Mafia 2 was kind of hit or miss for me personally, it’s a game that tries really hard to create a realistic setting and story line but it is held back by several issues that pushed the game into mediocrity.
First of all, I’d like to get the bad bits out of the way so lets talk about the game play of Mafia 2. There are two different sections to play, driving and shooting sections, even a few stealth sections here and there. First of all lets talk about the shooting sections.
Now Mafia 2 is a third person shooter and I don’t have a lot of good things to say about this genre other than it has never appealed to me in the slightest for many reasons and believe me, this game made damn well sure to expose those issues. As expected, I was quite skeptical about the TPS sections and rightfully so.
For starters, the cover system. I can’t stand cover systems and this game really brings the worst out of them. Seriously there is this one mission where a boss throws seemingly endless molotovs at you which can hit you through cover so you have to leave cover only to be shot by everyone in order to get to the next cover only to be burned again. It was infuriating and after doing some research, it seems I wasn’t the only one who had trouble with this part.
Put simply (consider this a mini rant), I am sick and tired of seeing cover systems in video games. They do nothing but piss me off, they are just awful and for good reasons too. Cover systems are basically just popping in and out and firing random potshots hoping to hit the enemy as opposed to FPS games like Painkiller where you are constantly moving and avoiding enemy attacks.
The thing that gets me the most is that cover systems aren’t even realistic (unless you count Dishonored or Wolfenstein The New Order which are both games I personally disliked). The biggest issue with cover systems is that you’re in third person. If you want to make the game play feel realistic then do it in first person so that we can only peek in and out of cover to see where our enemies are (like in the two games I mentioned).
If you can see everything around you, whilst being in cover, it defeats the purpose of cover systems in general as it is completely unrealistic that you can see beyond cover on your screen so you know where the enemies are and the only reason why cover exists in games is because it’s realistic, otherwise we’d be running around and dodging bullets like Duke Nukem.
So all in all cover systems in third person shooters are stupid. What they should do instead is remove the stupid hitscan enemies and remove the cover and have you strafe to avoid enemy attacks. Look at the Serious Sam games for example, as much as I ridicule them for their unforgiving and frustrating difficulty, at least they made third person perspective playable and are the only game to do so (Warhammer 40k Space Marine came close but failed simply due to how slow you move).
Basically the game play goes like this, you watch a cut scene and are thrust straight into a fight, you have to run to cover quickly and mash the left trigger to constantly go in and out of cover and shoot estimated potshots at enemies and keep going in and out until the enemy decides to pop out then shoot them, rinse and repeat. This wouldn’t be so bad if enemies didn’t stay in cover for insanely long periods of time so you’re usually playing the waiting game. This can become quite tedious, especially when you die and have to restart it all over again which brings me to my next problem.
The stupid checkpoint/save system is absolutely awful. I swear, half the game was spent replaying annoying TPS sections just because I got killed by some random blind spot (I’ll get to that in a minute) and brought back all the way to the start of the gunfight so I have to do all of those annoying TPS sections all over again!
I swear, the checkpoints are so spaced out, it’s ridiculous, you’d think that after completing one section that you’d get a checkpoint… but no, instead you get a checkpoint after 2 or sometimes even 3 sections and each section can take ridiculously long due to the horrible cover system. So basically you clear out a room of enemies, go to the next room and get killed by a blind spot.
This brings me to the biggest problem with the shooting sections, the enemy placement. Mafia 2 pays homage to Red Faction in this regard as the enemies are placed in positions specifically to take you by surprise… or as I like to call, campy AI. I swear there are so many moments where you walk down a hallway and BAM! You get 1 shotted by a dude with a shotgun who was hiding in the room. The biggest issue with this is simply the minimap, it is dreadful. The minimap only displays enemies right when you’ve seen them and by the time the red triangles appear on the map, you are gunned down almost immediately.
There are so many points in this game where I reached the next section only to be one shotted by a group of enemies who appeared out of seemingly nowhere but half way through the game I noticed that this was due to the enemy placement.
There is this one section where you’re walking down the stairs and there is an enemy waiting for you right at the bottom and they can see you as you are walking down and kill you before you even notice them. There was also a part where I opened a door and was greeted by a shotgun blast to the face.
Put simply, the enemy placement is designed to aggravate the player, just like in Red Faction, only difference is that because Mafia 2 is a cover based TPS, it makes things twice as bad due to the fact that you need to be in cover to survive gunfights, if you’re out of cover, you’re not going to last two seconds and since you cannot see where the enemies are, you get ambushed in every single encounter before you can get to cover. Either that or you hug every single wall you come across… but then the enemies could hit you from another direction.
So all in all, this game is about trial and error, once you know the enemy placements, know how to react to the blind spots, you’ll beat it easily. Still I hate it when games give you cheap game over screens and make you replay a section you already did 10 minutes ago. That is what Mafia 2 does a lot.
The stealth sections are decent at best, you can drag bodies and perform sneak take downs and stuff but nothing too fancy. I personally found the stealth sections to be underused and it annoyed me that they usually ended with a huge gunfight essentially making it impossible to stealth your way through a level which was a shame. Also some of the enemy placements can make it a pain as they never seem to want to move. Put simply, Mafia 2 is definitely not a great stealth game.
Now the driving sections aren’t as bad but can still be frustrating at times simply due to the checkpoint system. There is one mission where you have to escape from the Feds and the police are on your tail immediately, you are also a wanted man. So you have to escape from the police whilst Joe deals with the Feds, sounds easy doesn’t it? Well it is… until Joe tells you to take him to Kingston in which you will have to navigate the map without getting any attention from the cops as you are a wanted man. In Mafia 2, being Wanted means that any cop who sees you will chase you down and that every area is locked down.
The problem is that because there is no checkpoint after killing off the feds, if the cops catch you or your vehicle gets smashed up, you have to restart the entire mission all over again! Seriously couldn’t you at least have given me a checkpoint after killing the Feds and escaping the cops?
On the other hand, cop chases aren’t all that bad, they never feel completely one-sided (like GTA 5’s cop chases) but never feel too easy. Cop cars are slow in Mafia 2 so you can outrun them with speed, additionally, you can kill the cops yourself to make things easier and since the guns work really well and unlike GTA 5, 4 star cop chases aren’t too hard as long as you have the right guns, if you can time it right, you can kill both cops and take their car. Alternatively you can change your clothes/licence plate when you have escaped the cops to lose your wanted status.
In any case, thankfully the driving works quite well in the game. Once thing I did enjoy was the speed limiter which allowed you to drive slowly, obeying the laws of the road. This allows you to role play a little which helps immerse you into the world instead of just driving like a complete lunatic all the time like in most open world games.
Speaking of Open World. Don’t go into Mafia 2 expecting an open world experience, sure there is a city to explore but the game is all mission based and the city serves as an extra. Think of it more like Halo 3 ODST’s New Mombasa in the sense that you have a city to explore but there isn’t much to do in it and it’s all broken up into missions. The city kinda acts as a hub between missions rather than a free roaming component as you will always find yourself in the middle of a mission. With that being said, there is nothing stopping you from exploring should you wish to do so.
There are cars to steal, shops to buy from and wanted posters to find so there’s something at least. Just don’t think of it as deep as games like GTA, Saints Row or Sleeping Dogs as it’s nothing like them (though it’s probably closest to Sleeping Dogs).
Speaking of collectibles, you can also pick up Playboy magazines in between levels which rewards your keen eye with erotic imagery, coincidence much?
The game also adds hand to hand combat which feels like a glorified rock paper scissors game. I personally found it to be mediocre as it’s all about reading enemy patterns which can sometimes be quite unpredictable. A lot of it is just rinse and repeat dodge and counter until you see the opportunity for a finisher. That being said, these sections do manage to break things up a bit and add something different though they didn’t get as much use as I would have liked. Sparring against a Mob boss would have been far more satisfying than just capping them in the head as this game shows. On the other hand, the combat isn’t quite on the same level of depth as Sleeping Dogs so I’ll probably take back that statement.
Mafia 2 isn’t all bad though and it does offer something of worth for those who are patient enough to put up with its issues. For starters, the world itself is very immersive. Seriously I have yet to play a game quite as immersive as Mafia 2. It seriously feels like taking a step back to the 50’s. The city itself is very well designed. The weather change is also brilliant. It feels like the entire city changes when you move on to the next time period. You start in what I presume to be the mid 1940’s around winter time and later on find yourself in the 1950’s mid summer. Heck even the cars change.
You can also listen to the radio when you’re driving. Sure it’s not a completely new concept and the music isn’t anything incredible (it’s not video game music) but it really gets you immersed in the time period with songs like Dean Martin’s “Let it snow” playing in the background when you first arrive in Empire Bay. In addition, the radio likes to make many references to modern culture claiming that such ideas are ridiculous. There is even a stealth section where I overheard the guards saying “you know what would be cool? If we had a TV program which we could interact with, we could use a controller to move around, it would be so cool” and the other guard makes a snarky remark insisting that it will never happen.
Another great feature is the ability to own and customize vehicles, it’s a nice little bonus which you will almost never make practical use of as missions usually provide you with a car and even if they don’t, you can easily just steal one. Nevertheless it’s still a cool feature and it’s always nice to have a little bit of personalized touches to your ride. Of course it’s not as deep as it could be but at least it had it. GTA 4 didn’t. The vehicles all look very nice too, some great classic looking cars to steal and drive around in. Put simply, the vehicle customization is a good distraction and gives you something to spend your money on (when you’re not buying new suits or guns).
The story in Mafia 2 is also done quite well though I would have liked to have seen more of it as the game is quite short. The story is presented in a rather gritty approach, particularly near the end, though there are a few comical sections here and there. For the most part it is a serious story though and can get quite dark too (as you would expect from a Mafia game).
There are all sorts of really interesting scenarios like being thrown into jail for 10 years and experiencing prison life which I thought was a cool addition considering most games tend to skip those parts, it helped me get all the more immersed into the game and opened my eyes to the harshness of 1950’s prison life. Something I really appreciated.
The characters are hit and miss, some are forgettable, some are pretty interesting. I found Vito, Joe, Henry and Leo to be the most notable characters, they kept the story strong for me, everyone else was quite forgettable (except Marty who was somewhat irritating).
Overall, Mafia 2 is a mixed bag, it’s an interesting experience for those who want an insight on Mafia life and it offers and engaging story and setting. On the other hand, the game play is pretty rusty and often frustrating, especially due to the annoying checkpoint system. Overall, Mafia 2 is not a bad game but it’s not really a good game.
Game play: Mediocre
Lifespan: Very Short
Would You Replay? No