Mafia II’s got a script that’s probably as thick as four phonebooks, but the phrase we uttered most while playing the game was, “So close.” Over and over, it’s all we could think as we watched the game grasp at greatness, only to latch onto big old handfuls of disappointment. Unfortunately, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, and last we checked, our copy of Mafia II was neither neighing nor exploding in our faces. (We’re kind of thankful about that last one.)
Look at this screen. Press W. Congratulations, you have now played about half of Mafia II.
Mafia II sees you take on the role of Vito Scaletta, a young Italian immigrant who’s fresh off the front lines of World War II. Or rather, he’s on permanent leave, thanks to a buddy of questionable moral fiber who pulled a few strings. Long story short, Vito dives right into the deep end of organized crime—mostly because he wants money and hates dirtying his hands with menial labor. Seriously. See, here’s the thing: Vito’s kind of an a-hole.
Oh sure, there’s a subplot involving his drowning-in-debt family, but even when it reaches its predictably tragic crescendo, Vito’s “grief” gets the hell out of dodge so quickly that you’d think even it knows how badly it’s written. So, which is it, Mafia II? Are you a story of inhumanity and filthy excess, or are you the tale of one man’s climb to the top of the “bad guy” totem pole, even as he descends into his own moral hell? Well, if your thin, mostly stereotypical cast can’t clue us in, maybe a conclusive ending can.
Oh, wait! You don’t actually give us one. Instead, without giving too much away, the game’s ending is basically a big neon sign that screams, “To be continued in the upcoming DLC! Buy it!” Which is a shame, because—for all its flaws—the plot still manages to be fairly entertaining, even if it’s barely a shadow of the shadow of the first Mafia’s beautiful arc.
Speaking of beautiful, Mafia II’s city is a sight to behold. From its loftiest heights to its scummiest slums, the attention to detail is absolutely stunning. We actually feel kind of bad for Doc from Back to the Future, because if he’d just driven down Mafia II’s streets with old-timey music blaring, he wouldn’t have needed to build that damn time machine.
Mafia II's got its issues, but we'll give credit where credit is due: The city is simply gorgeous.
Sometimes, however, the game’s heaping helping of authenticity leaves very little room for fun, and that’s a problem. The game’s missions—while something of a mixed bag—tend to hit more often than they miss, but honestly, they only made up a bite-size portion of our playtime. The rest? Driving. Empire City is fantastic—don’t get us wrong—but even if we were driving through the Louvre, eventually, we’d get tired of it. And here too, Mafia II’s lack-luster cast comes back to bite it. Whereas being a glorified chauffeur in, say, GTA or Mafia was excusable because your destination—an entertaining character—was worth the tedium, Mafia II has no such light at the end of the tunnel.
Combat also suffers from “so close” syndrome, with tense, well-paced shootouts that, sadly, occur all too infrequently. Instead, much of the game’s combat consists of “I say, good sir, let me set aside my monocle and we shall engage in fisticuffs” style brawls that look about as wonky as they control.
On the whole, Mafia II’s a decent experience, and while that will probably keep it from sleeping with the fish-tank simulators at the bottom of the bargain bin, it’s not enough to elevate it to cult-classic status like its predecessor. That said, if you’re itching to join a family and would rather not become a wanted felon, you could do a whole lot worse.
Stunningly authentic city; excellent attention to detail; brutal firefights.
Absolutely glacial pace; driving, driving, and more driving; storyline lacks compelling characters and a resolution.