| on September 07, 2010, 02:13:00 PM
The Mess Takes on the Mafia!
“What have we got here….Some kinda fuckin’ wiseguy?
Mafia 2 is the long awaited sequel to the original Xbox and PS2 game. The first in the series is fondly remembered for being both a unique (for the time) open world experience and an absolutely bastard hard classic. If you’ve ever enjoyed such films as the Godfather trilogy or Goodfella’s you’re gonna completely plotz for this game. After eight years of waiting the sequel is finally here.
The game starts out in the early years of World War 2. Main protagonist Vito Scaletta finds his family emigrating to the United States to escape the Sicilian purges of Benito Mussolini’s fascist administration. Finding himself relocated to a shithole apartment somewhere on the lower east side of fictional city Empire Bay, young Vito learns some hard lessons growing up in the slums, inhabited mostly by fellow re-located Italians.
The story proper starts when Vito finds himself in some deep shit after a botched smash and grab leads to his arrest. Choosing to avoid jail time by joining the army, Vito is sent to Sicily as a paratrooper to rescue some of his old pals. Reminiscent of the early Call of Duty games, the opening chapter gives you a crash course in the game mechanics and ends with Vito’s first exposure to the power of the Mafia when a local Don ends an armed conflict just by showing his face.
Not long after and having taken a bullet, Vito is shipped home with a Purple Heart and a deep yearning to leave the conflict behind. Fortunately wheels are already in motion and Vito realises that life doesn’t have to revolve around back breaking labour, finding a nice girl and raising up a bambino. Of course this being a game based on organised crime, Vito’s oldest friend (and fellow smash and grabber) has an offer to good to refuse and thus Vito dips his toe in the seedier side of American living.
Once the game begins proper in the city of Empire Bay, you’ll first notice the attention to detail that the developers have put in to this game. Clothes and cars are all noticeably accurate (although the cars are not named as in real life) and the three radio stations offer a fantastic range of forties songs.
I am by no means a great scholar of the era, but I recognised tracks by Cab Calloway, Django Reinhardt, Bing Crosby, the Andrew Sisters, Duke Ellington, Dean Martin and Fat’s Domino. These are just a small selection of the licensed tracks and each radio station has it’s own theme, Big Band, Chicago Blues and Lounge Acts which really help add to the overall ambience.
The city itself is a hybrid of New York, Chicago and Detroit and in the early stages is blanketed in snow, so naturally the first song you’ll hear upon jumping in a jalopy is Dean Martin’s “Let it Snow”, which more than makes up for the awful handling of the car you’ll be gifted. This is also the first chance you’ll have to explore the city and given the coolness of the moment you’ll no doubt feel no rush to reach the mission marker.
Once you’ve tired of exploring the few shops and sites the game has to offer in the early stages, you’ll begin to jump into the missions themselves. As I deliberately don’t want to spoil any of the great storyline, I’ll simply state that each mission has a real feel of living on the fringes of the organised crime world, with believable small time jobs that generally don’t work out to well, and an excellent introduction to the hoodlums and crime bosses you’ll interact with as you move up the criminal ladder.
After making a few bucks you’ll want to cruise around and do some shopping, there’s not much to buy at this stage of the game but there are few different stylish outfits to purchase and you can upgrade your firearm if you so choose. Automobile body shops are also dotted around to improve your cars performance, or change the plates and colour if you’ve just appropriated one (through the use of a functional lock-pick mini-game).
Around mission five though things go a bit wrong for your character and you’ll find yourself somewhat indisposed for six years (gametime). Once you find yourself back in Empire Bay you’ll find that times have changed quite severely and that the forties have passed you by. Welcome to the early fifties and boy, does this change the dynamic.
The torrential snow has made way to bright sunshine, the austere war-time fashions have progressed to low hemlines and exposed cleavage and the music is firmly ensconced in the newfangled “Rock ‘n’ Roll” craze.
Leading from the earlier era the radio play-lists have changed significantly, and if you’re a fan of the era you’ll be laughing. Doris Day, Prez Prada and Rosemary Clooney offer up some period classics, but if you’re anything like me you’ll be cruising ‘round blasting some old time Rock ‘n’ Roll or Blues.
Little Richard, John Lee Hooker, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddly, Howlin’ Wolf, the Drifters, Jackie Wilson, Muddy Waters, The Drifters, The Everly Brothers, Duane Eddy, Ritchie Valens, Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly and Bill Haley and the Comets amongst many others make this one of the best soundtracks to a game this year and really help set the period portrayed in stone. Sadly missing is Ol’ Blue Eyes, but I guess the licensing fee for the Chairman of the Board was a little too much for the budget. Still with all the artists on offer you won’t miss Frank too much.
Cars too change. This being the era of greasers, Hot-rods and convertibles are yours for the taking and aside from being some of the most stylish automobiles ever produced, the days of forty mile an hour jalopies are left in the dust as you’ll soon be speeding around at eighty and over.
So, having established that the developers have nailed the period, what of the game-play itself?
The missions themselves are tightly plotted and the game mechanics hold up pretty well. The cover system is adequate, if a little glitchy occasionally and the weapons are satisfying to use due to a responsive aiming system. This game does not pander to those who just want an easy time though. Enemies are bullet sponges, easily taking two or three body shots from a Magnum before dropping and are absolutely deadly to the player with their own weapon accuracy.
This is not a game that believes in hand-holding, two or three pistol bullets or one burst from a Tommy gun are enough to bring about the dreaded “mission failed” screen and although checkpoints are generally reasonably forgiving, there are a couple of missions where you’ll have to slog through from a far earlier point to get to the part where you died. Unfairly although the enemies can blind fire from cover, the player cannot which will lead to some gnashing of teeth. There are also occasional bouts of fisticuffs which require simple button combo’s to pull off, although there are not many times you will need to indulge in these, they are reasonably tight and make a change from just shooting all the time.
Sadly the driving mechanics have not much improved either. Although later cars are satisfyingly speedy you’ll likely be driven nuts by the computer A.I. Police will easily ram you off the road and NPC cars will annoyingly cut across your path for absolutely no reason whatsoever (in fact it almost feels deliberate at some points). Given that car crashes will hurt and even sometimes kill you at high enough speed, it can be hugely frustrating to be in a mid-mission car chase and to be rammed by a car that started clear on the other side of the road. It is also not possible for the player to shoot whilst driving; making police chases a real chore at higher wanted levels.
There’s a huge ramp-up in difficulty towards the end of the game, which for me killed the narrative a little as I was forced to restart one particular mission several times. Another issue is the need to collect money to pay a debt towards the end-game, which slows the narrative to a crawl while the player runs around stealing cars or robbing shops to accumulate the money needed.
Away from the actual missions, much has been made of the open world environment, although beautifully rendered, unlike games such as Grand Theft Auto or Saint’s Row there are no side missions or activities beyond finding a hundred odd wanted posters. It’s a real shame as this takes most of the fun to be had exploring the city at your own leisure, which has been a hallmark of most open world games.
One feature that has been mooted strongly in the press for this game are the vintage and fully licensed Playboy magazines scattered around for the player to find. Completely uncensored (yet period accurate, so don’t expect to see anything much below the waistline) these collectables are a welcome change from the usual “hidden package” style pick-up’s and add a little class to the product.
(Included here is a link to a guide for finding these. As these magazines are only found in mission and are easily missable, this may help if you’re an “achievement whore”.)
Ultimately this is a fun game and kudos must be given for creating such a believable period game. However the lack of anything to do outside the main missions and the highly anti-climatic ending (to be resolved in upcoming DLC?) lead to this being a considered purchase. If you are more of a casual gamer who enjoys a quick blast then your value may differ from the more hardcore gamer. I would have a hard time recommending this as a forty dollar plus purchase, given that the game contains maybe five to six hours play on normal difficulty. The PS3 version has a free download which will no doubt expand the game further (with another on the way), although unfortunately at this time it is not available to Xbox 360 user’s. (Some have speculated that this is a pseudo apology as the developers have admitted that the Xbox version is graphically superior to the Playstation effort). However as a rental I give this a thumbs up for anyone who has ever had any affinity for the mobster genre. Hopefully the developers will learn from this effort and really produce the goods for the inevitable sequel.
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