The Freakin' Mafia
review for Mafia II, 1 player third-person action/adventure, available now
The game starts off with the main character, some under-characterized Italian immigrant, being drafted into the American Army in the wake of the end of World War II. What follows is the tutorial that other tutorials follow - a mostly on-rails shooting gallery that teaches you the basics of taking cover and opening doors. Certainly not too fancy, but hey, it's an adequate tutorial, even if it is painstakingly arbitrary. After fifteen minutes of shooting, there's about two minutes of confusing exposition before the cleverly titled "Chapter 2" begins. And since Chapter 1 was only about 20 minutes long... this was the moment I knew Mafia II wasn't going to be very good.
The game drops you into yet another New York city, circa 1940s. Upon returning home from the war, you discover since you were gone, your mum and sister aren't having a great time. They owe money to a few people (*cough* THE MAFIA *cough*), so you beat up their lone shark with an actually surprisingly awesome melee mechanic that feels like a mix between Street Fighter and GTAIV. (There's weight behind every punch and kick, and it's one of the few cool things about this lackluster action game...) Soon you're out with your friend, your cousin. He works for some place that does odd jobs (*cough* THE MAFIA *cough*), and using his "connections," he makes sure you will not be drafted back into the war again. Nice going!
After the nice start though, something weird happens. How do I put it... well, y'know that scene in GTAIV, the opening one, where you drive Roman home then go to sleep, then wake up and drive back to do a mission? Well it's a bit like that... only all the time. You drive to Location A, do some jobs, then drive to Location B, do some jobs, and then when all the jobs are done (and I'm not kidding), you GO HOME AND SLEEP. Sleeping isn't like it is in GTAIV, i.e., a savegame machine - you have to go home at the end of every in-game day. All of a sudden the massive open world New York becomes this tiny, tiny thing; a linear progression of streets and back alleys where missions take place. It's not a huge playground, it's certainly not a sandbox - and even the missions aren't very cool. It's just a lame third-person shooter.
The story is pretty much the only reason to stick with it at this point, and if you've seen so much as a glimpse of The Godfather you'll know everything about it. It's a game about the Mafia. What else do you want to know. The Mafia does Mafia stuff. You join the Mafia and do Mafia stuff. There are tommy guns and fedoras. For what it's worth, the shooting is better than other games of its ilk - much like the melee mechanic, there's weight to every bullet and weapon. But I wanted a sandbox 1940s New York to wreck havoc in, not a linear 3rd person shooter with a few adequate set pieces. I gave up on Mafia II, mostly because the daily grind became phenomenally stupid, but also this - not since Dead Rising have I seen such a retarded auto-save system. It saves at the beginning of each mission, but there are no checkpoints throughout; so an hour's worth of progress can be lost because, say, you come out of cover too early. Which is insanely frustrating. The atmosphere is certainly present, but there's no zing, no bang. I can't say whether or not it's successful as a follow-up to Mafia, but on its own, Mafia II doesn't hold up at all. Utter tripe. No amount of tommy guns and fedoras can save this shallow 3rd-person action thing.
At the end of the day, Mafia II is a flash in the pan. A few good features are bogged down by the same old cover-based malarky and driving sections I've grown to despise from mainstream action games. No game about the Mafia should be this boring. And yet, it is. I think the worst thing is, the game touts an awesome open-world; it says "hey, here's New York circa-1940s, have fun!" But then it pulls back on the leash, as if to say, "just kidding, loser." A very similar thing happened with Red Faction: Guerilla - you're given a playground of destruction, and then told what you can and can't do. Rules don't work in a game like this. If you want a good third-person crime sandbox, stick with Saints Row II. If you want an action-game with a great story, get Grand Theft Auto IV and its expansions. Mafia II just isn't worth it.
Andrew Deavin ain't seen nothin'. There ain't no cash in this briefcase, just more guns. Also there's a feather in his cliche 40's fedora. Capiche?