Giant Bomb Review

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Mafia II Review

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This decent tale of ascension through the mob ranks feels a little outdated as an actual video game.


Expect to do a lot of business with a lot of guys like these.          
I'm a sucker for a good mob story, but Mafia II's is merely decent. This mid-century tale of Sicilian immigrant turned low-level mob enforcer Vito Scaletta borrows so much from genre classics like The Godfather, Goodfellas, and The Sopranos that it's almost a surprise to see their respective filmmakers go uncredited at the end of the game. You end up with a lot of (maybe too many) recognizable elements and scenarios mashed together--dead bodies in trunks, mob bosses living in luxury behind bars, wiseguys turned Federal informants, traditionalist dons clinging to the old country fighting with American-bred bosses who are into dealing dope--that do fit together reasonably well and result in a few genuinely exciting moments toward the end. But you have to slog through just as many predictable turns, and a lot of uninspired game design--driving and shooting, then more driving and shooting, then still more driving--to get to them. Then, just when it seems like it's about to really get going, the game is over.

Cliched or not, the plot would be strong enough to support Mafia II if it were a better action game than it is. This is an open-world game that doesn't utilize or really even need its open world. The story progression is completely linear--there's only one plot-related mission available at any given time--and there are no side missions or activities to speak of, leaving the sprawling metropolis of Empire Bay to feel like so much finely crafted window dressing. There's some simple pleasure in hopping in a classic car and tooling around the beautifully rendered period trappings of the city, but at a certain point, you realize you're spending the majority of your time in the game merely ferrying yourself and some number of cohorts to or from your next mission objective, and this isn't an especially lengthy game to begin with.

Mafia II doesn't really take into account the eight years of progress in open-world game design since the first Mafia came out. Not only is there a conspicuous lack of significant activities to keep you busy between missions, most of the missions themselves merely revolve around functional third-person shooting that's really nothing you haven't seen before. At least there are some impressive surroundings in which to do all that shooting, like a lavishly decorated Chinese restaurant, a planetarium, and lots of the decrepit industrial parks and seedy-looking back rooms where mobsters seem to love doing business. To be fair, there are two sorts of collectibles scattered around the game world (one of which notoriously features several dozen Playboy centerfolds) that don't really add much to the experience of playing the game.

You'll also do a whole lot of shooting.      
In general, it's stop, pop, rinse and repeat from one mission to the next, and other than the occasional fistfight or car chase (there's that reliance on driving again), it's hard to play more than a handful of the story's 15 chapters without feeling like you've done all this before. Like the storyline, the missions have a couple of standout moments--an explosive assassination attempt atop the city's tallest, snazziest hotel comes to mind--but there aren't enough of them to keep the action moving consistently through the game. It's worth noting that the shooting is more precise (and the frame rate much smoother) on the PC, the platform the original Mafia originated on. That's probably the best platform to play the game on, despite the presence of some thin, action-oriented free DLC on the PS3.

Sandbox games used to be largely about making your own fun by taking advantage of a broad set of free-form gameplay tools, but I think Mafia II exemplifies a paradox that's been emerging as these games have evolved, as they've further humanized their protagonists, and rendered their urban environments in more and more lifelike detail. You just can't play this kind of game that carelessly anymore if you care about the underlying narrative. A guy like Vito Scaletta is no longer just a faceless cipher you use to run around wantonly wreaking havoc and killing innocent people. You see him serving in World War II, breaking bread with his meek little Sicilian mamma, looking out for his sister when the loan sharks come calling. The game does a decent job of making him feel like a real person, albeit one leading a morally questionable lifestyle. But either way, he's no fool.

It comes down to a question of how much larger-than-life absurdity you can accept in a story-driven game. Even the most hardened criminal doesn't run around spraying bullets in broad daylight, and given how intently Mafia II focuses on putting you in the role of a single character rising through the ranks in a believable depiction of mob life, it breaks the story's plausibility when you run amok the way you gleefully did in Grand Theft Auto III. Admittedly, it's entirely a matter of personal preference and play style, but I felt boxed in by the relatively realistic nature of the story. That feeling, combined with the lack of explicitly designed side missions and activities, left me to simply play through the story missions in a straight line over a dozen or so hours, watch the ending, and turn the game off.

Then of course there's the driving.
Despite the dated game design, I couldn't help getting sort of attached to some of Mafia II's more colorful characters, or maybe it's more accurate that I at least developed some interest in finding out their ultimate fates. There's an endless parade of Italian gangsters here, so it's to the credit of the writing and voiceover that it's easy to keep them all straight, figure out who's working for whom, and get a general sense of Empire Bay's larger criminal underworld. There's a lot of entertaining, colorful (mostly blue) dialogue that at least enlivens your incessant driving from place to place, and spices up most of the cutscenes, even if that cutscene is basically the only thing you get to see or do when you arrive at your destination.

Playing Mafia II gives you the feeling that the developers put more emphasis on telling a great mob story than designing a great video game, but had to split their attention too much to effectively do either one. That story would have probably been better served if the game had shed its superfluous open-world trappings and focused on quicker pacing and greater diversity in the mission design. There are a lot of great mob stories out there already, and this one needed more focus to stand out next to all the memorable tales that came before.     Brad Shoemaker on Google+
198 Comments
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Posted by arab_prince

No surprise here. Sorry to see it wasn't better.

Edited by grhud5194

I had higher hopes for this game, really disappointed it didn't turn out better.
Posted by Wes899

Huge fan of the first one. Kinda bummed to see the luke warm reception this new one has been getting. Oh well, there's other games out anyway.

Posted by JJWeatherman

Brad is not a fan! 
 
Rawr!

Posted by gingertastic_10

Good review Brad. But I'm still going to get it, I'm too hyped.

Posted by angelfan91

This is exactly what I thought of this game after the demo.  I still might play it.
Posted by Hitchenson

Yeah, I expected as much. I still somewhat want to play it just after really enjoying the first Mafia. I'll probably wait for it to drop in price though.

Posted by EpicSteve

i am so bored with this play style.

Edited by BaconGames

Hmm, another game where GB gives it 3 stars and GameSpot gives it an 8.5.  Happened with Brutal Legend, happened with Mafia II.  Shit, now I have no idea what to think.  I always hate it when this happens because 9 times out of 10 the two site agree on the quality of a game.  This is starkly different.
 
Hmm...

Posted by wherethebiddies

top 10 bitch

Edited by Hockeymask27

from the review it sounds like it would have been better if mafia 2 wasn't open world. However (not that this effects the review or score) I disagree with brad and his dislike of having no leash when it comes to violence. This was my one downfall with GTA  4. After beating the game 4 times it still frustrated me that by shooting my pistol once the cops would be on my ass. Its a video game and I want to cause violence. I'm all in for a more realistic story but once thats done let me break lose. Anyways good review as always keep it up.

Posted by ThePickle

Not surprising, given how negatively they've been talking about it

Posted by patrick

Demo seemed rad, definitely checking it out

Posted by Napalm

Nice review, Brad. I can get down with a decent story. The shooting and driving are hopefully better than Grand Theft Auto IV, as well as avoidance of bloating the story out with ten hours of useless shit, then I'll definitely be way more interested in this.

Posted by lawlerballer

disappointing

Posted by CL60

How is a 3/5 bad? That's not bad at all.

Posted by r_matey

Sigh.. 
 
I don't get why half of the reviewers are hung up on the "Open World" facade. This is clearly not a Open World GTA and it tells you that the first hour of the game. You are lead through densely orchestrated atmosphere paths to get you started.  The best example is the walk to your mothers apartment. There are at least 10 animated scenes telling the story. 
 
This game is clearly more of a action adventure game with the closest comparison being Metro 2033. 
 
Yes I see some of the miss communication with the marketing, but come on guys don't fault this game for something it is not.

Posted by TerraDelu

That read like a 2 star review. Either way, Brad touched on the exact same concerns I had about this game. Still not gonna get it.

Posted by KaosAngel

Ouch...worse than the first console version, and worse than the PC version then.   
 
What happened to the company?  >.>

Posted by Skullo

Good review, Brad.

Posted by FunExplosions

Boom! Called it. Everyone pay up.
 
Maybe the open-world trend will slow its wheels now.

Posted by dark1x

I can understand the complaints, but I personally find it refreshing to find a game which uses an open world merely as a set piece rather than a focus.  I've grown sick of "mission dispenser" sandbox games.  Who cares if there are hundreds of tasks available when they all feel pointless?  At least Mafia II manages to make its missions and tasks feel meaningful in the context of the story. 
 
We do not need another Grand Theft Auto clone.  This is a linear action game which just happens to offer a large city as its stage just like the first game.  I suppose this resulted in different expectations, however, which color reviewers opinions of the game in a negative fashion.  Sand box games certainly have remained popular, so it's no surprise. 

Edited by Roger_Klotz

Too bad they couldn't squeeze some side missions into the game. For not having any multi-player, that I'm aware of, they could of at least focused more attention on a larger selection of missions. I had fun playing the demo, but will probably wait for the game to drop in price before I buy it. 

Posted by StingingVelvet

Well, sad to see giantbomb joins the half of Mafia 2 reviews bashing it for not being GTA.  Linear games are well reviewed all the time, but if they have an open world around them they are instantly worse?  The original Mafia was the same way and has an 88 metacritic average and was praised by pretty much everyone I know, but in 2010 you are insinuating it need mini-games and joyful chaos just because it has an open world?  The open world is a setting in which the linear action takes place...
 
Oh well.

Posted by scarace360

Ill rent it

Posted by rosebud04

This may be a stupid thing to say, but in the fifth paragraph it says "  breaking bread with his meek little Sicilian mamma".  I ain't Italian, but i am pretty sure Its supposed to be Baking Bread.

Posted by rosebud04
@StingingVelvet said:
" Well, sad to see giantbomb joins the half of Mafia 2 reviews bashing it for not being GTA.  Linear games are well reviewed all the time, but if they have an open world around them they are instantly worse?  The original Mafia was the same way and has an 88 metacritic average and was praised by pretty much everyone I know, but in 2010 you are insinuating it need mini-games and joyful chaos just because it has an open world?  The open world is a setting in which the linear action takes place...  Oh well. "
Maybe if the game had more side-missions akin to the stranger missions in GTA 4, it would of got a higher score. And saying that mafia 1 is the same in a way to mafia 2 is at this point, more of an insult than a compliment.
Posted by Brodehouse

There are basically no sandbox games that have action that feels as tight as a linear game, with the standout exception of Infamous.  Even GTA4 and Red Dead, the action is largely tapping LT and then RT.  Additionally, the driving is nowhere near as rewarding as that of a great racing game.  The open world is starting to seem like a complete crutch, and vastly unnecessary.  Instead of watching Rockstar design a game with 30 hours of side stuff, why don't they do a linear game with 30 hours of content?

Posted by Ryax

wow. im really losing all the trust i had in the crew. 

Posted by demontium

*awkward face* I wanted this game to be better.

Posted by Ben_H

Don't care about the reviews, I'm still getting the PC version.  This sounds like a shinier version of the original Mafia, which is one of my favourite games of all time.  Really, I never play side missions anyway and would rather have a good main storyline over a mediocre storyline with a bunch of meaningless side missions and collectibles I know I'll never get.  I mean really, what could they have for side missions anyway?  Smuggling?  Anything too over the top and it just turns into GTA.  

Posted by RobotHamster

Nice review Brad.

Posted by mm665
There are a lot of great mob stories out there already.
Where?
Beside Mafia 1 i can't find any . There are a lot stories with fantasy and sci-fi elements that gaming market is saturated with them but not too many about mafia.
Posted by Jayross

Very good review, Brad.

Posted by ajamafalous

I wasn't too impressed by the demo. 
 
 
Maybe in six months it'll be $15 on sale on Steam and I'll pick it up.

Posted by Claude

I still have the first one for the PC. I wouldn't mind playing that one again. It was slow as hell though. Heaven forbid you run a stoplight.

Posted by foggel

Aw :( I'm still getting it though. I've been waiting too long for this.

Posted by r_matey
@Brodehouse: 
 
I am with you. I am really tired of the meaningless mission / side missions that are tossed into Rockstar and other "Open World" games. Did I really have to do 3 extra missions to gain the trust of a grave digger, a drunk, or swindler in Red Dead Redemption. No, they were a waste of time and barely developed the story, I would go as far as to say they made John Marston seem gullible and unfocused. 
 
Mafia II uses this time to polish the story and surroundings they lead you through, and I must say the polish is amazing and the attention to detail in the environments is almost unmatched. Heck this game doesn't even have a real time day / night cycle which gets around  most of the issues of dynamic light shadowing in GTA 4. This game takes a very different view on a game in a "City" and it is really exciting  to see the unique properties in the tried and true formula.
Posted by Fjordson

Nice review, Brad. I agree with a lot of these points. Open world developers need to step their game up now that stuff like Red Dead Redemption is out on the market.
 
I want to rent this to at least experience the story, but the console versions are so damn terrible. Will probably wait for a Steam sale.

Posted by Ravenousrattler

so what your sayin to me is wait for the price to go down, Gotcha!

Posted by BeardyDuck

Don't forget that the Playboys in the game are inaccurate, seeing as how they were first being published in 1953, but in the game you can find them in 1945.

Posted by DoctorOptimist

This is not a typical open-world game, this is a heavily story driven game with the world set as a immerssive back-drop for the setting. Brad, you set unrealistic expectations when you were playing this game. This isn't another mere GTA clone, nor was it set to be Red Dead Redemption's rival. It's meant to be a action/adventure game with great shooting action, hand to hand combat, and excellent stealth scenarios You shouldn't look at the game as an sandbox, it was never intended to be one in the first place. 
 
You're credibility has now become questionable, as you mildly praise this game's story, yet overwhelmingly praise MGS4's fecal matter excuse of a story. I shall now be flamed by every MGS fanboy on Giantbomb.com for saying that.

Posted by FuzzYLemoN

B-but! The boxart! That's at least another two stars!
Kidding of course, please don't eat me.

Posted by Eurobum

For this someone is going to wake up in a puddle on his bed with Luchadeer's severed head under his blanket. Forget about it.

Posted by captain_clayman

i'm gonna get this for PC when it's like 20 bucks.

Online
Posted by Rolento
@rosebud04 said:
" This may be a stupid thing to say, but in the fifth paragraph it says "  breaking bread with his meek little Sicilian mamma".  I ain't Italian, but i am pretty sure Its supposed to be Baking Bread. "
You've never heard that phrase before?  Seriously? 
Breaking bread with somebody means to share a meal, generally. 
 
 
 
That aside, I'm fairly disappointed by the numerous reviews I've read for this game.  Guess I'll cancel my pre-order and wait a bit for a price drop.
Posted by StingingVelvet
@rosebud04 said:
" @StingingVelvet said:
" Well, sad to see giantbomb joins the half of Mafia 2 reviews bashing it for not being GTA.  Linear games are well reviewed all the time, but if they have an open world around them they are instantly worse?  The original Mafia was the same way and has an 88 metacritic average and was praised by pretty much everyone I know, but in 2010 you are insinuating it need mini-games and joyful chaos just because it has an open world?  The open world is a setting in which the linear action takes place...  Oh well. "
Maybe if the game had more side-missions akin to the stranger missions in GTA 4, it would of got a higher score. And saying that mafia 1 is the same in a way to mafia 2 is at this point, more of an insult than a compliment. "
Why is it an insult when that game is a classic and was extremely well reviewed (on PC anyway)?  I don't subscribe to the idea that because GTA has side-missions Mafia needs them as well, it's all about a tight and defined story.  If you want to cause chaos you can still do that, if you want to hunt magazines you can still do that.
Posted by Peacemaker

I guess I'll be waiting for a price drop.

Posted by Raven_Sword

Review really should have said that the PS3 versions visuals are borked, which they are. Even the devs have said that the PS3 version is visualy inferior.
Posted by JoelTGM

I mainly wanted this for the open world stuff (Red Dead Redemption isn't on PC!), but I think I'll save my money seeing as the open world stuff is incredibly thin.

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