Mafia II is a third-person action-adventure game, set in an open world type fictional city called Empire Bay after the second World War. The game tells the story of Vito Scaletta, as he joins a crime family and becomes a ruthless Mafioso.
I did not play the original Mafia, but I heard a lot of good stuff about it. Many video game magazines gave it the title "Game of the Year". So I was anticipating a great game, as Mafia II was announced, and I didn't want to miss it this time.
The game came out and I heard a lot of negative reactions from the players. So, as I started playing Mafia II, I already knew that it didn't become the great sequel to the "Game of the Year". I lowered my expectations. But even that couldn't help me enjoy the game.
First of all, Mafia II is terribly linear. When you are driving a car, a red line on the minimap shows you where to go. You simply follow the line from point A to point B. There is no need of an open world. The virtual city of Mafia II has practically no interaction. The biggest thing you can change in the world is to turn off the lights in a room. Empire Bay has nothing to explore. You won't find any side missions. What you will find are a bunch of unnecessary restaurants, shops, and gas stations.
During my playthrough I never needed to visit any of those, if it wasn't a part of a mission. There is no need to refill your gas tank, since you get a new car in every mission. Food restores your health, which is restored automatically after finishing a mission. If the police is after you, they are either searching for your vehicle or a man in your clothes. In the first case you can change the color of your car or buy a new license plate in a workshop. Or you can just steal another car. In the second case you can buy new clothes or simply finish the mission, because the police can't see you if you are in a car. After you've finished the mission you are no longer wanted by the police. You can tune your car in a workshop but it costs a lot of money and you don't really need the tuning. I was always able to lose the chasing police cars (due to the AI wayfinding failing when I leave the road) and never had problems to pursue somebody. Finally there is no need to buy weapons and ammunition. Your enemies drop enough of them.
In games with such an open world concept, the vehicles are playing an important role. Too bad that the variety of cars in Mafia II is very limited. Most of the time, you end up driving one of the three common models that are barely different in their handling. Of course you can always improve your playing experience by spending (real) money on DLCs. But this is, by all means, not the point of buying a game. I payed money for the full game, not just a part of it.
The AI is not challenging at all. The enemies sit behind a cover and occasionally come out to shoot at you. All you need to do is to wait until they come out and kill them.
I played on the hard difficulty because I wanted to have some challenge. With the exception of one level, which had an unfairly placed checkpoint, I didn't have any problems beating the game.
Mafia II has achievements, if you are into those. They include stuff like traveling 50 miles in one car, driving at least 30 different vehicles, searching for wanted posters hidden in back alleys (why would you hang a wanted poster where nobody can see it?), and collecting Playboy magazines which unlock photos of Playmates from the '50s.
Now, let's talk about the story.
Mafia II has a weak plot. Some missions simply don't fit into the story arc. Sometimes I couldn't understand the motivation of the protagonist. At the end of the game I felt that some missions were only made so the game could have a decent playing time. This feeling was amplified by the fact that most missions are not really related to each other. The mission design is repetitive. Almost every mission starts with the protagonist being woken up by a call. He answers the phone and is told to go to point A. There, he is send to point B to complete a job. Then he goes back to point A, only to say that he has done the job. After that he drives back home to go to sleep. The developers must have realized this flaw, as Vito makes a joke about that near the end of the game.
Why can't the mission already start at point A? Why can't it end at point B after I've done the job? Why do I have to drive back home and press 'E' in front of the bed? The only answer to these questions, that I can think of, is: because I can, because Mafia II has an open world. And the only purpose I can see in the open world concept of Mafia II is to artificially prolong the game's playing time.
I spent 14 hours in Empire Bay. Without all the driving of the same route multiple times it would be much less.
The ending of the game is quite open and very disappointing. It seems that Mafia III is coming soon...
After it's "Game Over" you can't do anything other than start a new game. There is no free-roam mode. But why should there be such a mode? There is nothing to do in Empire Bay. Well, you can always pay more money and get the DLCs...
"Is this game really that bad?", you may be asking. "Doesn't it have anything good?"
Well, it has. The cutscenes are very good. The good graphics and animations make them look almost like movie scenes. The voice actors are really good. The dialogs are authentic. The atmosphere of the time period the game takes place in is caught very well. The orchestral soundtrack is very good. The shooting mechanics are good and each weapon feels different. But other than that, there is nothing that, in my eyes, could make Mafia II withstand or even come close to competition like the GTA series.