Upon its release Mafia II was greeted by mixed reviews, some were very critical of it, for example the somewhat infamous Eurogamer review which only gave it four out of ten. I think that review, and several others, missed the point of the game a bit. It is not a Grand Theft Auto style sandbox game, despite the fact that it shares a few similarities to it, instead it is rather more like a traditional linear third-person action game, but with all the missions taking place in one huge “level”. It has an open would you can explore like GTA, but there’s nothing significant outside of the story missions for you to do, the whole running around doing whatever you like thing isn’t what the game is based around, instead the main focus is on a strong story. It is because of this fact that I think some reviewers were unfair on the game, they basically marked it down for not being a GTA clone, rather than basing it on its own merits. This game is about immersing the player in the 1940s and 50s and presenting them with a quality story. To this end the game has many well-directed cutscenes and a lot of dialogue both in the cutscenes and between the characters as you play. The story is quite cleverly split into chapters, each one usually comprises of one major mission with a few little jobs for you to do before and after. Time passes between the chapters, and this allows the game world to advance a few days, weeks or even years, which adds to the cinematic feel of the game. There is great attention to detail in the design of the world, with period vehicles, buildings and tracks on the radio, which I felt was very immersive.
The missions themselves are pretty good, though not really outstanding, most involve at least one or two shoot-outs, though there are a few changes of pace, such as a couple of stealth bits. There aren’t too many different guns in the game, but what’s there is authentic to the period and they all feel quite weighty and powerful, I don’t recall any of the guns taking more than a few shots to kill someone. The game also has a cover system, which, much like the shooting mechanics, is functional but nothing special. You die from just a couple of shots, on the hardest difficulty at least, so using cover is often the only way to progress. The game also has a good hand-to-hand combat system, though, outside of one mission which uses it heavily, you don’t get too many chances to use it. Almost all of the missions involve quite a lot of driving around, and while this isn’t too bad as the city isn’t really that large, I could see some people with shorter attention spans being a bit put off by it after the first few chapters. The police in the game are quite aggressive, as well as chasing you if they see you crash into something, or someone, they will also chase you if you are speeding above the speed limit by about 10mph or so. To avoid this being too annoying there is a speed limiter you can activate, which limits you to the speed limit, and the police cars also appear on the mini-map, so usually you can speed around as fast as you want, then just turn on the limiter as you pass a police car and turn it off again after you’re away from it. I do think that the handling of the cars leaves a lot to be desired, though I did get used to it as the game progressed. It could be said that the floaty handling, and especially the poor brakes, are just an emulation of the cars of the era, which I suppose is true up to a point, but I also felt that most of the cars lacked any real feeling of weight to them too, which is less easy to explain away.
I enjoyed the game a lot during my playthrough, despite being quite annoyed by a glitch I encountered while playing. In particular I liked the way the story was presented and told, the game has a very cinematic feel which I thought was good. At times the actual gameplay holds the game back a little, the driving and the slightly clunky cover system being examples, and there was also the odd problem with bad checkpoint positioning which made some sections unnecessarily frustrating. But I think these flaws are quite minor, and are easily forgotten if you are drawn in by the story, and I think anybody who enjoys films like The Godfather and Goodfellas definitely will be. For fans of the genre it’s a game that’s definitely worth playing, though others may have a bit of difficulty overcoming the games flaws to enjoy it as much. A version of the game will soon be released which includes all the DLC as well, and, while I haven’t played the DLC myself, it’s probably worth having, so if I were looking to buy Mafia II now I’d be waiting until that’s available to get the extra stuff. Instead I’ll probably wait until the DLC is part of an Xbox Live Deal of the Week or something similar, so I can get it a bit cheaper, as I’m not sure of the value at full price.