Review: Mafia II – 2K Czech – PC (Steam)

I’d heard good things about Mafia II, especially in terms of story, but I’d also heard that it severely lacked replayability – unlike most open world sandboxes – your Grand Theft Autos, Saints Rows, Red Dead Redemptions, Just Causes and even your Saboteurs and Red Factions that feature lots of side missions and random shit to do while entertaining yourself – Mafia II basically has none. Sure, you can crush cars to make a few bucks, but your purchasing power seems to be limited to buying more guns from a limited range (pointless as all the guns you’ll need are pretty much mostly supplied for free from fallen opponents or given on a mission), upgrading cars (again, pointless since they handle like junk, and again, you’re given what you need as you go for the most part) and clothes (purely cosmetic).

But back to the game itself. Well, it’s well done for a game story. One of the strongest that I’ve played through, in fact. However, despite the game press raving about it, it’s still no Goodfellas or even Casino, but for a game, it’s quite good. On the other hand, there’s the gameplay. And despite enjoying the game, or the experience – to perhaps put it a little better, (as I found the gameplay to be pretty average at best). It’s not exceptionally bad, but it’s not what I’d call good either. There’s some brawl mechanics that are seriously sub-par, not too far off what you’d find taped onto an Ice Hockey game from 10 years ago. (There are also no baseball bats if you enjoyed them from the first game.) Some cover shooting mechanics which are just standard “meh” quality. Not bad, but not exciting. (and the cover button is awkwardly mapped to L-Ctrl for PC). And then there’s bog-standard GTA-alike driving in a series of cars that mostly handle badly.

Drive carefully, or the police will come after you!

Throw in the other annoying GTA-alike trope where every 10th vehicle is a cop car for some reason – and in this game they will chase you down for speeding. After a few high-speed chases, I actually found myself driving like a semi-sensible citizen because these car chases are just annoying timesinks. Though again, like other games in related genres, if you get to a mission checkpoint it doesn’t matter what your wanted level is (was) or how many cops are after your arse, as it’s all instantly wiped. Regardless, Cop cars being seen every 100m or 1/10 of other cars is still fucking annoying and actually immersion breaking, since it constantly reminds you that you’re playing a game. I mean, how often do you see a cop car when you go driving? If you saw one every 40 seconds in real life, you’d think that some serious shit was about to go down, and you’d probably be right as well.  The game also features such wonderful innovations as needing to drive home and manually walk to your bed after completing a mission, I’m surprised that you don’t also have to manually take a shit, too.

So anyway, while the gameplay is honestly not much to get excited about, the game’s story is it’s strong point. I’ve always hated games that rely too much on long cutscenes between the actual gameplay, and Mafia II is a bit like that, but with the interesting twist that I found myself instead wanting to get through the next mostly-tedious patch of exciting “narrative gameplay” (press “E” to clean the floor/Press “E” to wash the window/Press “E” to call Fat Tony/etc) to get to the next bit of pre-rendered CGI story. I played on Medium, since as I mentioned, I find the gameplay to be workmanlike “good enough” but not especially good or fun. So I felt no need to “challenge” myself by making the gameplay more annoying/tedious/difficult/frustrating. I also found that there are quite a few missions where it’s simply down to chance as to whether you survive or not, particularly the car escape with your crew that has the cutscene with “more of them” as you drive past 2 more cars or the pub where you needlessly yack at the Irish before getting down to business. You can get shot and killed purely by chance by the AI with no chance of getting through, then eventually get a lucky run and go through unscathed, despite doing the exact same thing.

Fisticuffs. Less exciting then they look!

I had read about how linear the game is and how there pretty much are no side missions, but just how linear the game is wasn’t apparent until I played it, and I was also disappointed when I realised that I needed to divert from a mission (either before or afterwards) to collect more cars or tune them so they would get saved with the normal “end of day” gameplay.

Visually the game is nice. Really quite nice. Aurally, the it features changing-period music in what feels like a bit of a nod to Scorsese, and the game can be nice just driving along under the speed limit listening to the radio on a rainy night. Atmosphere is something this game does well.

I was waiting for this to drop to AU$30 or less on the 360, since I’d heard good things about the story but that it lacked anything else to do, but with the recent Steam sale, even the US$20 price thet Aussies were expected to pay over the US$12 that the Americans got was enough to swing it in the end, with a bunch of US.99 DLC added which swung it. Apparently the PS3 got the first bit of DLC, as an exclusive freebie, while the other two, apparently more arcade-oriented DLC packs are available on PC and 360. But this isn’t a DLC review, it’s for the core game.

There’s no multiplayer, but there are collectables – Some incredibly-(un)exciting Playboy Magazines that give you a cheesecake pic of a period-approriate centrefold – which feel completely tacked-on, since many of them appear to be hidden in locations within missions that you only get one chance to do or go to per playthrough – and in a game with no reason to play through the game multiple times, since the story is the hook and the gameplay is average at best. It was shortly after I found the Playboy in Derek’s office when I started to think that maybe you had to effectively know where they are in the missions in order to collect them all, and this was confirmed when I found the next one inside the sewers. Methinks that perhaps they were just added as a cross-promotion thing. Mafia gets some press coverage, and some teenagers buy their first Playboy magazines out of curiosity instead of just downloading internet porn.

Character design is quite good, though.

I realise that I may sound overwhelmingly negative about this game, but the fact is that while the story isn’t great when compared to a good Cinema Gangster tale, it is a good story for a game, and the story is good enough to keep me interested enough to play through a couple of a few chapters every day since I picked it up.

If you approach it with low expectations as far as the gameplay goes, but are happy to play for the story – and you can pick it up cheap – the Steam sale price would seem perfect, then I say go for it. If you can rent it, you can probably finish it in a weekend without too much trouble. If you do so, you’ll enjoy it and since there’s no real reason to replay it aside from collecting Playboy pics (you have the internet for that!), you’ll have gotten your money’s worth.

Wasn’t using a gamepad because I prefer PC-aiming controls. KB+M. The lack of save points is annoying, and the game truly does feel as linear as any FPS. The story is better than most games and is in fact the best thing about Mafia, but it’s still pretty predictable, and nothing special compared to a halfway decent gangster film. The missions are quite repetitive, particularly their introductions, which the game itself parodies/acknowledges in one of the last few mission introductions of you getting woken up by the telephone I’d recommend that anyone playing who also owns DLC pimp the shit out of their cars as soon as they can afford to, since they stay with you through the inevitable “reset” the game throws at you, unlike your cash. And there’s nothing else to do with your cash anyway, since you’ll always get enough weapons, and clothing is next to pointless.

My Ride, I am Pimping her.

Definately a Steam Sale game, a mid-price or bargain bin console game, or a rental. it’s a it of fun, but not an especially good game.

I picked up all the DLC with the steam sale. I’ll play through them at some stage and either review them as well or append them to this one. The DLC packs with cars and outfits were somewhat pointless, I only used a few outfits or cars, most never even came out in the course of my playthrough. For 99c each via the Steam Sale I’m not too broken up, though.

Jimmy’s Vendetta and Joe’s Story are the more involved ones. I played a bit of Joe’s story right after finishing the main game but it starts with one of those multi-part missions where you do the first thing then they send you to do “anudder ting” right afterwards, so I quit to take a break. No idea if it saved any of my progress. I’ll get back to it.

Right after playing it, I re-watched Goodfellas. Haven’t seen it for a few years now, so always a good watch. I was wanting to watch it when I was playing through Mafia, but as it happens, my wife picked it out to watch. It really brings home the “good story, for a game” thing and even makes you think about the “games as Art” arguments again. Comparing any game to Goodfellas isn’t exactly fair, but then again they share a genre, and so the “one of the very best in genre” thing can be valid to an extent, and clearly Mafia 2 draws some inspiration from Goodfellas.

Dunno, I’m not here to piss on Mafia. And it certainly does atmosphere reasonably well, though that’s also in large part due to the audio and period music. Story though.. it’s a whole other ballgame.

The PC version is pretty much the same as the 360 or PS3 versions.

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Verdict: Rent it.

3 thoughts on “Review: Mafia II – 2K Czech – PC (Steam)

  1. Mafia 2 was one of my favorite games. But I dig the franchise’s quirks. It bugs me in Sleeping Dogs when I can drive 100mph down a sidewalk past a cop and as long as I don’t clip his car he doesn’t bat an eye. Mafia 1 was even more hardcore about it.

    There are a few nice little optional open world touches (the woman with the broken down car, etc) but I wish they had time to put in a lot more. Also, the observatory parking lot generally has nice cars to jack. And clothes always matter you neanderthal.

    I recommend playing it with a gamepad, though for a few sequences I did use kbam (shootouts).

    It’s a solid 8/10 for me.

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  2. I see where you’re coming from with the cop cars, but agressive traffic law enforcement just doesn’t work for me in a videogame where 1/10 of the cars on the road are cops. Maybe if there were far fewer cops (like 10 or 20% of the number of them out and about) it would work better, but in the present form ingame it’s just annoying. Things like cars and clothes would do it for me a lot more in that game if you could just go and cruise around and play in the sandbox without needing to do it *during* a mission.

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    • I agree about the oddly limited sandbox. But I think that’s part of the charm of the series, it’s a more directed sandbox. And that’s ok by me, there’s room for that much more atmospheric direction in amongst the Sleeping Dogs, Saint’s Rows and GTAs.

      Helps I love the time period and music, and I’m a sucker for immersion.

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