Mafia 2 is a great, mature game that pulls you into the sights and sounds of the 1940s and 50s. The story arc, writing, voice-over talent, and cinematics are up to par with any modern Mafia film. The soundtrack is top-notch, as is the complimenting period-piece songs you hear on the radio.
Graphics are solid with no major issues. Some streaming glitches pop in from time to time. The lighting, renderer, character modeling, period-piece clothing styles, and surrounding city neighborhoods more than make up for minor hiccups in graphic consistency. Mafia 2 offers two completely different seasons, which is a real treat to experience! I wish games like GTA would bring a winter option to see their city in a different light.
A lot of time was spent offering a wide degree of car modding. Color, wheels, engine, and other bits allow the player to fine-tune their preference for cars. The car designs themselves are worth spending time examining. The world interaction with vehicles is visually satisfying as well — wheels smoke, hub caps fly off, and damage reactions are prevalent. The Speed-Limiter is a nice touch as well.
It’s tricky finding the right balance between fantasy-fulfillment and realistic-consequences. Mafia 2 has some success showing the edge of realistic expectations. Speeding brings the cops out as does running around with your gun out. Bribing is an option players can use to get out of sticky situations (by using a phone booth or at the time of the arrest).
Melee fighting takes a step in the right direction by offering some strategic choices rather than simple button mashing.
Mafia 2 had a number of simple, but compelling Pre-order incentives. The downside is the game itself reacted little to these variations which are clothing and cars. 2K did release all of these later as DLC, which is always a nice thing for people who missed out.
The game also features some great story-mission DLC that expands gameplay opportunities and seeing the Empire Bay in a different light. The gameplay additions unfortunately came after my impression was set during the main game.
Some of the good points above are mixed with some bad elements. For example, the cars themselves feel like spongy bricks most of the time. Vehicles are always hard to get just right in a game, so I’m less critical of their handling.
While realistic consequences occur based on your shady actions, cops spawn almost instantly on your tail, react swiftly for accidentally brandishing your gun, and sometimes attack you when some other car runs into you. I’m sure this was a game-balancing issue, but that gamey reaction works against the intended believability.
The largest problem with Mafia 2 is it’s presented as a sandbox, open-world game, but it’s really a mission-based game. The majority of your time is spent traveling to combat start points or cutscenes. Empire Bay is visually a wonderful city to explore, yet there’s no depth below the surface. There’s no “free roam” gameplay opportunities to distract you from the main story.
I understand allowing unstructured gameplay might break the realistic and mature push the developers were striving for with Mafia 2. As a player, you should let me make that choice. I’d much rather have the opportunity to warp gameplay and use it in funny or wacky ways between missions instead of swapping it for some other game that lets me scratch that itch. Give me some mini-games like gambling, pool, or racing! These small fringe gameplay elements might never be fully explored by some players, but that’s okay. The further you can push the hard-game edge outwards, the more immersive the game environment will feel.
An example of a literal hard edge I kept encountering was rigid trees, bushes, and fences in some areas. If you’re racing down a street and miss a turn, I expect a house or cement wall to stop my progress. Having your momentum completely halted by hitting a little white picket fence or shrub completely pulls me out of the moment and I see the game-edge of interaction. There’s also no swimming or boating allowed, making water a barrier.
A similar game-edge was inconsistent door choices. I spent more time walking up to doors to realize they were fake, than walking through interactive ones. When you are allowed indoors however, the decor and look is fabulous. There are very few interiors, however. Once I realized there was very little reward in checking out different neighborhoods for interiors to explore, I stopped exploring. Another deterrent for exploration was presenting huge interiors during missions but never being able to return to them later outside of that mission. There’s a huge shopping mall downtown I would’ve love to see in the daytime with people milling about. Imagine an impromptu gun fight or chase through that interior!
I wish the world was peppered with hidden car routes, too. This would be another incentive for me to explore the world more and discover those special jumps or shortcuts to get from Point-A to Point-B. A missing opportunity for fast travel was offering taxis, trains, or access to the subway. It would’ve been nice to have motor cycles from the 40s and 50s as options, too.
Clothing comes in a handful of types. Within those you’ll find a variety of color choices. Choosing what you wear outside of a mission has zero affect on the larger world ecosystem, unfortunately. There’s no reputation to affect how ambient NPCs react to you or the world economy. Taking that point further, there’s little need to find ways to gain money. Since there’s no strong system economy to drain your savings, there’s no hard reason to find ways to gain more. Perhaps it’s good there were no gambling mini-games or looting allowed. A simple, but great way to increase exploration and provide large money drains is property acquisition. I wish I could’ve used my mafia muscle to put the squeeze on local shop owners or become a landlord.
Loading the game is painful. Most games have perhaps 2-3 splash screen “continue” moments before getting to actual gameplay. Mafia 2 had eight different input gates before you’re able to start playing!
Early in the game, you meet Vito’s family. This brings a warmth and sense of family to the story. Unfortunately, the rarely show up again. In fact, Vito’s sister might have more screen time than any other woman in the game. There are plenty of times you’ll spot females in the background or in clubs, but there’s never any significant other for Vita. Joe is the closest thing Vito has to a family or relationship in the game. For a game that lets you collect Playboy centerfolds scattered around the city, I thought there’d be some form of sim-romance to explore.
Some minor things I noticed was projectiles come from your crosshair, not the 3rd person gun tip. This only becomes an issue when dealing with enemies up close and world obstacles. Uncharted 2 does the same thing, but I remember they hid that game-edge more eloquently. Button placement caused some issues for me early on — I kept drawing my gun and firing at the public when I was only trying to sprint. That’s a lesson for offering alternate game controller layouts to embrace other familiar games.
While there’s seasons and weather, there’s no time-of-day. Climbing opportunities are inconsistent. Why can’t I jump? Why can NPCs blindfire around corners but I can’t? The police and your AI buddy can shoot from cars, but you can’t.
To maintain that realistic perspective, Police can quickly kill you while you’re struggling to drive away from the scene or just get out of the car. It’s too bad you can even jump from a moving car. Cars have to come to a complete stop before exiting.
Time is spent introducing a great lock-picking mechanic but it’s seldom used in the game outside of hijacking a car. If there were more interiors to explore that’d be a great opportunity to use that lock-pick set!
Stealth is another great mechanic that’s seldom offered as a mission choice. More missions should’ve been offered a choice to approach it using stealth and neck-snapping to satisfy those who like to leave no trace of their existence.
Like I said before, the biggest fault for me with Mafia 2 is it’s a mission-based game disguised as an open-world, sandbox game.
And there’s a lot of sausage in the game. I would’ve enjoyed more female opportunities to offer a flipside to the male-driven Mafioso. On a related note, the maturity of the title is inconsistent. There’s a moment where a club girl is clearly servicing a fellow during a roundtable discussion. That was definitely a mature moment, but other than some language you never witness anything else to that degree. That’s not a request for a “hot coffee” mini-game. Commit or don’t commit.