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The original Mafia is set in the 1930’s in the fictional city of Lost Heaven and tells the story of Tommy Angelo, a cab-driver-turned-gangster. It’s a slow-paced and atmospheric story-driven game and was eventually remade. In addition to bringing the gameplay to a more modern standard, the remake resolved many of the issues I had with the original, resulting in a more focused and faster-paced experience. But before the remake came out, two sequels were released and the first was Mafia II. Developed by 2K Czech and published by 2K Games, Mafia II was released for PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 in August, 2010. A remastered version titled Mafia II: Definitive Edition was released for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC in May, 2020 and features improved visuals and includes all of the DLC. I have played the original game before so for this review, I played the Definitive Edition.
Mafia II is set in the fictional city of Empire Bay. The main story starts in the 1940’s and ends in the 1950’s. The protagonist is Vito Scaletta and after getting arrested following a robbery, he joins the U.S. Army. When he returns home on leave, his childhood friend, Joe Barbaro who works for the Clemente crime family, makes a call and gets him discharged. After that, Vito begins working for the family with Joe and to help pay off his late father’s debts. The plot covers various aspects of the life including being an associate or recruit, a made man, and prison life, and touches on subjects like loyalty and betrayal. It’s a decent mob tale with some interesting twists and turns and I think the voice acting is pretty good. I feel the performances of the major characters like Vito, Joe, and Henry are better than some of the others. And I think the best performance comes from Robert Costanzo who voices Joe.
The DLC added three storylines to the game – The Betrayal of Jimmy, Jimmy’s Vendetta, and Joe’s Adventures. Unlike the main story, the missions in these storylines are structured in a non-linear manner and the gameplay is more arcade-like, complete with a scoring system. The Betrayal of Jimmy introduces us to Jimmy, a gun-for-hire who works for different criminals and is eventually set up and arrested. Jimmy’s Vendetta picks up where Betrayal left off and follows Jimmy as he hunts down those who set him up. Joe’s Adventures centers on Joe Barbaro and his return to Empire Bay after leaving several years prior because of a hit put on him. Unlike the main story, these DLC stories feel like they were slapped together on a budget.
Each protagonist can can walk, run, sprint, sneak, snap to cover, climb, pick locks, and drive vehicles. Vito will move to different safehouses throughout his story but the other protagonists will have access to multiple. The safehouses are where you can store and access vehicles, change clothes, and eat and drink to replenish health. Health does regenerate to a point and death will set you back to the last checkpoint. You can perform stealth kills and will get your hands on a variety of weapons including handguns, rifles, shotguns, machine guns, grenades, and molotovs. Plus, there is a simple but fun melee combat system. You can throw light and heavy punches, block, dodge, counter, and perform finishers. Once you learn how to counter, it’s like almost impossible to lose fights.
Like the first game, some realism was implemented into the gameplay but unlike the first game, it doesn’t make getting around a chore and the gameplay is faster-paced in general. If your vehicle takes enough damage, you have to pop the hood and repair the engine to keep driving it. You have to obey the speed limit or you risk attracting police attention and you can activate a speed limiter that will ensure you don’t speed but unlike the first game, the vehicles in Mafia II are not as slow and clunky so you can get to places rather quickly. You can run red lights but any characters that ride with Vito may point out the infraction. If the cops see you drive over the speed limit, crash into other vehicles, steal vehicles, attack people, or see a visible weapon on you, they will come after you. For some infractions, the penalty is only a fine and for others, they’ll try and arrest you. You can resist the fine or pay it and resist the arrest or bribe the cops. If you’re violent, they will shoot at you and if they get a good look at you, you become wanted. So even if you do manage to evade them, if any cops spot you afterward, they’ll come after you again. You have to change your clothes so they won’t recognize you. If you’re in a vehicle and they get a good look at your plates, your vehicle becomes wanted and to resolve that, you have to take your vehicle to a body shop and pay to have the plates changed.
From the way people dress to the vehicles, Mafia II does a good job at showing an authentic 1940’s and 50’s world. One neat detail is that the vehicles in the 1940’s are different than those in the 1950’s. As it relates to the police system, there’s just enough realism to get you immersed without ever crossing over into tedium. At least in my opinion. I like that the cops will usually only come after you if they see you commit a crime. However, in Joe’s Adventures, during missions, cops will often get a description of Joe despite the fact they didn’t see him commit crime or weren’t even in the area and that gets annoying. A shootout will often attract police attention and sometimes the cops help you out. If you hide your weapon or stay behind cover when the cops arrive, they’ll engage your foes and even take down a few. The only realistic aspect I don’t like is gas. Vehicles can actually run out of gas and you have to visit a gas station to refuel. Honestly, it’s just unnecessary and doesn’t really add anything to the game even in terms of immersion at least as far as I’m concerned. If you frequently drive different cars, it rarely becomes a problem. When it does happen, it can be annoying because you would have to either get a different car or drive out of your way to a gas station and wait for an attendant to fill up your vehicle.
The city of Empire Bay is a rather large place and features different gun and clothing shops, diners and bars, you can take your dirty vehicles to the car wash to have them cleaned, and visit NPC’s that offer different services and special merchandise. Money is somewhat important in Mafia II. You need it to pay for food, vehicle customization, clothes and weapons. Vito and Joe will earn large chunks of money by completing certain missions but all the protagonists can earn additional cash by robbing shops and crushing cars at the Scrapyard. In the Jimmy storylines, Jimmy earns some cash by completing missions but it’s the car jobs that pay the most. Money is less of a problem in the main story because if you just stick to the missions and don’t buy a ton of shit, you should always have enough to progress. Due to certain plot points, Vito may have a ton of cash in one mission, and then have none in the next. Weapons can always be acquired from fallen enemies so I rarely felt the need to buy ammo in the main storyline and you can often replenish health from one of your Safehouses so it’s basically unnecessary to drive to a diner or bar to pay for food or drinks. Furthermore, the vehicle customization is more beneficial in the DLC storylines and only because these missions are timed so tuned vehicle can get you around faster. Other than tuning and changing your plates, you can repair vehicles and change paint jobs and rims. You can store almost any vehicles you drive in the garages at your Safehouses and access them at any time.
One of my biggest issues with Mafia II is the mission design. A lot of objectives feel more like busy work than fun. For example, picking people up, collecting things, simply driving to a location, and nothing really exciting happens. Now Typically in games like this, I expect early missions to be more mundane because they’re more or less designed to show you the ropes. The action does pick up eventually but the excitement isn’t always consistent. Mafia II is a third-person shooter and the action-oriented missions are easily the most enjoyable. If you’re not behind cover during combat, you will probably die and quickly. Enemies will run around and shoot at you, take cover, and sometimes you’ll be accompanied by allies. There are multiple difficulty modes and I played through the main story on Hard and the DLC stories on Medium. On Hard, the combat scenarios can be intense because it’s much easier to die so it’s wise to take your time, stay behind cover, and not rush through areas. And when you have a moment, always make sure your guns are loaded because there’s nothing more frustrating then getting into a shootout and realizing your weapon isn’t loaded. I would try to make sure they were loaded in between missions. Unfortunately, for some reason, you can’t pull out your guns in your safehouses so you have to do it out in the city. And that can be risky because cops may see you so you have to make sure you’re behind a building or somewhere out of view.
In the main story and DLC, you’ll do stereotypical gangster stuff like kill people, beat people up, protect people, steal cars, destroy cars, and even shoot up shops. The main storyline does a better job at immersing the player into the plot and gangster lifestyle primarily because it’s presented much better. There’s a lot more cut scenes and better character development. However, much like the first game, there’s not much to do in the world. Robbing shops is kind of cool and there are collectibles to find including Playboys featuring playmates of the time. That’s right, vintage porn. And the only reason I played on the Hard difficulty was to unlock the pinups. You’ll unlock artwork as you progress through the story and the pinups are only unlocked by playing on Hard. Nevertheless, robberies and porn aside, it’s really not enough to keep me interested in the world which is a shame because the city, itself, is well designed. Luckily, the DLC kind of remedies that.
One of my gripes with the first Mafia and even more so with the Definitive Edition is that there wasn’t any Mafia-related side content. Mafia II had the same problem until the DLC was released. The DLCs feel more like collections of small side jobs than worthwhile story-driven experiences and the jobs typically don’t take long to complete. There’s no cut scenes for any of the missions in the Jimmy DLCs and Joe’s Adventures offers some what I’ll call major story missions that are a little more complex than the simple arcade-style jobs. Ultimately, I found them to be disappointing story-wise but fun gameplay-wise. Despite the fact these DLCs feel tacked on, they are more action-oriented than the main story. Your scored and ranked in each arcade-style mission and the goal is to try to set high scores. Each one is timed and you receive points for driving fast, blowing up cars, and killing enemies among some other things. If you take out several enemies in a row, you’ll receive a multiplier bonus. The faster you complete a mission, the more bonus points you receive. If you run out of time, you fail the mission.
While the main story missions often consist of multiple objectives and sometimes checkpoints, the DLC arcade-style missions are much simpler and there are no checkpoints. The gameplay is a little more open-ended. While the main story takes you from mission to mission, the DLC stories will let you choose missions and you can even save your progress manually at Safehouses which I like. In the main story, after completing a final objective, you typically have to travel back to your Safehouse to start the next mission and your progress is automatically saved at certain points. As mentioned before, the DLC missions are quite short. Most can be completed in under ten minutes. I completed several in under five. They do get more challenging as you progress and some weapons will make certain objectives easier to complete so it’s often wise to stock up on weapons and ammo before starting missions. You’ll be doing a lot of shooting in these DLCs because most missions require you to eliminate people or will simply put you in situations that will end in firefights. That said, it’s a shame they weren’t implemented into the main story because I don’t think the stories are all that spectacular but the missions make for fun side-content. So that’s kind of how I see it. Just more things to do in the world. Plus, each mission can be replayed and the scoring system adds to the replay value. Unfortunately, many of the missions in the Jimmy DLCs feel the same and because the missions aren’t layered, the gameplay gets repetitive. Most objectives are simply go here and kill so-and-so. Sometimes you’ll have to blow things up and shoot up shops, but even then, these types of missions typically end in shootouts so they end up feeling like all the rest. Then there’s the car jobs which are the most lucrative but usually not very exciting. Steal a car and deliver it to a garage. Mission complete.
I think Mafia II was a decent looking game for it’s time. In fact, when I first played it back when it was new, I thought the city was gorgeous and I loved taking in the sights as I would drive from one location to another. The Definitive Edition does look a little better than the original but it’s not a drastic facelift. Textures look better and environments and character models showcase more details. One thing I really like is the visual effects. Specifically, the debris that flies through the air as a result of bullets ripping parts of the environment apart. A shootout can result in a ton of debris on the ground along with bodies and objects. Pop-in is often noticeable which is the only major visual eyesore I can think of. Mafia II does include a few radio stations that feature music from the time period and I thought the original scores were very well done. In fact, I really enjoy the main menu song. A lot of tunes are dramatic and memorable. As for the sound effects, they get the job done. I think some weapons could sound a bit louder but, overall, I don’t have too many complaints with the audio.
Unfortunately, the Definitive Edition could have used some more time in the oven because I encountered several bugs ranging from little things like flickering objects to more serious issues. And after doing a little research, I learned I’m not the only one. I would recommend consulting the game’s PCGamingWiki page to read about some issues and instructions on how to fix them. For one thing, the game crashed on me several times during my time with Joe’s Adventures. One bug that was very annoying was certain objectives not triggering. Specifically, the ones where you have to go to your Safehouse to start the next mission. It only happened to me twice and it was a nuisance. You can’t save manually in the main story so if you do anything before that objective like buy shit, none of it saved until the game autosaves which normally happens when you complete that objective. During gameplay, I noticed some dialogue repeat or get caught in a loop and during one cut scene, Vito’s face wasn’t animating with what he was saying and in one instance, a character’s eyes were not looking in the right direction. Then there’s the performance. When I wasn’t in combat, the game ran silky smooth. But during certain combat sequences, the frame rate would tank hard. The longer a shootout lasted, the worse it would get. I think it has to do with all of the debris and particles but I can’t confirm. I tried numerous things like disabling in-game v-sync, uncapping the frame rate, turning down some visual settings, but nothing I did resolved the issue. It was more of a problem in the main storyline and I think that’s because some firefights go on a little longer.
When I played the original game, it was on Xbox 360 and I remember really enjoying the story but being disappointed with the world because there was very little to do. I even questioned why the developers even bothered with an open world at all. I thought the world, itself, was a big missed opportunity. After playing through the first game and Mafia II again, I realized this is just how these games are. They’re story-driven experiences set in open worlds. I still enjoy the story and think it’s one of Mafia II’s biggest highlights and the gameplay was good enough to keep me going. By today’s standards it’s your typical cover-based third-person shooter. The DLC gives you more to do and I like the arcade-style gameplay. But as for their storylines, they’re not worth the time. I really wish the DLC was just integrated into the main story because the missions would make for great little side jobs to do in between story missions. The main story is the real draw here especially in terms of immersion. It’s a tale about a guy rising through the ranks of the Mafia in the 1940’s and 50’s and the game does a great job at capturing the atmospheres of the eras. The cut scenes, characters, and the way things are presented and set up can get you immersed and into the story, atmosphere, and life as a gangster as its depicted during this time period. The DLC doesn’t really do that. It just gives you a bunch of straightforward jobs to complete so I never really felt immersed into the gangster life as Jimmy or Joe. The only thing maintained is the immersive atmosphere of the time period and that’s because the world is beautifully designed to reflect the time period. Ultimately, Mafia II is a good game that probably could have been better. I don’t know what’s up with the DLC but it looks like it was made on a budget because it just doesn’t match up with the quality of the main game. I actually don’t mind the arcade-style gameplay but I can’t help but think they were thrown together and tacked on to simply generate more revenue.
I would recommend Mafia II to fans of the first game and anyone looking for a good mob tale and action game. If you’ve played the original, I don’t think there’s enough here to warrant playing through the Definitive Edition unless you want to experience the story again and as of this review, it is quite buggy. The story is good, the gameplay is decent, and despite the low-quality DLC, it does add replay value to the game. If you’re interested, you might want to wait for a sale but definitely check it out.