Okay, third review here...um I'm not sure why I'm counting them off. I guess I write these reviews just to kill time. Anyway, criticism is welcome. Thanks for reading!
In Mafia 2 you play as Vito Scaletta who, at the start of the game, is on leave from the war. Upon arriving home to Empire City, he is greeted by his friend Joe Barbero. They decide to get a drink and catch up. After learning Vito has to return overseas in a month, Joe makes a phone call. During Vito's time overseas it seems Joe has learned his way around the criminal world and contacts a man who can forge papers allowing Vito to remain home. Vito then reunites with his mother and sister. The warm reunion is ruined when Vito learns his family is in debt due to a large loan his late father never paid. Realizing he needs money fast, Vito turns to Joe so he can show him the ropes. Vito quickly turns to a life of crime with the help of Joe.
That's just a quick, bland summary of the start of the game, but it is important that you at least find it intriguing in order to enjoy Mafia 2. If you liked the original Mafia or crime dramas like The Godfather, Scarface, etc. then you should have no problem getting into Mafia 2's story. Now, I say it's important because it's the driving force and motivation to play Mafia 2. Luckily, Mafia 2 makes it very easy to enjoy the story. Vito is a sympathetic character whose motivations are understandable. Watching his dad's quest for the American Dream crushed and being reduced to a deadbeat alcoholic by a life of working for the "man", Vito is determined to turn things around for himself and his family. Vito is perfect as the main character, and is backed by a great cast of supporting characters. The story employs plenty of twists and turns while still remaining believable. All of this is made better due to the presentation. The cutscenes are well-directed, the characters animate nicely, and the voice acting is great.
Vito returns home.
Much like the original Mafia the second game is linear with very few distractions. Players are free to explore Empire City whenever they want, however Mafia 2 encourages players to go from one mission to another. In fact, things are framed so you are almost always in a mission. For instance, the game treats going to a "mission-start" area as an objective and a path to it is always traced on the map/mini-map. These things seem like they go against basic sandbox game design, but that's the thing Mafia 2 isn't a sandbox game. Mafia 2 is more like a regular action/shooter game; it is more comparable to Half-Life, than GTA. The linearity allows Mafia 2 to have better pacing, in both its narrative and gameplay. Missions tend to be more intense and exciting than what is found in sandbox games. What would be the point in creating a large detailed world then? It adds atmosphere. The 1940s-1950s New York/Chicago inspired setting of Empire city is very believable. The sights and sounds of cars, radios, buildings, and people set to that period immerse players into the world of Mafia 2. The "sandbox" world offers a sort of connectivity for all the action and missions. It's nice to see where one set piece is relative to another. Having to personally drive from one objective to the next makes the game world feel larger. If the game had removed the open-world section that sense of bigness would be lost. While the game would still have a great story and fun missions, everything would seem smaller, more self-contained, less important.
Most missions involve driving and the occasional car chase. The driving in Mafia 2 is nice. The cars are accurate for the setting. The cars feel heavier, slower, and more difficult to handle so it takes some getting used to. Driving feels different in Mafia 2 than most games because it promotes driving normally, well for video game standards any way. There's two ways the game manages to do this and it all feels pretty natural. The first is one already mentioned, the cars of the 40s-50s are little harder to handle, making it a slightly more difficult to maneuver around traffic and other obstacles. The second is the cops.
I'm pretty sure this is an early pic. The suit doesn't come with a hat!
Mafia 2 strikes a nice balance with its cops. They won't enforce every traffic rule but the things they react to are not limited to just shooting. Cops will give chase if the player hits another car or goes over the speed limit. Enforcing the speed limit isn't annoying as it sounds. Players can use the speed limiter button removing the worry of going over the speed limit. The time frame to slow down to prevent drawing the cops' attention is pretty big and the minimap labels cops so players CAN speed if they want. Even if the cops do see you speeding, if you're fast enough the cops won't have adequate time to ID the car's license plate and you're wanted level won't go up. What's nice is that if the cops DO notice you go over the speed limit, hit a car, or commit other minor offenses like fist-fighting you won't cause every cop to shoot you. If you're wanted level is low enough cops will only chase you and try to hold you up. You can allow yourself to get caught and bribe the cops and your wanted level is cleared. When your wanted level is high enough the cops will shoot you. When that happens bribing the cops isn't an option. Cops will recognize you by your license plate, appearance, or both. To clear your wanted status you will have to buy new clothes, ditch your car, or change your plates at a body shop. If you don't take these measures the cops will continue to dog you and shoot you whenever they get a chance.
Shooting in Mafia 2 uses familiar cover/regen mechanics with AI similar to other games. While it is a bit tiring that so many games use the same cover mechanics, Mafia 2 does a couple of things that keep it from feeling completely derivative. Players can maneuver around corners and remain in cover, why that hasn't been done yet I'll never know. Mafia 2 has fantastic level design. The scenery feel very authentic, you'll never find yourself thinking, "oh another convenient chest high wall". Shootouts are very fast paced; you're fighting regular humans so they'll go down in a one or two shots. This allows players to progress through the level quickly, never having to use the same piece of cover for too long. The shooting feels great. Guns have a believable sense of accuracy. Visually, shootouts look amazing. Enemies have specific animations when shot at different body parts. Pieces of whatever you're shooting at, walls, crates, furniture, fly off every which way.
Where's that guy shooting?
A break from the driving and shooting, Mafia 2 also contains missions that involve fist fighting. Sadly, it's fairly simple; fights breakdown to dodging, and using light and hard attacks. The fighting does look great though. Animations are fantastic and use of slow-mo makes the finishers feel even more brutal. Without revealing spoilers, the parts that revolve around fist fighting are interesting and fresh story-wise.
The game does very little wrong. My biggest complaint though, is that some characters needed more screen time; Henry, and Vito's mother and sister are the biggest examples. Other smaller complaints are the NPCs consists few character models. The women especially look very much the same. The NPCs' voice acting isn't too good either. There's a point where Nolan North has to voice a conversion between two people by himself! Why didn't they just have Steve Blum, who voices other NPCs, voice act the other guy. Another little thing is all the suits you buy have hats and you're forced to wear em'. It's pretty annoying. I don't want to wear a hat all the time. If I'm wrong about this, please tell me where to buy a suit that doesn't come with a hat.
Overall, Mafia 2 is a great game. If you come in expecting a sandbox game you will be disappointed because that isn't what you're getting. What you'll get is an excellent, atmospheric third-person action game wrapped in a gritty, emotional, and well-written story.
Notes: PC version was reviewed. Highest settings without any of the special phyx stuff. For those who are interested Mafia 2 uses Steam for it's copy protection.