Mafia II PC Game ReviewnVidia_Freak - October 5, 2010
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Closer Look Continued:
Vito will drive during nearly every job he gets and this is the most aggravating part of the game. There are two settings for car handling, 'Simulation' and 'Normal'. In simulation mode, acceleration is always met with squealing tires and every turn made is met with either massive under or oversteer. This does make chases and shaking the cops very movie-like and occasionally entertaining, but it’s very frustrating when a job has to be restarted several times because the only progress made is donuts. Turning the speed limiter on — limiting the car’s top speed to the current speed limit and making acceleration less insane - alleviates this only mildly. Using it will make getaways and chases impossible, and the usual travel distance between one point and another takes more than enough time to cover without a speed restriction.
In normal mode, the sensitivity of the steering is greatly lowered and acceleration isn't as aggressive. That should make driving more enjoyable, or at least bearable. Unfortunately, because the steering sensitivity is lowered, driving feels very heavy and remote, as though you're piloting a boat, not a car. This is especially problematic when making turns, as you will need to slow down considerably to wait for the wheels to turn far enough. You'll need to make use of the hand brake to make turns at speed for getaways, chases and time limited jobs, however, this means that spinning out of control is still very possible. 'Simulation' is the better of the two settings because the speed and responsiveness are necessary, it's just too bad there isn't a comfortable middle ground.
Driving straight is an impossibility.
Heaven forbid you reach a corner.
But, at least you'll be looking at something new each time you lose control. That's because Empire Bay, all eleven square miles of it, is an open world. The problem is that it’s strictly utilitarian to the story. There are plenty of streets and buildings, but their only function is to make getaways and chases possible. As such, the buildings and structures, though very detailed and pretty, are largely useless. There is a modest scattering of interactive shops throughout the city that are usable at any time, but they too aren't necessary to use unless the the game demands it. Clothing shops allow you to change Vito's appearance, gun shops let you buy weapons and ammo, auto shops allow you to repair and purchase upgrades to the vehicle being driven, gas stations let you fill up on fuel, and restaurants provide food and drink so Vito can replenish his health. But...
Vito won't need to change his appearance unless he's wanted or the few times he's required to, he will be given a gun during a mission if he has none in his possession and will have more once the baddies start dropping to the floor, he can steal, without consequence, the endless supply of vehicles and will rarely need to drive the vehicles in his possession, and he can replenish his health nearly completely after taking cover for a few seconds. The only reason to ever enter any of these shops is if the game demands you to.
In addition, keep in mind that Empire Bay is a very small open world at eleven square miles. There's a feeling that 2K Games realized toward the end of production that they'd inadvertently created a city, and, in an attempt to showcase this and be cool, they scattered mundane achievements, Playboy centerfolds, and 'Wanted' posters throughout the city to say 'Look, Look! You're in an open world, really!' But it's not fun to find these things and they only make the distance between where Vito is and needs to be even larger. They only offer a brief moment of distraction from the story, which once completed, leaves the game at about 75% complete because of the futzing about you won't do to find everything. Take everything out and it would still be a useless world, but with no expectation of any depth and thus no disappointment. As it stands, Empire Bay is an open world and open worlds are supposed to be fun outside of the plot — Empire Bay falls far short from that goal.
The game even makes a point of showing you where all the places you don't need to go are.
Worse yet, is the inability to manually save game progress - checkpoint system is utilized instead. This wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, but the placement of the checkpoints in Mafia II is just that. Checkpoints are rarely placed between the few minutes or more it takes to haphazardly drive between points A and B. Time-limited driving and large shootouts are plagued by this, such that if the car Vito is driving isn't quite fast enough, or the last baddie manages a head-shot, you're slung back to the very beginning.
On the left, the beginning of a mission. On the right, five minutes later, second attempt.