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September 16, 2010
Mafia II - PS3 Review
Release Distributor Publisher Developer Offline Players Online Players
26/8/20102K Games2K Games2K Czech1None
Media HDD Space Resolution Sound Format Tilt Controls OFLC Rating
Disc40MB720pDD5.1NoMA15+

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Vito Scaletta in Mafia II.
Working for the mob never seemed like an especially wise career move to me. Sure you get your fair share of fast cars, faster women, lots of money... Ok, all that sounds great, but if movies have taught me anything it's that the fun doesn't last, and all too soon you'll be using your torso and head to catch other mobsters' stray bullets. That was always the deal-breaker in my opinion. Luckily 2K Czech is giving us a chance to live out the life of a mobster, without risking life and limb, in their new game Mafia 2. Is it good enough to leave its competition sleeping with the fishes? Read on...

The story follows Vito Scarletta, who moved to America with his family when he was just a young boy. Vito's father was looking for a fresh start and a better life in America, but what he found was almost the opposite. Their house was dilapidated and rat-infested, whilst the only work he could find was back-breaking labour for less than minimum wage down at the docks. Before long he became an alcoholic and eventually drowned at work one day, presumably under the influence. Having watched an honest man fail so hard, Vito was not averse to morally questionable work, and before long he and his friend Joe took to petty crime, like robbery. Choosing this line of work put Vito and Joe on the radar of the law and mafia both, and that's where the story kicks off.

The first thing to point out is that even though Mafia 2 looks a lot like a GTA clone, it most definitely is not. There are similarities in the story and parts of the gameplay, but there are also some significant differences. First off, I've read people describe Mafia 2 as “closed open-world”, and that's the perfect description. Although the action takes place in a big, open world, there's next to nothing you can do in it, and the game follows a largely linear path from beginning to end. This isn't an altogether bad thing, but it's definitely different from the cities created in GTA where exploration is a key part of the experience.

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A shootout on the streets in Mafia II.
The game comprises of fifteen chapters and you'll go from one to the next without much to divert you in-between. The opening chapter introduces you to the two components that make Mafia 2 the game it is; excellent story-telling and entertaining cover-based shooting. I have to say I was taken with the story in a way that games such as GTA 4 simply couldn't match. The script itself is far from flawless, but the interactions between characters are so believable that before long you'll be immersed in it. This is despite the fact that almost everyone you come across is unlikable in one way or other. Joe is crass, obnoxious and more than a little bit surly. The various bosses you'll work for are pretentious, unscrupulous and arrogant – at minimum. And yet that's perfectly in character for the setting, and it makes Vito more likable in contrast.

Moving away from the story and focussing on the gameplay we find tight and effective cover-based mechanics in place. Pretty much anything big enough to hide behind can be used as cover by pressing a button. A lot of games struggle when you try to move around corners under cover, but again, a simple button press handles this for you here. And cover is more than just a handy tool – it's absolutely vital to your success because standing out in the open for more than a few seconds will almost certainly spell your doom. Once you take damage your health will replenish if you go a few seconds without taking any further hits. For the most part this means popping up from cover to shoot at your enemies before ducking back behind cover. As in many other games, some objects don't make great cover as they get shot to pieces under fire, so you need to pick your hiding spots wisely. Even concrete is not completely safe, as shotguns will take out chunks of it, possibly exposing a shoulder or leg for you (or an opponent) to target. Enemy AI is quite decent actually – if you're shooting at them while they're behind cover, the likelihood is they will stay in there for a little longer. Enemies will also move around behind their cover, shooting at you from different positions and making fire fights dynamic rather than static. The one thing enemies don't do much is storm your position, or flank you with their superior numbers. They do try this occasionally, but we're talking maybe two or three times all game.

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Now that's an impressive explosion.
Outside of watching cutscenes and shooting up bad guys, you'll spend most of your time driving. There are a wide variety of vehicles to choose from, with thirty-six listed in the in-game “Carcyclopedia”. Although there are a large number of cars, some (i.e. the fun, fast ones) are rarer than others, and I found myself driving around in the more mundane vehicles more often than not. There are some chapters where you'll be presented with better cars to perform missions in, and these are always welcome. Driving takes some time to get used to because the cars don't seem to handle all that well at first. Additionally, if you crash your car you will injure yourself – crash at a quick enough speed and you're every chance to be killed outright outright.

Perhaps because of this (or maybe because the police will chase you if you speed) the game includes a “safe driving” mode accessed by a pressing the x button. In safe driving mode your car won't be able to go above the speed limit, and the revs of the engine are more controlled. Although this sounds like a rather unexciting addition to the game, I found that it had a number of useful applications. Firstly, police cars show up on your radar so ensuring they never see you speeding is easy – just enter safe driving when you're near them, and exit it as soon as they're a safe distance away. Secondly, it's great for cornering if you use it like a handbrake, with cars taking corners in a more controlled (and often speedy) manner than by using the actual handbrake. And finally, in the early stages of the game Empire Bay is covered in snow; if you jump into a car and try to floor it you're just as likely to spin in a circle as anything else, which will really hurt your getaway. However, if you engage the safe driving mode, the revs are kept low enough that your tyres find purchase on the slippery roads and once you've started moving forwards you can turn it off and speed into the distance, leaving any pursuers in your wake.

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Vehicles play a major role in Mafia II.
As much fun as the game can be at times, there are a few issues worth mentioning. I mentioned earlier that your enemies will rarely use their superior numbers to flank or swarm your position. Part of the reason for this may be how the game breaks down in close-quarters gun battles. Your aiming reticule simply cannot move quickly enough to keep up with an enemy, so if they get close you're as good as dead. The camera also freaks out, giving you a view from inside close enemies, which makes targeting enemies becomes a lottery more than anything else. Another issue is that the mini-map has a lot less utility than it does in other games (namely GTA). The map doesn't pan outwards when you're driving at pace, so the turn you're supposed to take can fly by before you know it. Also, enemies aren't always clearly defined on it – yes they do show up as orange markers, but their exact position (i.e. whether they are on this floor or the one below, or whether they are in this room or the next) is never really obvious. The last part is less of an issue on Hard difficulty because enemies aren't shown on the mini-map at all. Whilst I think that makes the game more fun, it's not acceptable to have a poor map for those people who wish to use it. It's also worth pointing out that there are some pretty tasteless scenes in the game, and racism is prevalent. Both of which can be explained away by the type of people you're dealing with, but I suggest you look elsewhere if you're easily offended.

The other issues I had with the game are small, and are probably borne from too many hours playing GTA. Firstly, money has no real purpose in the game, so tasks that earn you money (and there are only a few) outside the main story are an almost complete waste of time. You can bribe police, buy weapons, food, clothes and tune your cars, but the money you earn from missions is more than enough to pay for all of this. Plus there's no point stockpiling weapons or clothes because you'll lose everything you have at multiple stages in the game. My final issue is more of a gripe – it's almost impossible to cause mayhem in this game. You can get away with anything at all provided the police don't see you, or you're not standing around with a gun. You can use your Tommy gun to mow down dozens of innocents, but if the cops don't see it they don't care. If the police do see it though, you'd better be near cover because they get nasty quickly. Needless to say the run and gun rampages of GTA are nowhere to be seen here in Mafia 2. Oh, and one last thing – you can't shoot from your car, something the mafia were always famous for...

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A couple of thugs in the street.
Graphically the game does a lot right, though there are a few wobbles. The cutscenes come very close to excellence, but too often faces of the characters aren't quite right. Their facial expressions never change for one thing – Vito has the same expression the whole way through the game (maybe it's the Scarletta version of Blue Steel) – and the colour of some faces makes them look waxy rather than real. The lip-synching is way off as a rule, but I didn't mind that too much. All of the environments you're taken to look great, and certainly pass the casual eye-ball. Closer inspection reveals that the texturing isn't very good, but given the majority of the game takes place in open spaces you won't notice this much. Less excusable is the screen-tearing that occurs whenever the camera moves. It never totally ruins things, but it is almost always there, and you'll certainly notice it. There are times when the camera ends up inside characters, usually in close quarters, which is jarring too. Despite these technical issues the game does look quite good most of the time, but it's not perfect by any means.

The music is decent, but there aren't too many rocking songs in here. That's due in no small part to the fact that the game is set in the 40s and 50s, so I'm sure the choices were a bit limited. It is true that few of the songs will get you in the mood for killing, but it's surprising how often they get in your head after you stop playing the game. There are just three radio stations, so before long you'll have exhausted the entire play list which is a bit of a bummer. The radio stations are more subdued than those you'd find in GTA – there aren't as many jokes or advertisements – but there are some humorous news announcements (mentioning how trustworthy a young Richard Nixon seems among other things), as well as announcements about the ongoing war and occasionally Vito's exploits as well. The radio adds another level of depth to the game world, but it's definitely not as much a focal point as it is in GTA.

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Hand-to-hand combat in 2K's Mafia II.
Where the sound really excels is in the banter between characters. During most missions Joe rides along with Vito, and the way they bicker and tease each other is excellently done. Phone calls and conversations in cutscenes flow flawlessly, with the latter overcoming the poor lip-synching. There's one mission where Vito has to drive Joe and Eddie around after a night of drinking, and they attempt to sing along to a song on the radio – it's humorous stuff, and it draws you further into Vito's world.

Overall I found Mafia 2 to be a thoroughly enjoyable game. Controls are tight, missions are well paced (after a slow-ish start), and your enemies show enough intelligence to make shoot-outs interesting from start to finish. Chuck in an engrossing story that has some genuinely dramatic moments and what you have is a game on the verge of greatness. However there are a few obstacles to that; a surprisingly linear pathway through the game with little or nothing to do outside the story (unless looking for Playboy centrefolds and Wanted posters is your cup of tea), a suspect mini-map, graphical glitches and the inability to go on “rampages” stop the game short of classic status. All in all Mafia 2 is a fun game, one well worth checking out, that has some genuinely great moments but needed something more to be a “must-have”.

Review By: Mike Allison

GRAPHICSAll environments look great; though don't hold up as well to close scrutiny. Cutscenes are generally good but it would be nice if characters changed their expression now and then... Lots of screen tearing.
80%
SOUNDThe high point of the game. The voice-acting is first-rate, whilst the music is good enough considering the era it came from.
90%
GAMEPLAYThe cover-based shooting mechanics are tight, driving gets easier the more you try it, and the missions get more exciting as you go along. The world feels a bit empty though.
82%
VALUEDecent length story which will take around 12 hours to complete. There's not much reason to play through more than once though.
74%
OVERALLMafia 2 is an entertaining, though linear, shooter. Tight controls and an engaging storyline make this well worth checking out despite its flaws.
79%

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