We meet Vito as soldier at the end of the second World War. After a solid start with the necessary firing at Germans – a very good tutorial – the man returns to his home country and takes up his old life again, with his family and of course the Mafia. The first couple of hours you get acquainted with about all strong points of this game: an immersive story, relatively believable characters with good voice acting, tightly worked out action in which the mercyless ways of the mafia aren’t hidden, a beautiful atmosphere and a sniff of humour, sex, drugs and rock-an-roll.
Those that can read between the lines will have understood it already: if you expect an open-world game like GTA IV or Red Dead Redemption you can forget it. In this Mafia 2 the world is there – and it’s put down incredibly beautiful and atmospheric (the music!) – but it’s only used as canvas for a linear and immersive story, not as a sandbox for your own creative debaucheries. Luckily the rest is very much ok and cruising through Mafia 2 in one of the many beautifully modelled oldtimers is already relaxing enough.
As said Vito will guide you through a story that contains a lot of plot twists and fun missions. There’s also plenty of variation in assignments and adrenaline-pumping shoot-outs are varied with more relaxing dialogues and a stealth mission. Only the ending is disappointing but in these times of downloadable content and sequels that shouldn’t surprise. And to make it clear: the disappoining end doesn’t completely destroy the fun you had the previous hours you were playing.
Pleasant is the right word here. Empire City is created up to the smallest detail with some atmospheric radio stations, cars that make your heart beat faster and are smoothly controllable, and automatic save points that are close enough to each other. The control system is very tight and makes the action a lot more enjoyable than in GTA IV. While people go on with their daily life without knowing about your car chases and murdering, you can fight and shoot without ever having to worry about how you take cover or aim. Collectable Playboy magazines and decent Achievements add to the relaxed playing style.
Much more than following the story and enjoying the world while you do different combinations of fighting, shoot-ours and sneaking around isn’t present. You can choose some new clothes or gun at times, but freedom is a limited thing in this case. When you do decide to run over a couple of pedestrians, you’ll only have to take care of a few cops who are easily shaken off after which a paintjob or new license plate and a fresh pair of socks are enough to fool them.
Mafia II is a beautiful game, but one that takes things easy-going. Everything is worked out tightly but there’s no typical open-world action where you determine things for yourself. In exchange you get a cinematic storyline, varying missions and an adult tempo and setting that reflect a filosophy that’s rather interested in creating an atmosphere than giving you sweaty hands and an adrenaline rush. But what it is as well is an absolute must have for those that like linear games that immerse you and leave you with a feeling of fulfilment.