Genre: Action Developer: Illusion Softworks Publisher: 2K Games Classification: TBC Release Date: 31st Dec 2008 Platforms:PS3
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What does a game maker need to do to Ďgrowí gaming these days? As games get more and more realistic in the graphics department it becomes difficult to work out exactly how game developers should proceed when it comes to evolving the medium of games - both as entertainment and as Ďartí.
The obvious turn is to take other aspects of games towards realism in an effort to marry the visual and aural experience with the gameplay. Heavy Rain attempted this (weíd say unsuccessfully) earlier this year by forcing players to perform mundane tasks like brushing the protagonistís teeth.
Mafia 2 takes a different approach - it gives players an entire world to play in but instead forces them to follow what is really a very linear story. While other sandbox games are worlds featuring stories, Mafia 2 is a story featuring a giant game world. Itís very similar to the first Mafia in this manner.
Letís get this out of the way from the beginning - for the legions of gamers who become accustomed to the high-octane action of Grand Theft Auto, Saints Row and Just Cause, Mafia 2 will be a bit of a shock to the system.
Itís because Mafia 2 is a slower paced, more deliberate action game - the focus is aimed squarely at the story, and itís a story which wonít be rushed.
You play Vito Scaletta - an Italian immigrant, a war veteran and a petty criminal. When you return from World War 2 your mother and sister are in a bad way - theyíre in deep with a loan shark - and being a good Italian boy it falls to you to dig them out.
Naturally, this means stepping into your drunkard fatherís shoes - and you start hauling crates, grumbling as you do. Clearly this is not the life for you, Vito Scaletta - a man who knows his way around a gun and who has friends with... connections.
Itís a story which flips from clichťs to genuinely original interpretations of what is by now a commonality in modern
storytelling - the mob life. When itís good, itís really good - ranging from tense drives with a rotting corpse in the boot to escaping your house in your pyjamas while some mugs try to organise a hit on you.
Where it falls down is near the end of the game, where mob movie tropes tend to flow like the proverbial - though when you do find something original itís all the better for it. The ending is a let-down as well - especially compared to the first game.
One area Iíd have liked more development in is the relationship between Vito and his family (his real one, not his crime family) - these parts seem to be shoved into the game in an effort to help the player relate to Vito further, but they never move beyond the basic clichťs - making the sequences shallow and ironically degrading from the weight of Vitoís motivations.
With a stronger familial back story the connection Vito builds with his criminal family would also be stronger - it would be easier to see why our protagonist is so eager to attach himself to people who kill for a living - a connection he makes strongest (outside of his best mate, Joe) in the gameís Prison sequence.
Prison was a pleasant surprise - probably not something Iíd ever expect to say - and it really showed off the depths the team at 2K Czech were willing to go to in selling the mob life. While there, Vito is forced to align himself with other Italian Americans so he can survive.
Unfortunately, prison is more like a state-run Fight Club, where you move from melee fight sequence to melee fight sequence - and as melee serves as the worst gameplay experience in the game (hand-to-hand fighting isnít terrible, itís just not great either) it detracts from the overall time spent behind bars.
Melee follows a very familiar pattern as you play - quick punch combo, counter, combo, counter, combo, counter, finish. After you understand these basics the fighting becomes very pedestrian - especially when compared to the awesome gun fighting.
The brilliance of the ranged combat is borne primarily of the excellent introduction of cover and the kick each gun has. The cover system is a concession to modern day third person shooter games - mastered by Gears of War and built on by Grand Theft Auto IV; Mafia 2ís cover system sits proudly with the best in terms of ease of use, effectiveness and cinematic action building.
The guns themselves are all great - each one feels different - from belt-fed machine guns down to .38s you stole from policemen, each is a varied experience encouraging you to try each one when you find it.
Adding to the feel of the guns is the way guns tear through a lot of the environment - this isnít a destructible environment like Red Faction: Guerrilla, but the bullet penetration is a step above the likes of the Half-Life series. Cover splinters and breaks, exposing both your enemies and yourself as it does - immensely adding to the realism.
Check pointing in the game is strangely spaced - some sequences become more to do with remembering where to go than they do with reacting on the fly as you find yourself dying and then being thrown
back minutes to try the same thing again.
Itís one of more than a few sequences where the game seems to lack the kind of polish you get used to in the rest of the game - another is in the driving sequences, where the police are a strangely impotent threat most of the time.
When driving the player is treated to a number of modern concessions appropriated from other games - GPS mapping is the big one, though the speed limiter is probably the worst one. In this day and age an open world game without a waypoint system is a really tough sell, as gamers have been spoiled by auto-adjusting maps and magic floating arrows above their car as they cruise around.
Itís a necessary evil - and a welcome one - as pausing the game constantly until youíd learned the map well enough would both break up the flow of the game and be tedious - bordering on annoying.
The speed limiter is different though. It has been added (readers have pointed out that the speed limiter wasn't added, I mustn't have used it previously) because in Empire Bay the police will pull you over for speeding - and apparently people donít like either tapping the accelerator or holding it in place while they cruise around. Because it automatically limits the speed to whatever the speed limit is though, it robs the player of finding out the speed limit and actually obeying the road rules themselves - taking away the aspect of realism adding a speed limit system attempts to introduce.
Further, players are able to exploit it - I would drive as fast as my car could go until I saw a blue blip on the mini-map (indicating a cop) and then Iíd tap the speed limiter and the car would auto-adjust to the legal speed. If I tried to do the same myself Iíd typically brake too hard and slide out - not terribly unrealistic when Iím in a hot rod doing 90 mph and Iím dropping to 40 on icy roads.
A better solution would have been cruise control - a player finds a speed theyíre comfortable with, sets the cruise control and then rolls out from there. Speaking of the police, theyíll stop you for both speeding and hit-and-runs (of both pedestrians and other cars) but they donít care if you run a red light. Itís another small hit to the realism of the game which undermines the gameís core.
Driving is a big part of the game - after most missions youíll find yourself with some downtime as you cruise back to your current abode. Itís not as big a part of the game as it was in the first game - which is a little disappointing - but itís still heaps of fun to cruise around Empire Bay in period accurate vehicles - and the work done with the driving physics means the cars handle terribly... which is awesome.
The thing which ties the game together is the atmosphere - Mafia 2 is so gangster
because the world feels so gangster. The world revolves around Vito, and so fashions, car styles and music changes only according to how he views the world. After his stint in prison the music leaps forward seven years, the cars beef up and the people (except for your best friend Joe) dress differently - making the player feel more important.
The seasons change too - and they look fantastic when they do. Empire Bay looks amazing during winter (even if the cars are impossible to steer). The different look of the city between winter and summer gives familiar areas a new feeling as well - staving off any possibility of the Ďbeen there, done thatí syndrome often so familiar in these games.
Fans of the original Mafia game will probably get the most out of Mafia 2 - it combines a strong story with excellent gun fighting and driving which feels excellent. Itís disappointing that the story devolves into clichťs, and that the developers felt they need to dumb things down for new generation gamers - but these things arenít bad, just disappointing.
Some people might lament the nature of an open-world game with so little to do outside of the storyline - they're missing the point. Outside of a lame ending, Mafia 2 is a driven, focused mobster game, well worth the price of entry. If youíre a fan of shooting, driving and mobster stories, go and grab Mafia 2.
This game left me unfulfilled....
It's lacking in comparison to titles like 'Godfather II'.
The world of Empire City is far to small and empty without a much going on beyond the confines of this mission based story.
Despite the seemingly open environment there isn't much to do, and even if there was, the missions rush you through the game.
It's a case of go there, talk to him, go here, pick this up, kill that guy, go back and report in, go home, sleep, mission over, next mission.
Overall it's an interesting and fun game to play with lot of pretty scenery but not a lot of staying power. Most people will finish the story in 2-3 days, have a go at the expansion (The Betrayal of Jimmy) which is more of the same, the move on...
Oh and did i mention the endless driving from one end of the city to the other? Hundreds of cabs but you can't catch a ride....