"A deep tragedy with a great gameplay, but few faults"In Mafia II a young adult male with pumping hormones can find everything he's after- guns, suits, gangsters, nice cars, and a collection of playboy magazines. Fortunately, people with deeper concerns don't go away empty handed either; for there is also a deep story, great characterization, and a melancholic sense of tragedy in the game as well.
When Mafia hit the markets there weren't as many GTA clones as there are now; and the deep story, great dialogues, and sadness in the game was so unique that the game found its cult following immediately. Mafia fans have waited 8 for the second in the series. During these eight years the original game hasn't been forgotten, which is a great accomplishment. Although the original game had its own critiques, it was held by many as a masterpiece- some even called it The Godfather of the video game industry. So there was a great sense of suspense for this long awaited game. Will it be as great as the previous game? Will it repeat the success? Or it will prove that the critiques where the ones right?
The answers to these questions aren't simple. It's easy to claim the game a great success, yet, it's hard to ignore all the shortcomings. Eight years have passed now- and it's not easy to fill this gap. The game is great, and no one will regret playing it, yet, the game suffers from some major and minor errors.
Gameplay: Generally, the gameplay is fantastic. It's addictive, intriguing and great. Yet it is not flawless.
The gameplay consists of different parts: driving in a semi-open world environment, driving in chasing or running away missions, hand to hand combat, shoot outs, and stealth missions. Let's begin at the good part.
Hand to hand combat and shout outs are fantastic. The game uses a unique system for hand to hand fights, consisting of weak but fast punches, powerful but slow punches and dodging. What's so good about this system is the fact that you really feel the intense atmosphere of fight, and you feel the violence behind every punch you hit or receive. It's realistic, harsh and intense, like the rest of the game. One of the reasons is the change in camera angel during these fights, which makes them really “up close and personal”. Furthermore, mindless button mashing won't work; you have to time your defenses and attacks. These fights are enough in the game and they're not repeated too much and therefore they never get repetitive or boring.
In shooting missions the game follows the usual trend of these days: take shelter, aim, kill, if you got shot, you'll heal in a second, just don't get shot too much in a row. And this lovely formula is still working fine. The wide range of guns is one of the things which make it fun, but it's also the environment. Again, I have to stress the same thing: realistic. You can see bullets fly and the fantastic physics of the game works like miracle, you can see the marks of bullets in the walls, and it's all realistic. Some other games simply try to show off their physics and the result is well, at least, unrealistic. In Mafia II physics is realistic. You can shoot a pillar, it will lose its edges and the tiles on it may fall, but thankfully the whole pillar won't turn to dust. The same goes for walls. It's good to have destroyable things destroyed and undestroyable things just scratch. Your enemies have fantastic AIs and they can be frustrating in the good sense of the word. They take shelter and fight you as skillfully as you do. The realism of the shooting levels makes them a really great experience, which never gets boring, and it can go on and on for all I care.
But there are some serious downfalls. The game poses open world, but it's not open world. There's imply an illusion of the game being open world. That's what I mean by the eight year gap. This open-worldliness was ok in 2002, but it's not ok again in 2010, not after GTA: San Andreas, GTA IV, Oblivion, or Fallout 3. The video game industry has taken the meaning of the phrase “open world” to a whole new dimension. At first you're presented with an illusion- you can steal cars and sell them, you can search the city, etc, etc, but let me tell you, you'll be doing none of this. There are absolutely no side missions and you don't need money in the game. You may be forced to bribe a cop or two but all the money you need comes from the main missions- or in better words, only missions. This fake “open world” aspect becomes really annoying when you have to drive through the city just to get to the next mission. The philosophy of driving in a big city is to go where you like and choose the mission you like, not to drive in a pre-decided route to get to the only place you should go anyway. The whole time you spend driving is a waste, and with the exception of chasing and running missions they could be cut out from the game.
The next flaw of the game is the saving system. The game never gets too hard but who knows, a bullet might fly to your head. Now, where should I replay? What? At the very beginning of the level, and I have to drive the whole stupid way too? These late checkpoints can get really annoying.
But, we shouldn't nag too much. The gameplay has its errors but yet, you never leave the game unsatisfied.
Story: If it wasn't for the story, the game would be mediocre. But because of its story, the game is a great game.
I said before that Mafia was compared with The Godfather. If I have a shot; I would compare Mafia II with another pillar of cinematic art: Scorsese's Goodfellas. There are many similarities.
The story of the game engages you deeply, and then it becomes tragic. I again have to repeat the keyword: realistic. It's also violent, dark, and sad. How many times you've watched the ending credits of a game feeling what Aristotle would call catharsis? This is what happens after finishing Mafia II. Aristotle believed that great tragedies transform the audience into better people by arousing their sense of pity and fear- and I believe if he could play Mafia II, he would like it. The theme of the game is companionship, and power. And how that power can poison companionship. For this, Mafia II is a deeply moral game; with a moving, fascinating story.
Key to this deep story is characterization. The characters completely arouse your sympathy, and you self-identify with them. And you feel close to them. That's true about the two main protagonists of the game- Vito and Joey. You believe in their friendship and this closeness to characters enforces the tragedy of the game.
And whoever wrote the dialogues of this game- like its predecessor- knew their job well. The dialogues are deep and moving and at the same time humorous.
Yet there are flaws to the story too. There some logical loopholes, ones you will see when you play the game yourself. But to me, more importantly, is the fact hat the story completely relies on mafia elements. The story spans the whole life of Vito from his childhood to his climax of mafia work and yet there's no romance in the story. There are just some prostitutes that appear. The only family element we see is his mother, father and sister, but these are not enough. We need a lover, a wife. The game lacks romance. Look at the great movies we've mentioned. Could you imagine Goodfellas without Lorraine Bracco, or The Godfather without Diane Keaton? Both these movies narrate a long period of their hero's life, and no man's- or woman's- life goes without love. Vito is missing something. He's missing a lover side, and the story is missing a lead female character. The game is too masculine- simply too much.
Yet, these flaws do not really damage the story. The story is great.
Graphics: The game looks good. The graphics are completely acceptable. The environment looks fantastic. Main characters' modelings are great and they really look authentic. Cut-scenes are done great. The only flaw of this part is the fact that the models of some NPCs are alike, and I think the game could really afford some more variety in NPCs. Especially this is problematic in prostitutes since for a long time you confuse multiple characters with one character, and this model looks ugly too. However, I think you'll be quite satisfied with how the game looks.
Sound: Fantastic voice actings. The voice actors easily receive a 10/10 in this game. They reveal all emotions and the sound nice too. The music is nice as well. It intensifies emotion and is not screaming. However, there are only three radio stations with limited songs, which is due to the fake open worldliness. But I would give a high score to the game in sound aspect too.
Play time/replayability: The game is short. Aimless driving serves as filler. Omit this filler and the real game is really short. This can be another downfall.
Well, you won't replay the game because of the game itself- you know the entire story, there are no alternatives to the story or missions. The only reason might be to complete you playmate collection. I'm not sure if I'm comfortable with that. I have no problem with playboy, the girls are really nice, but the magazine is completely- completely- irrelevant to the game. It seems a cheap collectible to put in the game. And one thing that's strange is well, the first issue of playboy came out in 1953, but you start collecting them in early 40s. You may also like want to collect the wanted posters, but I have no idea why would you. Collectibles don't affect the game in anyway. So, no, the game is really not replayable.
Replayable or not, playing Mafia II is a superb experience. I recommend it to everyone. You don't want to miss a deep tragic story and a great addictive gameplay.