The Life isn’t all it seems. Your average wise guy is more down on his luck than living it up and a life of crime pays better than an honest day’s work. Of course, you’re also far less likely to get shot working as a butcher than you are robbing banks. Still, you’ve made your choice and the only way out is in a body bag or at the bottom of a river. Welcome to the post-war world of Mafia 2.
Mafia 2 bills itself as a sandbox-style game and the introductory drive into Empire city presents a bustling, incredibly detailed world in which to play. However, the second you step out of the car, the handcuffs are slapped on and you’re locked into a mission. By and large, this doesn’t let up until the credits roll – the whole city is open to you from the very beginning but there just aren’t many reasons to explore it. Initially, this is frustrating. I found myself unconsciously hunting for side missions, even stealing a police car (bad idea – police brutality was less of an issue in the 1940s) to see if there was a chance of fighting some crime on the side. Despite this, once I accepted the limitations of the world, a surprisingly entertaining experience emerged.
Typical open-world games present a sprawling playground, full of tertiary missions and all manner of distractions. Mafia 2 eschews this in favour of focusing purely on the main campaign, allowing players to fully involve themselves in the story of Vito – a lifelong petty criminal looking to make a name for himself.
The streamlined experience means the campaign really has a chance to shine. While many games claim to provide a “cinematic experience”, it seems that this has become a catch-all expression to move units. Vito’s story, however, is worthy of the silver screen, with a cast of voice actors (who have obviously done more than skipped through The Godfather in preparation) and plenty of varied set pieces, Mafia 2 is an entertaining if slightly simplistic tale.
Scaling back the exploration doesn’t detract from the experience of the city either. As the game progresses, you visit every key location but without anywhere near the usual number of repeat trips to the same sites. Navigating around the world is also a joy. Waypoints and directions are clear thanks to the large but unobtrusive compass and the controls when driving are fantastic. Realism is great for racing games but the most important factor here is the overall experience. Cars in Empire City may not handle like sixty year old bangers but it’s easy to keep them on the road and the option to limit yourself to the speed limit means staying in one piece isn’t so much of a challenge. Every vehicle in the game can be customised and upgraded as well, rewarding players for taking care of their wheels. Add in the over zealous police desperate to scratch their itchy trigger fingers and stealing a car every time you need a ride can become a real chore, making you thankful for keeping your garage stocked.
Unfortunately, Mafia 2’s visuals fall short of its other triumphs. Developers 2K Czech aren’t famed for their console performance and this multiplatform release suffers from a range of graphical disappointments. Character models are wonderfully detailed until they move, betraying their limitations with stiff animations and static faces. Mirrors offer a glimpse into a jagged, low definition world that takes a moment to catch up with ours. I’d like to say that this can be overlooked but every glitch drags you out of the world, breaking what could have been a fantastically immersive experience.
Despite its limitations and dated looks, Mafia 2 presents a surprisingly concise campaign. At around twelve hours with no multiplayer options replay value is relatively low but 2K have a generous range of DLC on offer for those craving more after Vito’s story is over. If you’ve ever found yourself paralyzed by the choices in other open world games, Mafia 2 is a wonderfully condensed alternative.
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