Illusion has taken seven years to develop this game. It started life being coded for the PC, Xbox, and PlayStation 2, before being transplanted into a completely new engine. That's a development cycle from another era, one of patience and money rivers. So, what were you expecting?
Fans of the first game, were you expecting a new story of an innocent, drawn reluctantly into the world of organised crime? Mafia 2 isn't such a kind creature. Sandbox fans, perhaps you were thinking that seven years in development would lead to an evolution of the first game, building on the original's linear structure to make a free-roaming speakeasy? Nope - there's no evolution there, either.
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Mafia 2 is a faithful sequel. It's an extremely linear driver and shooter. Does that description lack ambition? Haven't our expectations been stretched beyond their elastic limit by a decade of "living, breathing cities"? Or can Mafia II be described as the driver genre's Modern Warfare 2, in terms of outstanding linear set-pieces?
Mafia 2: Background
The game starts with Vito, the lead character, after short-lived adventure of robbing jewellery shops in Empire Bay- a habit that gets Vito arrested and shipped off to fight in World War Two. Dispatched to his homeland of Sicily, he learns how to vault, crouch and throw grenades, and also gets his first taste of the power of the Mafia. Witnessing Don Calo's persuasive power over the troops, Vito isn't consumed with ambition - he just seems suitably impressed.
Originally posted on CVG: Mafia 2 review
Vito is a very different person to the first game's Tommy Angelo. While Tommy was a taxi driver, drawn reluctantly into the Family, with scenes set aside for personal crises, Vito feels like he was born to this life. When asked if he can kill without question or reason, there's no hesitation. When his early missions catch up with him, he takes to a spell in jail like an angry duck to bloody water. The problem is, Vito never takes any real pleasure out of his actions, either.
Mafia 2: Location
Empire Bay isn’t a big town, but over the opening chapters set in a '40s winter, and the later episodes set in a leafy '50s summer, you feel like you're driving around two different towns. There's a single mission thread that carries you through the story, and unfolds the areas in their own time. In fact, if you explore too much and you'll ruin the story's own unfurling of the city. There are collectibles, in the form of Playboy covers. When you pick one up, these covers flash up immediately, it's an odd decision to make these ladies, in the middle of missions.
Mafia 2: Missions
The missions you take part in are a mixed bag - Mafia 2 is a fairly short game, so there's little repetition within the 15 chapters, but it's all familiar stuff. Tailing cars without getting too close, intercepting a car, and escaping cops - it's all driving game staples. The driving conversations are good. Occasionally they're great, but frequently, they're just, plain good. Joe's list of chat-up lines is a poor cousin to those of Niko Bellic's cousin, yet later on, as the game reaches a peak, you finally warm to the amoral bastards you're working with.
Combat lets you try stealth occasionally, without demanding it of you. When you fight in a group, your colleagues have the slightly imbalancing knack of being both good fighters and nigh invincible.
The weapons, meanwhile, are superbly tactile and effective. The basic pistol and revolver; the precision and power of the Magnum; the knock back and drop down of the shotgun and the inefficient spray of the Tommy gun. Rarely for a game like this, each one became a favourite in its own way.
At times, Mafia 2 all comes together perfectly, and these moments that stick with you. Shooting up a greaser bar in a revenge attack. Dealing with your drunken, vomiting friends in the car when you realise there's urgent and unsavoury unfinished business in the trunk. Then driving home with them singing hopelessly out of key. These moments have genuine comedy and warmth, and they carry you through the less warm aspects of the game's characterisation.
Mafia 2: Driving
Driving, as you'd expect from the former Illusion Software, is great. Our preference was to flip between gamepad for driving and mouse and keys for combat, but whatever you use, you'll find the cars zippier than the first game. They take a while to get to full speed, but once they're there, you're almost guaranteed to die when you finally hit something. And thanks to a slightly unforgiving checkpoint system, this could easily throw you back to a point before your last combat mission. So plan your driving trips sensibly, or use the speed limiter. This will also prevent the police from sniffing around your exhaust pipe.
In fact, with guns and ammo being so easy to come by, this is really all you've got to spend your money on - tuning up the car, fixing the damage, and adding a filthy number plate. But this isn't a game about accruing a personal fortune - it's a game about the unstable fortunes of a risk-taking criminal. Spend it as you get it.
Mafia 2: Music
In an extremely welcome touch, songs are debuted at scripted moments, and then add to the playlist of the three radio stations. The song list isn't massive, but it's an outstanding collection: hearing the Andrews Sisters talking about "working for the Yankee dollar", getting told to Straighten Up & Fly Right by the King Cole Trio, or simply listening to the oppressive no-means-yes fantasy of Baby It's Cold Outside - the music adds more character to the city than the scripted arguments and serenades going on in the back streets.
Mafia 2: Conclusion
For a game that trades so strongly on its people, there are perhaps too many to truly care about, there isn't a single truly branching event in the game, and only one ending - mean that you resent, more than experience, your betrayals.
2K Czech clearly has a story it wants to tell, so this power is used instead in a number of subtle and throwaway moments. For all their triviality, they're instantly appealing. For instance, when your drunken passenger says he's going to be sick, do you stop to let him out? When you report back on your mission which took you through an abattoir and a sewer, will you stop off to buy a change of clothes? Details like this distinguish Mafia 2 as a game that you could actually love, rather than play, but with seven years in the pipeline, there should have been more.
Mafia 2 is 10 hours of driving, story, and extremely competent gun action. Running at top specs, it looks stunning, and if there was a soundtrack album, we’d buy it, but it would've been more satisfying to have felt like part of the story more...
Available now for xBox, PS3, PC and DC