertaining. The player is encouraged to take cover behind various destructible items in order to avoid the fire of their adversaries so it does encourage an element of tactics although at times, the enemies can be completely inept. You are initially tasked with earning $2000 from your crimes to pay off your families debts so once you reach this amount, you will be expected to pay off your debt and return to needing money again. This can make it frustrating as you never which of your possessions are actually safe. Whilst in prison, you are also taught how to fight. This is done using primarily using the analogue sticks on your controller to throw various punches and employ blocks. This is another at times fun element of the game although it may become a little simplistic once you have mastered how to fight.
You also contend with local law enforcement and will spend much of the time when you really want to be left alone – checking your mini-map for nearby police cars to avoid or patrolmen on the streets that you have to roll by under the speed limit or fly past at the speed of light if you don’t want to be stopped. If you give in and pull over, you will simply have to pay a ticket or a bribe, but otherwise if you resist you will soon find yourself in a high speed chase and a fair target for police revolver fire.
The downsides are that at times, driving does actually feel like miles and once the amusing banter between the two gangsters runs out, then I hope you like rock ‘n’ roll. The game does have some moments of downtime that help to build the suspense when the action really does kick in, but I always find shooting/driving games such as this always overdo it on the number of enemies you face. No mafia has a thousand members they can afford to lose in wanton gunfights. I would much prefer to fight a small group of skilled and clever AI enemies that are harder and more satisfying to kill. By the end of the game, your body count will eclipse that of most serial killers whether you like or not and I feel that this may detract from the realism for some which may make them feel as if a genuinely great story of friendship, loyalty and crime has been tarnished to some degree.
Mafia II is a very welcome update to its predecessor and I for one eagerly anticipated it. IN most respects I wasn’t disappointed. I did become slightly disillusioned with the drive somewhere, shoot someone, escape mechanics of the game towards its climax but my main gripe came upon completion. The story was great and could easily translate into a successful movie, however, once completed, that was it. The game was basically done and I have never played it since. Save for replaying favourite missions or starting again, there is very little in the way of extracurricular features on offer. This is slightly disappointing. I don’t even expect multiplayer but an option to free roam and maybe carry on some basic aspects of criminality would have been a very positive addition.
The screenplay element is fantastic and it makes Mafia more than a game; it is a story, an epic monologue of 35 years of Vito’s life and times. It reads like a classic mafia movie with all the plot twists, double crosses and genuine symbolism that you’d expect from such a tale. The game at most points feels pretty authentic and whether it’s packing the boxes into a truck at the start of the game or cleaning out the prison urinals some people may find this a bit tedious. It is all part and parcel of what a gangster goes through and you may have fun fighting off assailants in the prison shower, but as the saying goes... you take the rough with the smooth... so grab a brush and start scrubbing that porcelain Vito!!! I always vowed never to go to prison, but Mafia II took away my choice and upon my release I eventually felt like I had served some hard time of my own. Whether this is testament to the fact the game can border on tedious for some brief moments or whether it really does portray this kind of ‘thug life’ accurately is really a matter for debate. The thing I would say is that it stands apart from titles like ‘Grand Theft Auto’ as it actually tries to semi-realistically portray a gangster’s life and times whereas the GTA type game is more about glorifying the violence of it all and making it almost in to a joke. Mafia II is a lot more serious and I feel this is appropriate for a game about such a subject. The Mafia is based on tradition and I was particularly impressed with one cutscene that showed a gangster being ‘made’ as a Mafioso in all of the traditional ceremony that one would expect if they had any interest in the subject and its history.
I would certainly recommend Mafia II to most gamers, especially those that like any game with driving/fighting/shooting elements or just those that love a good old fashioned tale to be told. I might add that this is almost definitely a good candidate for rental or buying pre-owned. I felt a little short changed after spending £30.00 considering there is little incentive to play on after completing the story. The lifespan of the game is limited to about 15 hours maximum providing you don’t get sidetracked and forget about the story. You can find the game used for half the price or rent it for a fraction of the cost, I would recommend this as a better way to experience the game.
I will also add that on PC, this game must be installed via Steam and comes with a unique CD key. This makes it very difficult for the game to retain anything more than sentimental value after you buy it. It cannot be traded in – this goes for most PC games nowadays. If you have a console this is not an issue so ideally, a pre-owned console version would probably be the best way to feel as if you are getting the best economy out of the game for your blood-soaked Empire Bay dollars.
A definite must for mafia buffs, a cracking story, great acting and graphics complemented by some stunning visuals at times. This is slightly soured by the limited features on offer but still a very good piece of entertainment.
My thanks to anybody who has read this far in the knowledge they would never even play this. I am impressed by your determination and my gratitude for sticking with me to the bitter end.