I detest sandbox-style games. This isn’t something you want to see within the first lines of a review, yet the truth is unmistakable: I can’t stand them. The idea that of running around to just run around, steal cars while maiming and killing seems anarchic and a waste of precious time. So as I picked up Mafia II, and played only an hour, I came to a revelation: they can be fun.
Of course, that’s not to say I’ve changed my outlook, I still don’t like them. Yet what 2K Czech has done is create an immersive and indulging experience for both the senses and the mind to fully engage in.From the musical interludes to underplayed crime bosses, everything flows into a coherent, flavorful mix. Nothing is done without reason or rhyme, and that means something.
With this being the sequel to a game that had the majority of the primary cast killed by the end, 2K Czech decided to head in a different direction to keep things entertaining. Heading to Empire Bay, a 10-square mile recreation of New York and Chicago, you play as Vito. Coming out of WWII, he finds himself trying to stand on his own two feet, while paying back family debts to keep his loving family afloat.
It’s an semi-sweet tale, and one that will keep you locked onto the characters. Vito has just come home from the war and has seen first hand the power one man can have over an entire city, and maybe he wants just a little bit of that power himeself. While he wants to do right for his family, keeping his nose clean won’t be the best way to do it. It’s here that with the couplings of his friend and partner Joe, Vito becomes a made-man.
The rags-to-riches story aside, everything else in the game shows the blemishes of originality. While you do have an idea of ‘free-roam’ in other expansive games like Grand Theft Auto or Rockstar’s latest Red Dead Redemption, the side-missions and collectibles aren’t there for it. Yes, you can do some things such as collect the 50 “Playboy Magazines” scattered about in the game, but otherwise Mafia II is more about progressive story then it really is running around all day.
And at times, that’s an all-around shame. 2K Games did an amazing job of developing an engine for Mafia II that would allow for the realistic mechanics seen while driving, in weather conditions, and lighting and they really impact the playability of the game. Sectioning off the game in chapters to give players a sense of time and to mess around with weather conditions, things like driving your car on ice compared to slicked asphalt stands out. Granted, trying to maneuver the boats that they called cars in the 40s and 50s is both a challenge and a fun pastime.
Still, the game does have its flaws. The controls seem a tad boxy, and tend to get in your way at times, especially in timed-driving missions. Veterans to the Mafia series would probably prefer to play on a higher difficulty, considering how ‘Easy’ and ‘Normal’ give nothing of a challenge during the gunfights or the police chases.
Still, it’s enough to ignore for a well-orchestrated, well-conceived, cinematic story. Games are moving into more cinematic storytelling in their game play, and it’s at the precipice of becoming something that will define and change the industry, or crumble it like so many Michael Bay films. Mafia II is a testament to the idea that you can make a game with a captivating story and still make it playable and fun.
ZoKnowsGaming gives Mafia II a 9 out of 10. A cappehice