Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Game Review – Mafia II

Formats: PC, Xbox 360 and Playsation 3

The classic mobster movie is an ever-favourite genre in our hearts, from Scarface to The Godfather, the life of a gangster is thrilling and entertaining to embark on. From a games perspective, this genre can potentially create for one pretty incredible game and fortunately here we have Mafia II leading the way with a great rendition of the Mafia lifestyle recreated with great game-play, superb story-telling and packed with a whole load of style that tips this to be a great package.

You play the role of Vito Scaletta, who becomes tangled in the wild and exhilarating lifestyle of a mobster, with little to do but dwell deeper into the dark and twisted world, you will find a well told and engaging story, unveiled by talented and embracing voice-actors, which provides the necessary story line for you to get involved with 3rd person gun-shooting, fist-fights and even a cheeky element of well structured stealth action. This triangle of game mechanics all work side by side to make Mafia II one of the brighter gems in the current catalogue of released titles.

The story is set in 1945, the beginning of World War 2. Indeed the world around you immediately feels naturally old-fashioned and life-like. It is easy to get engrossed in the visuals of the world around you, be it from the old-school automobiles, to the great length taken to ensure everyone is dressed how they should be for that time period, it is clear effort and care was put into the technical aspect of the game. As the story progresses and the years go by, your world begins to change around you, the 1940’s become outdated and aesthetics around you begin changing to the 50’s. This is a sheer joy to behold as cars begin to change on the roads and people’s lifestyles evolve to the post war climate. This is of course accompanied by the protagonist’s emotional struggle throughout the years of organized crime, especially as he considers the weighting option of getting out of the business, or digging deeper in exchange for the delights that reward him. The struggle feels natural and you begin to care for Vito as you play the game, realizing he is more than a thug, but a man of morals and principles, doing what he has to do to stay alive. It is a compelling story that involves many intriguing and fun characters, giving players every reason to push further and further into the intertwining story of Vito Scaletta.

Upon beginning the game and jumping into the action, you will unfortunately be somewhat tricked at first sight. The Empire City around you seems like a potential playground for fun, side missions and exploration. You will find however, that this is not like Grand Theft Auto because while the city may be large, there is very little to do aside from drive around and engage in the main story missions. This is a real let down as you just feel the need to spot random side-mission markers on your mini-map or go on a tangent and do something else to create some diversity from the main missions, but this is just not available. You will at times be stopped by the police if they catch you doing something illegal, but these segments don’t ooze the kind of urgency and thrill you would expect them to. Playstation 3 owners are indulged with some day 1 downloadable content that varies game-play slightly, but more time and effort should have been taken into Empire City to make it a more entertaining place to be in, not just a glorified run way from one mission to the next. There are some entertaining segments in the car scenes such as the occasional drive-by or chase scene with your friend hanging out of the side of the car with a machine gun, but these are few and far between, which again, is a great shame.

I guess the intention here was to not bring nonsensical and mindless entertainment to the streets of Empire City, rather 2K Games have provided you with an incredible story mode. As stated before, the game works around three mechanics, the first and most important being cover shooting. This resembles the cover and pop out action of games such as Gears of War, where you will find yourself moving from cover and occasionally popping out to shoot your enemies. The weapons are all authentic and fun to use, enemies put up great fights and with lots of great environments to destroy, almost all sections that involve guns are brutal and stylish.

There will be times where guns aren’t necessarily and an old fashioned bar brawl is the way forward. The games animation and audio help make these fights feel real, with bone-crunching hits landing easily thanks to the great control mechanics. Finally, taking a page out of Splinter Cell, you will also on occasion, be forced to sneak around in the shadows picking off enemies from behind and hiding their bodies in darkness. It is very rare to see a game have three different mechanics so well integrated and it is technically very impressive that they are all fluid and enjoyable to engage in.

All of this content sounds really great, it is just a shame that there’s more story line than action. While both are fantastic, a better balance of the two would have been nice as you seem to be watching cut-scenes a lot more often than engaging in heated action segments. On top of this, the beginning of a mobster lifestyle isn’t exactly all shoot outs, for a lot of the missions you will be doing boring and menial tasks for the big bosses, which although make sense for the story line, feel boring and irritating, after all it’s not very often you want to drive around in a truck and give out contraband, unless that contraband was bullets out of your tommy-gun. It just strikes me that 2K Games had a winning formula, but weren’t confident enough to give gamers enough of it to play around with. The game shows segments of utter genius, but then coats it with quite a bit of boring missions and a lot of story.

Taking that into account, Mafia II is still an excellent game, it is a vast improvement over the original, but you would expect that after this long a time going by. Still, it tells literally, one of the best video-game stories we have had in recent times, so this alone is worth the experience. I think you will ultimately be disappointed in what the game omits, rather than what the game gives, because it dishes out excellence in abundance, all the mechanics work perfectly from the great shooting encounters, to the hand-to-hand fist fights and all the way to the stealth missions; it is engaging with great graphics and audio. It just misses out on what I’d have to say are, pretty staple things for a Sandbox game and as a result, taints slightly, what could have been a ten out of ten game.

Technical presentation 9.0
Graphics 8.0
Gameplay 9.0
Replay value 5.0

Final score 7 / 10

Igor, CeX UK contributor
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