The sequel to 2004's Mafia finds players again in an open world, tasked with creating the most feared and infamous mobster ever.
Developed by 2K Czech and published by 2K Interactive, Mafia II fixes a lot of complaints from the original but doesn't push it much further.
Set in a 1940s fictional combination of American metropolises, Mafia II sets players in the shoes of fledgling mobster Vito Scaletta. The game opens with a long and immersing cut-scene, introducing Vito and setting the back story.
The cinematic experience and presentation are absolutely the most enjoyable aspects of the game. So many other games focus solely on gameplay, effects or visual fidelity, but Mafia II reintroduces a game that's almost as much fun to watch as it is to play. The only other game that does such a good job at this is the Uncharted series on PlayStation 3.
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The attention to detail in the Mafia II world is impressive, and cut-scenes are rendered with the in-game engine, meaning small details such as vehicle damage and character presentation are all present in cut-scenes. This further immerses the player into the game, making it feel even more like playing a movie.
However, once you play for a few hours, things start to go downhill. The "living, breathing world" that the developers tout so highly is boring. I wouldn't expect all the non-playable mobsters to be so droll and bland, going about daily, routine tasks with little excitement.
Despite being designed and presented as a sandbox open-world game, the missions and objectives seem linear, which detracts from the overall experience and presentation.
The action scenes seemingly exist only to detract from the excellent narrative and often become frustrating as you wait for them to end. In a game presented with such seriousness, these negative elements add up, detracting from the cinematic foundation on which it's built.
It's sad to see a game squander such great potential with bland gameplay and boring action. Once you're pulled out of the rich storytelling atmosphere by a random action scene that doesn't make any sense — and is frustrating to boot — it's hard to get back into the tale.
If you enjoyed Mafia and have been awaiting the follow-up, you definitely will enjoy this game, but be prepared for its flaws. If you're expecting a mob-themed Grand Theft Auto-style game, you should rent it first.