Mafia IIIt’s fair to say we all play video games for different reasons. Some people like to relieve a little stress by blasting their friends heads off in shooters, some of us like to immerse ourselves in the amazing other worlds that only the very best RPGs can offer, and others love mastering the intricate combos of their favorite fighting games. Personally the biggest selling point for me is a games story. Despite the industry still preferring to bombard us with style over substance when it comes to narratives, I love it when I occasionally come across a title where the plot is more than a flimsy excuse to put bullets in people or hack and slash your way to the next checkpoint. Mafia II is one of the best examples of what can happen when a games mechanics are crafted around its plot instead of being the other way around.
If you’re thinking that Mafia II looks like a potential buy then we should get one common misconception out of the way. Mafia II is not a traditional open world video game. Yes there’s a large seamless world to explore and it’s populated with people to kill and shops to buy and steal from, but there are a significant lack of side activities when compared against other open world titles. This keeps you focused on your current mission, and ensures that the narrative keeps moving along and important plot points aren’t forgotten.
The story follows Vito Scalettas activities in organized crime after returning home from the war. On leave after getting shot, his childhood friend Joe gets him some phony documents claiming his injuries are much more severe than they actually are, and it’s not long before the two are pulling off jobs for Empire Bays made men. Don’t be surprised if this sounds familiar. The classic mob movie tropes are all here, and they are all executed brilliantly.
By the time you first take control of Vito he already has more depth than the average video game protagonist. At the age of six he and his family immigrate to America from Sicily in search of a better life, only to find out they were better off in Italy. After working for many years as a dock worker his father drowns to death, leaving his family even worse off financially.
Vito turns to crime to help lighten the burden and ends up getting arrested during a small time job, where he’s given the option of prison or military service. Once he’s returned home from the war he learns his mother and sister are being hassled by loan sharks whom his father other money to. Time and time again a life of crime appears to be the best path available to him, and from his point of view it’s easy to see why. Breaking your back lifting crates for 10 bucks a day just don’t cut it when you know how to handle a gun and make some real money.
You really begin to sympathise with Vito over the course of the game as he's the classic case of a person doing wrong things for the right reasons. A little less than halfway through the game, when he is sentenced to jail for 10 years it's hard not to feel sorry for the guy. Once he's back out and resumes his criminal activity, a small part of you might find yourself hoping he'd change his mind, but as Joe puts it "What else are you good at?" Vito's already been poor, now he wants to live the good life and working for the Mafia is the only way he can accomplish this.
Bringing the topic back around to guns, all the firepower you expect to see in a good mob movie makes an appearance. Tommy Guns, Molotovs, .38 specials, pump action shotguns and more all show up, and they all pack the appropriate punch. The aiming system is a little loose making it difficult to aim with precision, although when combined with the recoil of the guns it actually makes the firefights much more frantic and realistic than those in similar titles. Spraying and praying with a machine gun might not be a part of my GTA playbook, but I found myself using that method quite a bit in Mafia. A solid cover system is in place, but don’t rely in sitting in one spot for too long if your cover appears flimsy, as gunfire has a tendency to rip apart the scenery. . The team at 2K Czech has also crafted a simple and satisfying melee system, and they actually took advantage of it! Unlike the average open world title which essentially abandons fisticuffs the moment you acquire a gun, Mafia II will continually have you delivering beat downs. With light combos, heavy combos, and dodging I won’t pretend that it’s intricate, however something about kicking people in the face and delivering elbows to the chest on the hood of a car just doesn’t get old.
The controls for driving are solid, and the cars have looser handling than a lot of games set in modern eras but really what’s there to say? Driving is driving, either it gets the job done or it doesn’t. In Mafia II it does.
The cops in Empire Bay are…. weird to say the least. On the plus side unlike GTA and Saints Row they aren’t overtly vigilant, and minor crimes like hit and runs or speeding are met with fines rather than attempts to arrest you. They also take note of your license plate, car model and Vitos description for more serious offenses and this gives the game a realism often lacking in the genre. However it is not perfect. Speeding’s a no-no but running red lights and stop signs (along with just flatout driving on the wrong side of the road) are fine. I know that many gamers would have hated to have those included but for me it breaks the immersion. If you’re going to make me obey the speed limit then I should have to follow all of the traffic laws, don’t half ass it.
Graphically Mafia II is quite nice to look at although there are a few stiff animations here and there. The characters facial expressions emote very well and the excellent across the board voice acting reaaly helps brings all the stories players to life. The soundtrack is appropriately stacked with hits from the 40s and early 50s, and your personal enjoyment of it will vary considerably. I have a soft spot in my hear for the eras music though I know many who hate this.
The main point that I need to get across however is that Mafia 2 is a game that does things in its own time. If you play games to experience bombastic set piece after set piece then go ahead and give this game a pass. But I can’t stress enough that the quieter moments like driving a dead body around, or handing out cigarettes are what give the gunfights in burning buildings, and explosive assassinations their impact. Mafa II deserves better than to sleep with the fishes.