Mafia II is one of my favourite games from last generation so put on a snazzy suit, head to Empire Bay, and get ready for a crime spree.
I remember snagging the limited edition of Mafia II back in the day and playing through it made for one of the most memorable gaming experiences of last generation. Now that a Definitive Edition is available for modern consoles, I hope many more gamers check it out so they can see what makes it so special. By far, the most impressive part of Mafia II is its character-driven story that features a large cast of criminals who you will either love or hate. Heck, even some of the despicable characters have a certain charm to their womanizing and bigotry that's sure to upset certain types of people but if you expect a bunch of Italian mobsters from the '50s to be an inclusive bunch then you must be smoking some potent jazz cigarettes. Anyway, the overarching story is fantastically engaging and the ending is one of the most hard-hitting that I've ever seen in a video game. It's great stuff that'll stay with you long after the end credits roll.
Mafia II stars Vito Scaletta who's caught robbing a store with his buddy Joe Barbaro back in 1943. Although Joe gets away, Vito is arrested and to serve his time, he decides to fight in World War II. This beginning of the story shows the contrast between Vito's home of the now war-torn Sicily and the promising modern city of Empire Bay which is an absolutely brilliant way to introduce the player to where the protagonist came from and where he's going. After Joe forges some paperwork, Vito gets the opportunity to leave the army early and the 2 gradually go from petty organized jobs to climbing the ranks of the Mafia while experiencing many ups and downs along the way. Every character is masterfully presented, the voice acting is spot-on, and the unfolding story will keep you hooked.
One aspect about Mafia II that's nothing short of captivating is its game world. Empire Bay is a large and diverse city that's a treat to explore. Plus, there's nothing quite like listening to a collection of big band and doo-wop hits while driving through city streets that are lined with inviting lunch spots, classic cars, and nondescript brick apartment buildings. Speaking of music, it's awesome how many licensed songs there are from artists such as Dean Martin, Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Bing Crosby, and Nat King Cole. It'll definitely make you feel like you're in the '50s. Simpler times. Oh, and the original orchestral score is pitch-perfect, too.
Of course, Mafia II is a great deal of fun to play in addition to its immersive setting, story, and characters. There are a few primary facets to its gameplay such as driving, fist-fighting, gunplay, and there are even moments where you have to be stealthy. Each of these elements is handled well although there isn't anything really new or innovative gameplay-wise. However, there is a wide variety of missions and most of them can be completed in different ways so going about them in whichever way you wish adds a layer of depth that'll make you want to play through again and take different approaches. For example, you might rob a joint as sneakily as Solid Snake or alert a gaggle of cops then narrowly escape by car. Either way, it's great to see how each mission unfolds according to your actions.
Mafia II may be set in an open world but its campaign is rather linear and there aren't side-quests everywhere like there are in Grand Theft Auto. I mean, you could see that as a negative point but I haven't had fun playing a Grand Theft Auto game since 2001 so take it as you will. That being said, Mafia II's campaign is on the short side as it only takes about 12 hours to complete. It is jam-packed, though, and feels like a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows so if it were any longer; it would probably take away from its gripping narrative. Oh, and as you play, you can find Playboy magazines lying around and acquire some classy nude centerfolds which act as fun collectibles.
When it comes to visuals, Mafia II: Definitive Edition certainly doesn't look like a current generation AAA game but it is definitely a step up from its original iteration. I've read that many players witnessed severe graphical glitches but I played it after downloading a massive patch so I'm fairly certain that everything has improved vastly in this regard. With that in mind, I did come across some strange gameplay glitches in my time with it such as when I choked a guy and he didn't perform his being strangled animation until a few seconds later. I also completed one of the achievement goals in the nick of time but it didn't count which made me quite frustrated.
Mafia II tells one of the best character-driven stories in all of gaming and it does so in a masterful way. Its gameplay may not deviate from genre norms yet it remains a wholly immersive and gripping tale that you'll want to see through to its jaw-dropping end.
- + Top-notch storytelling with an astoundingly compelling cast of characters
- + Fun variety of missions
- + Great music and collectibles
- - Graphics aren't quite modern quality
- - Rather linear and on the short side
- - Some odd occasional glitches