We Ride Togethuh, We Die Togethuh
(Quick Note - This review doesn't include any DLC)
It's been a great year for gamers who enjoy single player story campaigns. Rich storylines, strong character development and solid cinematic gameplay have been trademarks of many 2010 releases. Alan Wake, Mass Effect 2, Red Dead and more have showcased an intelligent blend of gaming and cinema. That said, few games have executed the presentation formula like Mafia II.
At times Mafia II is so focused on the story and presentation it misses the mark. But for the most part this is a game that does exactly what it set out to do: Tell a twisted, violent story about a life in the Italian American mob and the consequences it brings. From beginning to end, Mafia II immerses the player in a rich environment that makes the story extremely convincing to play through. The main character, Vito Scaletta, and his lifelong friend, Joe Barbaro, are acted wonderfully. The voice acting, story telling and set of main characters combine for an over-the-top drama. The language is vulgar, the violence is ultra-stylized and the cast of mafioso types Vito and Joe encounter keep the game moving forward at a great pace. The story of Vito and his rise through the ranks in the city of Empire Bay is a fun one to witness.
The gameplay in Mafia is solid with a several exceptions. The weapons are great although aiming isn't quite perfect. The gunplay can boil down to ducking into cover and popping up to kill an enemy. Wash and repeat. The hand to hand combat is pretty well executed... and it's easy to get beat down if your timing is bad. Driving is spectacular, although the game requires the player to drive everywhere - which gets boring quickly. TOO. MUCH. DRIVING. It does help that Vito can upgrade his vehicles with tuning, paint colors, new wheels and even customized plates.
What Mafia II is not: Grand Theft Auto. Upon beginning the game, the player is introduced to an open world map. Many critics and players immediately expected the game to follow the Rockstar recipe, complete with dozens of side missions that have little to do with the main plot or character. Mafia II foregoes this formula - and while it certainly highlights the story much better, it does leave a wide open city fairly unexplored. The city, which is gorgeously designed, feels a bit empty without the type of exploration side missions can bring.
Speaking of gorgeous design, Mafia II is a feast for the eyes. Empire Bay shines whether set under a winter blanket of snow or later in the 50's on a hot day. While the lipsynching does lag at times, the character models and facial animations are spot-on. Cutscenes flow smoothly in and out of gameplay and the movement of characters is fairly natural. Another area Mafia II shines: THE SOUND. Yes, the voice acting is solid. Add in an amazing soundtrack, tons of great radio chatter and music and awesome environment sounds. The game really does sound amazing.
At about 12 hours on an average playthrough, the game provides plenty of fun, but doesn't offer a high replay value. The Jimmy's Vendetta DLC is meant to tack on more GTA style hours, but really should've been included with the full game. There are plenty of collectables to find on a replay, but Mafia II doesn't give gamers much incentive to take a 2nd romp through Empire Bay.
While the game does suffer from repetitive driving and a city that does lack an open world menu of items, Mafia II delivers a solid story. It's one of the best cinematic games you'll play in a long time. If single player epics are your cup of tea, pick up Mafia II.