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Mafia II


Eight Years Later, the Mafia Returns!
I loved the first Mafia game; absolutely adored it. I remember playing the PC version many years ago during Christmas and the family around me was captivated by the plight of Tommy Angelo; an ill-fated cab driver that gets pulled into the Salieri crime family. I loved the 1930s setting, the cars, the tommy guns and even the crazy speed limit that puts cops on your tail the second that the law was broken. The game combined a serious real-world feel with a captivating storyline, seriously one of the best games out that year. Moving ahead to 2010, 2K Games just released Mafia II (also on the Xbox 360 & Playstation 3), a sequel to the original in name only.



The narrative puts you into the shoes of Vito Scaletta, a WWII solider that returns home to Empire City to his family that owes the mob a couple grand. Scaletta isnít painted as a grand war hero or even an innocent like Tommy Angelo, but rather someone looking for the easy route in life. He joins up with a crime family and the narrative takes off, jumping in time over the 1940ís and 50s based on events in Vitoís life.

While in an open world, the game takes place over a series of chapters. These can be defined as levels, but Vito is free to roam the city at any time (even during some missions). Thereís a strange linearity to the mission structure, even though the world is entirely open to roam and cause havoc in. Thereís also no warning to ending a chapter, often leading the player to abruptly ending a chapter without spending time in the bustling city.



Vito has plenty of weapons at his disposal, everything from automatic pistols, revolvers, shotguns, machine guns (Tommy, Grease, Thompson, etc), the M1 Garand rifle, Molotov cocktails, etcÖ Aiming weapons seems to be on the slow side on the PC, perhaps due to development on the consoles. Hit detection is also occasionally spotty when enemies are hiding behind objects, although a well placed headshot takes down an enemy immediately. Unfortunately, that rule applies to Vito as well. I was killed multiple times by simply raising my head out of cover.

The entire movement mechanics and control system is somewhat slow and clunky to respond to player movement. I often had to think about my next move carefully before streaking out into gunfire. Vito is able to sprint though, but moving from cover to cover is problematic. For instance, if Vito runs too far, he may take cover on the side of an object and immediately get gunned down. Frankly, it controls like the original from 2002; something that was expected back then, but unacceptable 8 years later.



The physics behind the cars remind me of the original as well, although these cars have a heck of a lot more horsepower. Thereís still a speed limit in place, but cops wonít start chasing you until you break 80 mph or so. They are fairly easy to outrun as well, unless you are a wanted criminal already. Cars can be modified in color or changing license plates in nearby garages to shake the cops.

When you arenít on missions, you can search for collectibles in the form of real Playboy Centerfold pictures (completely nude) and 150+ wanted posters, but itís a fairly boring search. In fact, The Godfather did it better. Other than that, you can roam the streets robbing stores. But if you get taken down by the cops, the game often makes you restart the entire chapter regardless of mission completion.



Graphics

  • I tested the game on my main gaming rig (Nvidia GTX 460) and my three year old Dell laptop (Nvidia 8600GT) that I use for graphic design. Having a recent beefy video card really makes the game absolutely gorgeous. Empire City is highly detailed and frankly complex. The texture design here is phenomenal as well as the physics engine. Parts fly off of exploding objects, weather effects splash off moving cars and clothing drapes of the highly animated character models.

  • If thereís any negatives with the graphic engine, itís how stiff the character animations can be. Cutscenes have a tendency to pull the player out of the narrative and continually remind them that this is just a game. Thereís lip syncing problems from time to time as well. Performance on my laptop was obviously much lower quality, but the game was completely playable at my native resolution after upgrading my graphic card drivers. But I did have to reduce texture quality, turn off anti-aliasing, etc, to avoid framerate issues and slowdown.



Audio

  • The musical score in Mafia II is fantastic and on par with the quality of the previous game. There are tons of sweeping musical numbers that bring emotional to Vitoís self-induced problems. The radio stations play some music from the previous game, but there are plenty of 50ís tunes with singers like Elvis, Chubby Checker and Louis Armstrong. The radio announcers are hilarious as well with pro-cigarette advertisements and exciting announcements of new technology like the remote control for TVs.

  • The voice cast is stellar as well. Thereís about 700 pages of script material to digest in the cutscenes and various interactions in Empire City. The writer did a great job of writing dialogue, while clichť, that sounded authentic to Italian Americans and great voice actors like Brian Bloom and Rick Pasqualone pulled it off. Sound effects are on par with the previous game too.

Conclusion

If you have seen all the major mafia motion pictures or TV shows (Godfather, Goodfellas, Sopranos, etcÖ), you wonít be seeing a lot of new material when playing Mafia II. While the first Mafia did a great job of expanding on events during that period of time in the mafiaís history, the developers went the lazy route in the sequel.

When playing, I couldnít figure out how I what I was supposed to be doing in the real-time world while not on missions. Furthermore, the pacing of the story and missions that detail them is absolutely terrible. There were few points in the game that held a constant level of frenzied excitement, but there are a ridiculous number of lulls. The pacing picks up slightly once Vito enters the 1950ís, but itís still slow and incredibly disjointed.

In the end, I really want to love Mafia II and give it more credit that it deserves, but I just canít. The combination of the ancient control mechanics, odd pacing and lack of real world entertainment drag the game down and seriously decreased my enjoyment of Mafia II. Still, itís worth a playthrough if you just adore mafia games and have a solid PC build to take it on. If there is a Mafia 3, I hope they will take it into the late 60ís and 70ís and a new locale like Vegas.

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