Gamersyde Review: Mafia 2
Mafia 2 was launched about a week ago, and it hit the stores without earning the unanimous support of the specialist press. Ever divergent opinions accrued on the Internet to the great displeasure of slightly unsettled forum members. But we are not pretending to offer the most reliable and downright compelling review here since subjectivity is the key word. Subjectivity is greatly defined by one’s personal expectations of this new adventure with the Mafia. In order to let you discover the game on your own – and thoroughly enjoy it – we will obviously avoid revealing anything about the storyline. In the same line of thinking, the videos will only contain a scanty amount of information on the scenario. So you can rest assured: there is nothing now to prevent you from losing yourself reading this new review.
Kudos to Balita who was very helpful by translating this article.
Now let’s root out the evil to begin with. Let’s prevent accruing criticism against one of the main choices that 2k Czech had to make. Mafia 2 was never intended to be yet-another-GTA-like experience. The developers never wanted to offer a sandbox gaming experience in which players could let their imagination run free – or wild. Now I expect you to remind me that the game unfolds in an open city. And I know this is the most distinctive attribute of a genre created by Rockstar… But my answer is: so what? Let me walk you through the attributes that differentiate Mafia 2 from the more classical open world games.
Let’s talk about the city first. It is smaller than usual, and every street and district can be accessed from the start. This spares players the experience of unconvincing tricks that prevent them from moving around freely. Next thing, in-game time is not managed in real time. It is somewhat frozen, fully depending on each chapter of the story. But is this really a huge step backwards? Not necessarily since each of the 15 chapters has been designed to convey a specific atmosphere. Similarly to a movie director who refuses to keep shooting scenes when the weather doesn’t fit their idea, the developers wanted to have full control over any atmosphere change. This enables them to enhance the setting of their story. For example a chapter may begin early in the morning, under a warm sun, and end during the night, should the plot justify it. During the night. On a rainy day. Or even on a snowy day. However, unlike GTA4 or Just Cause 2, all players will experience the storyline in the exact same conditions. The city is a set that serves a storyline, rather than a playing field dedicated to the player’s imagination.
This leads us to the main difference between Mafia 2 and other GTA-like games. Aside from the main missions, the city doesn’t offer many additional activities to enjoy, except for, well, shopping, eating or having a drink. No mini-games, no pigeons to shoot, no stunts, no smuggling goods to look for, and no street racing. Oh you may feel like looking for the 50 Playboy covers or the 159 (!!!) “wanted” posters but the developers really wanted to offer a marked adventure, and invite players to focus on progressing in the story rather than losing time with activities of questionable relevance. Players who are really into sandbox games may regret this choice but in no way does it make Mafia 2 a worse game... in my opinion. It is much wiser to consider and evaluate Mafia 2 for what it is, instead of criticizing what it could have been.
So the city should be considered as a movie set. Except this one is not exclusively made of plywood. The developers modelled Empire Bay’s districts, inhabitants and automobiles to a high level of detail and you’re likely to find yourself eager to contemplate this environment in motion, as a witness of this credible reconstruction of the 1945-1950 era. As players progress further in the storyline they will notice the city evolving forward. Winter will walk away, granting players with more merciful days. Fashion and musical trends will also undergo some changes over the years. Players are free to enjoy the scenery and go for a walk down the streets instead of heading to their next rendezvous point directly... should they feel like roaming and contemplating just for the sake of it. Identically, players are free to spend time in their apartment or house and watch the traffic and passers-by, as life goes on with or without their intervention. They will quickly want to resume to story though, making such moments on the short side, but as those just cannot be found in many other games, it is a pretty nice touch.
Now let’s talk about what Mafia 2 has to offer in terms of content and gameplay mechanics. If we were asked to make a rough outline of 2K Czech’s game, we could sum it up in two distinctive parts: vehicle driving and third person shooting. Nothing more, nothing less. However, pretending that most current games offer much more than that would be pure bad faith. Vito Scaletta’s dissolute life will require players to drive several vehicles for delivery purposes, to dispose of embarrassing parcels, evade the police or discreetly tail another car. Some may consider these moments as a waste of time. Others, like me, will consider them as another way to enhance immersion further. People are rarely enticed to comply to traffic law and speed limits in GTA 4 but things are different here. Imagine good old rock tunes playing through the speakers of your car. How could one resist enjoying the game at a slower pace? Take the time… This is yet one of these opportunities to enjoy the beauty of the environment, and admire 2K Czech’s close attention to detail. The vehicles are rather pleasant to handle in simulation mode. Handbrake slides offer a good deal of fun, especially with the faster models.
The third person shooting part offers nothing less than other games of the genre. It surely doesn’t. The cover system has been nicely designed to enable sliding down wall corners without having to move away from the walls at all – which is rarely possible in other third person shooters. Players will also enjoy the level of interaction with the environment which enhances the dynamism of the gunfights. The aim assist feature – which can be turned off – makes up for the original slowness of the crosshair – though this can be tweaked in the option menu. All in all, the gunfights are much more pleasant than in GTA IV, as they also offer convincing sound effects that enhance the excitement… and downright merciless challenge should one play at the highest difficulty level.
Vito is also ready for hand-to-hand combat through simple mechanics: one button to dodge – keeping it pressed and dodging all hits is a shame though, and two buttons to attack: quick hit and strong hit. At some point in the story Vito will be given the opportunity to learn the art of counter-attacks, which simply requires pressing the quick hit button right after a successful dodge. Moreover some well-animated finish moves bring an end to these moments of tactile pleasure. This aspect of the game appears to be quite comprehensive considering it does not pretend to be a substitute to Street Fighter. Finally, at times, Vito will be required to keep a low profile and stay out of his enemies' sight until he reaches his objective. Such stealth sequences are clearly not very challenging but then again, it brings a bit more variety to the game, which is much appreciated.
You are probably already familiar with the visual aspect of Mafia 2 thanks to the videos embedded in our article. But time has come to evaluate it from a technical point of view. The execution quality of 2K Czech’s game depends on the version you own. The PC version offers an (almost) 100% consistent framerate, and aliasing is almost invisible even without turning anti-aliasing on. Of course, textures are also more detailed, and the very high definition offers eye-flattering visuals. Moreover, the environment has been flawlessly modelled and a high level of care has been put into the vehicles which can be deformed after shocks – though the damage system is not the best out there. Last but not least, the brilliant use of different lighting effects emphasizes various moments of the day, creating a downright gorgeous-looking game.
The console versions are naturally not quite as good. The framerate is lower and not as stable. The blurry effect in the background is a little too intrusive and tearing and aliasing are quite aggressive. However, the result is easily among the best current games, and players will have the equal opportunity to enjoy a fully immersed experience in the city which has been modelled to the same level of detail. The PS3 version though is a tad below the Xbox version on some aspects. The grass for example is a plain texture here, instead of the pleasant 3d-like effect seen on the 360 and PC versions - it should however be mentioned that a glitch can cause the grass to disappear on PC and 360, which forces you to reload the last save if you want it back. Nothing significant enough to impact the experience in a radical manner, but it had to be pointed out for owners of both systems who were not convinced by the free PS3-exclusive DLC.
Let’s end this review with the most subjective part of the article. The part in which I share with you how I enthusiastically experienced the dozen hours – 14 hours and 23 minutes exactly but I did not rush – it takes to reach the conclusion to Vito Scaletta’s adventures. I could have been picky about some things like the weak AI of the police, and find fault with some very conventional aspects of the scenario in which we end up experiencing pretty much all the – cliché – events that we may expect from a story about the Mafia. I could have remained senseless to the atmosphere conveyed by the game, its soundtrack, its rhythm and various characters. I could have blamed the linearity of the game and the lack of side activities it offers – even if looking for playboy covers is more enticing than flags or feathers... I could have found it regrettable that the sandbox aspect has been pushed aside. I could have joined that part of the press that expected more – or too much – from this sequel. Contrary to that, I never considered Mafia 2 for anything else than it really is. I did not even compare it to its 2002 older brother. The only question was: how does this game compare to its action/adventure competitors in 2010 ? As far as I’m concerned the answer is easy. provided players let themselves caught up by the story and atmosphere, they would have to be nitpicky to refuse experiencing this twist-packed Italian-American play. The game has undeniable qualities which – at least for me – cannot be overshadowed by what it may be lacking. Everything Mafia 2 is easily convinced me. I never experienced any kind of boredom from the prologue to the end of the adventure and the game even surprised me several times. This is the first very good game to hit the stores this new season… subjectively speaking of course.
About the game
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