Mafia II PC Game Review
Reviewed by: nVidia_Freak
Reviewed on: October 5, 2010
Mafia II is a third-person shooter that puts you into the shoes of a poor, Sicilian immigrant, Vito Scarletta. Vito has just returned home from serving overseas in the liberation of fascist Italy — to avoid serving his jail sentence — to find his family in debt. The debt must be repaid by the end of the week, and, his childhood friend, Joe Barbaro, conveniently happens to have questionable connections that he assures Vito will help clear the debt by that time. As such, Vito is sucked into a world of quick cash.
Joe’s connection turns out to be one of the three Mafia families that vie for control of the city. Vito will find himself working for each of them at some point, and will be doing much of the same things for each one — driving to various locations, shooting everyone in sight, and driving back back for more of the same.
Though the game play is simple and the story is a very typical Mafia-type one, it is gripping. However, some parts of the story feel unfinished, out of place, and quite a few jobs, and even entire chapters, feel as though they should’ve been briefly explained in cutscenes.
Hitler and prison-sex, for instance.
It's not all bad, though. Nearly all the jobs will see Vito engage in gun combat and this is something Mafia II does rather well. Fights reach a quick crescendo, but are ultimately satisfying, and the controls are simple — click to aim, click to shoot, click to punch, double or triple-click for extra punches. Gunfights make large use of the environment, as rushing enemies will simply get you killed, so using cover provides you the best chance of success. Again, this is very simple — press a button to stick to a wall or box, strafe, aim to peek out, shoot, repeat. Surprisingly, the simpleness doesn't make the fighting dull. The fights are actually very fun.
Beat 'em up, blow 'em up.
Or knock 'em off their feet.
A Brief Note On PhysX:
Mafia II makes use of the NVIDIA PhysX engine to enhance impacts, explosions and the like. With PhysX enabled, gun fire and explosions are accented with smoke, car crashes are greeted with smoke and debris, and crates and pillars chip away and scatter debris that sometimes makes Vito's cover object become smaller or less effective. The debris is worked into the game mechanics as well, as debris that hits Vito can cause him to take damage. PhysX can be enabled with the 'Medium' or 'High' settings. The difference between the two settings is the amount of PhysX objects that are created, with 'Medium' producing less than 'High' for less powerful cards.
Disabling PhysX, however, removes some of this. The largest difference is that, although debris is still seen flying about, there is less of it, and debris is no longer PhysX objects and do not inflict damage, making occasional portions of the game less dramatic. PhysX isn't a particularly integral part of Mafia II, but there is a slight difference in combat with PhysX enabled and disabled. Below are some comparison screen shots with PhysX enabled on the left and disabled on the right.
If you're having difficulty seeing the difference, it's not your fault — there just isn't a huge difference. More debris and smoke is all you get along with a performance hit. If you look closely in the middle two comparisons, you can notice the difference between the PhysX objects and the animations. This, as mentioned, is the only real game changing element of PhysX, in which Vito will take damage if the objects hit him.
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.
Despite the few shortcomings, Mafia II isn't a horrible game. The story is a large part of what makes it an alright game, despite being very predictable if you're familiar with movies like Goodfellas or The Godfather trilogy. It's an old, tried and true formula that churns out something interesting each time. It helps if Mafia II is thought of as an interactive movie. Some of the movie is given to you, in this case these are cutscenes, and in between those, there is stuff for you to do. The point isn't for you to change the outcome of the story, but to involve you in it. That's essentially what happens when you play Mafia II. The dialogue is well delivered and each character has his or her own personality. In addition, the atmosphere and visuals are appealing with the roughly period music to accent it. It's immersive enough that you almost forget about the sloppy driving, pseudo-open world, and lack of manual save games, and if you don't watch yourself, you can easily end up playing hours at a time.
Both the good and bad make Mafia II what it is. If any of it was different, it would be another boring shooter. Mafia II is a mixed bag that is, on the whole, an enjoyable experience, but some things could've been tweaked and expanded upon to make it much more. In all, a 7.5 on a 10 point scale.
- Entertaining combat
- Enjoyable story
- Visually pleasing
- Great atmosphere
- Out of place and unfinished levels
- Driving mechanics
- Game world limited
- No manual game saves, only checkpoints
- Abrupt ending