GAMING GREATS: Mafia II (2010)

Is this follow-up to 2K’s crime shooter as bad as everyone said? Thomas picks up his, um, Tommy gun to hit the streets of Empire Bay.

Who made it?: 2K Czech/Massive Bear Studios/Feral Interactive (Developers), 2K Games/1C Company/Feral Interactive (Publishers).

Genre: Third-Person Shooter/Action-Adventure.

Platforms: PlayStation 3/Xbox 360/PC.

Format: Blu-ray disc/optical disc.

Release date: 27 August 2010 (UK).

There’s a lot to be said about Mafia II. I had been waiting for this game with baited breath after it was officially unveiled at 2008’s E3 conference. I was a huge fan of the first Mafia – a third-person crime shooter – and expected more from its sequel. Interestingly, though, 2K Games stated that they handled the PS3 version separate to the PC and Xbox 360 editions. What 2K didn’t tell us was that the PS3 version was, instead, quickly outsourced to the development team over at Massive Bear Studios with orders to optimise the game to the best of their abilities. As a Sony player at the time, this was a bit disenchanting and the ramifications of this decision has given this follow-up an undeserved bad reputation.

As the above information soon spread across the Internet like wild fire, there was further debate over the graphical deficiencies first displayed in the PS3 demo, as well as its terrible frame rate, copious amounts of screen tearing, and a noticeable lack of visual flourishes present on the other platforms (such as three-dimensional grass, pools of blood forming under your defeated enemies, or splattering on the walls behind them during gunfights). PS3 owners questioned whether or not this demo was simply an older build of the game or if it was in fact the final release. Sadly enough, that wasn’t the case, but even with these myriad issues present, and even though the full game does very closely resemble the demo as far as visuals are concerned, Mafia II was a great return to Empire Bay.

What was even more disheartening is that seemingly everyone and their grandmother compared Mafia II to the Grand Theft Auto franchise. Why? As far as I can tell, simply because its yet another crime shooter set in an expansive open-world. The GTA series no doubt popularised the sandbox genre, but therein lies the misconception – Mafia II is far from a sandbox game. It seems to me that people were upset at what this title wasn’t instead of appreciating it for what it is. The first Mafia was also unfairly compared to Rockstar’s franchise upon its release for this very same reason. Apart from the open-world angle, these two series couldn’t be more different.

Mafia II is very linear in its structure and story. There is usually one way and one way only to complete a given set of tasks. The game also tells its narrative in chapters as opposed to GTA-styled missions. There are fifteen in all with each one of them starting and ending the same way; main protagonist Vito Scaletta wakes up, runs his errands, then proceeds to call it a night… lather, rinse, repeat. The jobs Vito carries out are, for the most part, varied and unique enough to keep repetition to a minimum.

Some of the more interesting aspects of the game are the subtle nuances that really make MII stand out from the glut of open-worlders we’ve been swamped with over the past few years. For example, driving and smashing into an oncoming car will result in a police officer – if he’s witness to it – pulling you over and attempting to arrest you for a hit and run. At this point, you can either bribe him if you have the cash to do so, or resist arrest by running off and quickly changing your clothes at the nearest department store. Other violations, such as being seen with a weapon, killing a police officer or pedestrian, or speeding will have varying consequences.

About two hours into the game, though, I came to the startling realisation that MII wasn’t the generic shooter the demo seemed to want players to think it was. There are a few spots that rely heavily on cover system-assisted gunfights, but most of your time will be spent pulling jobs for the handful of crime bosses inhabiting Empire Bay as Vito and his childhood friend, Joe Barbarro, get closer and closer to becoming made men. And what’s interesting to note is this doesn’t take place until much later in the game.

On that same token, Mafia II really gives off this innate feeling of progression as the story deepens, but I do have some issues regarding that. Empire Bay is immediately open to you, as is most of the game’s luxury items (like high-class suits and other assorted apparel). I would have preferred the quality and availability of clothing, apartments/houses, and weapon selection to increase as Vito takes on bigger and better jobs to indicate his rapid ascenion up the ranks. I was also disappointed by the lack of clothing available for purchase. When shuffling through Vito’s closet after an outfit is bought, gamers may change the colour of it by selecting from existing presets only. Wear options are not included, and I think it would have better-suited the proceedings if players were allowed to mix and match their own outfits however they saw fit. The same can be said for car customisation which is a nice touch, but a feature a little too hollow to warrant further examination.

I’ve already discussed the PS3 version’s various visual flaws, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the game still looks fantastic regardless. Taking into consideration that this is an open-world release, it’s amazing the amount of detail 2K managed to squeeze in. Character models look great and are all highly-detailed. The entirety of Empire Bay also looks absolutely spectacular due in no small part to fantastic lighting and shading, as well as the vast amount of pedestrians and cars allowed on screen at once. I also loved the fluidity of the well mo-capped character animations and the nifty physics technology allowing for the destruction of certain parts of the environment during shootouts, as well as the spectacular damage models for wrecked cars. There are, however, a few minor adjustments that could have been made (some very low-res textures and robotic lip-syncing could have been far more polished, for instance), but overall, considering how butchered this particular port is graphically, Mafia II still looks good now.

The biggest gripe fans have had up to this point is that after the main story is completed, there’s really no reason to replay it. There are various collectibles scattered throughout the city (such as Playboy magazines, and I’m not making that up), but those don’t really amount to much gameplay-wise. The tale is involving enough to warrant more than one playthrough, but once you’ve finished the game, you’ve seen just about all that it has to offer. The money you accumulate can be spent on, as mentioned above, clothing, cars, weapons, and even liquor from local bars, but none of that is especially noteworthy. Having a healthy selection of side missions to choose from would have been nice, but I’d gladly take a concise and satisfying single-player experience over that of a pretentious and drawn-out sandbox game anyday.

Despite its flaws, I could go on and on about how impressed I was initially with Mafia II and how I still am, but I’ll spare you. Taking into account its various graphical deficiencies on the PlayStation 3, rest assured that Mafia II is still a beautiful and fun game. Anyone looking to sink their teeth into a crime title with a fantastically told story spiced up with gunfights, excellent dialogue, and an overall unique approach to its subject matter, should pick up Mafia II in the pre-owned section any day…

Useless Trivia

(Via Wikipedia)
  • A version of the game for mobile platforms was developed by Twistbox Entertainment and released in 2010 by Connect2Media.
  • Sonia Alfano, a member of the European Parliament and president of Italy’s association for the families of Mafia victims, called for the game to be banned. Alfano’s father Beppe was murdered by the Mafia in January 1993. Take-Two Interactive quickly responded to the issue, stating that the game’s depiction of the American Mafia was no different from organised crime films such as The Godfather. They also responded to allegations of racism from Unico National, who claimed that the game portrayed Italian-Americans unfairly and “indoctrinating” the youth into the violent stereotype. Mafia II also has the most profanity in a video game, particularly the word “fuck”, which is spoken over 200 times, beating previous record holder, The House of the Dead: Overkill.

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