Games review: Mafia 2

In
Mafia 2 the story follows Vito Scarletta, a fresh-faced Italian-American
stereotype back from the Second World War and out to climb his way up the grease ball
greasy pole of organised crime. The plot’s roughly split into four parts and
spans two decades within the game’s New York-style setting, Empire City. The
presentation is simply flawless. The feel of an American city during the period
is captured perfectly, and at times it’s tempting just to stop dead in the
street, turn up the car radio, and spin the camera around to soak in the
absurdly high production values.

In
terms of authenticity, this is to gangster films what Red Dead Redemption was
to westerns, and then some. The script, voice acting and score really wouldn’t
seem out of place up on the big screen, and the cut scenes are never dull.

The
use of licensed 1940s and 1950s music too is a masterstroke, and not only makes
some of the relatively drawn-out driving sequences far more enjoyable, but also
works to highlight how America changed during the timespan of the game’s narrative.

Still,
as gorgeous an experience as Mafia 2 is, this high watermark of quality is
often only skin deep. As your wisecracking buddy Joe puts it in one scene, in
many ways the game has “champagne tastes, but beer pockets”.

First
off, the action is pretty much as linear as an open-world game possibly could
be. Missions run consecutively and, while this does aid the pacing of the plot,
it’s a shame to have such a beautifully crafted world but no real incentive to
explore it.

Mafia
2 is just a simple mix of driving, shooting and hand-to-hand-combat stages,
with some travelling time in between to give you the illusion of freedom. Good fun
this stage may be, with solid design and mechanics, but gamers expecting
Goodfellas Theft Auto will be sorely disappointed.

The
plot strives to be taken seriously, but for every charming or humorous moment
there’s another that doesn’t seem to quite sit right.

At
one point you wander up to a sleeping guard and I had no idea whether Vito
would tiptoe past him, silently knock him out, or stab him repeatedly in the
throat, so little consistency is there in the game’s violence or rhetoric.

Your
character, too, is strangely blank and two-dimensional, and what with the
game’s hit-and-miss facial animations you’re unlikely to care too much about
what happens to you, or your associates.

Despite
these flaws, Mafia 2 was a short but sweet experience I enjoyed immensely. The
tone is uneven, but you could well say that this is how a game based on
organised crime should be – a glamorous veneer covering a seedy and unpleasant
interior. The most isn’t made of the game’s breathtaking mise-en-scene – but
it’s still somewhere I’d strongly urge you to visit.

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