The Renaissance Man's Cover Shooter
Have you ever pushed 125 on a hot rod with doo-wop blasting on the radio, drowning out the police sirens? What about fist-fighting a deadly Irishman to the sounds of Rock Around the Clock. Maybe you've been in a gun fight on the roof of a mall? Well if you have or you haven't you should still play Mafia II. I'm sure you've heard the reviews for this game that range from mediocre to pretty good. What I'm here to say is this game is damn good and in a lot of different ways. Like the title says, this is the Renaissance man's cover shooter. By this I mean that it is a third person cover shooter in every sense of the word (ie: you take cover and when bad guys say "Fuck you!" you splatter their brains), but what makes this game special is that is has heart.
Everybody loves a good mob story. This guy killed this guy so this guy is going to kill him, you get my point. Mafia II is a story about a kid, who became a boy, who made a friend, who grew up with that friend, who did bad things with that friend, and started doing bad things with that friend for some very powerful families. What this game does a great job of doing is taking all of those mob movies that we love so much, taking out the most memorable elements, and making them personal to the story. In addition to taking classic elements from movies like The Godfather and Goodfellas, the boys at 2K Czech crafted a ton of unique incidents that have the feel of a classic mob movie, but the freshness of a new story. When these pieces of the puzzle were combined, a fantastic story with a nostalgic feel was born.
To be particular about the story of this game though, I must point out a few things. Unlike a movie like The Godfather, in which every character is detailed enough to the point where you know who they are, what they are supposed to be doing, and what they actually do, this game has a few character flaws. Let me point out that the main characters are fantastic. Vito is a complex man with the determination to do well for himself and his family, while dealing with his own personal problems. Joe is the successful wise-guy who provides the comic relief, while setting up a real childhood bond with Vito for the player to see. Between these two and characters like Henry, Marty, Francesca, and others the dialogue is fantastic and the player knows exactly who they are and can feel for them. On the other hand, there are the mob men. After paying close attention to every cut-scene and nearing the end of the game I was confused as hell. I didn't know who worked for who and why I was gonna kill him until it was apparent to me after I did it. Thankfully, the whacks are the least important elements of the story and the personal lives and ambitions of the main characters are the real draw.
Let's start talking about the fun parts. The driving is freaking superb. Driving around the city with the radio on is one of the things I enjoyed most about this game. The smooth driving makes police chases a ton of fun and avoiding the cops even more fun. Going 100 miles an hour down a street is a blast, but switching to the speed limit driving when a cop drives by and revving it back up to max speed is even more fun. On a separate note, I need to talk about the incredible variety of music to drive to. THE MUSIC IS SO FUCKING GOOD. Everything about the radio is damn near perfect. From the witty commercials to the catchy tunes, it just all feels right and sets up the time period perfectly. During the half of the game when you play int he 40's, you will hear 40's music. As for the 50's, you will hear 50's music and it completely changes the feel of the world. Okay now shooting, GO.
This has to be the smoothest shooter that I have every played. The camera, the cover system, and the kick of the guns all feel great. There are times when precision aiming is necessary to effectively take out the incoming threats and there are times when busting into a room with a Tommy Gun and spraying through every glass bottle is the best bet. In this way, the game makes you feel like you are a real gangster. The AI is no dummy either. Baddies won't pop out of cover if you're waiting to gun them down from around the corner and they will charge at you with a shotgun if the odds are in their favor. In addition to the sharp AI is the health system that can provide a challenge for the player. You cannot eat bullets in this game. They hurt. Three rounds from a pistol can put you down and one blow from a shotgun at a modest range can end you in an instant. The challenge is definitely not a complaint, but be weary if you are playing on Hard because there are NO checkpoints on this difficulty level. While playing on Hard I found the stealth missions to be a challenge as well since the enemies do not appear on radar.
Here's where we get to the controversy..."There is nothing to do after you beat the game WHAT THE FAUUUCKKK!!!". The main complaint about this game that I've seen is that it's not Grand Theft Auto. This game is HIGHLY story-based. It is a campaign game set in an open world. The purpose of the open world is to create the incredible atmosphere for the player to experience the story in. Grand Theft Auto on the other hand was created as a playground for the player, in which they could pick up a bunch of stuff to do in the playground. That is the difference. Speaking of the environment...it is gorgeous and real. I live in New York and I know what it looks like. Some areas in the city of Empire Bay feel so similar to Little Italy (especially the Little Italy that's in the game) and Brooklyn that it recalls time spent at my grandparent's houses there. Regarding the content of the game being worth the price of the game..it is. The 13-15 hours of gameplay and cut-scenes in addition to the collectible Playboy mags and Wanted posters are worth the price, I assure you. (Oh and those Playboy girls are H-O-T)
Before I end let me tell you that it has ending worth playing for. That's all I'll say. SEQUEL NOW!