Mafia 2 is a linear story-based third person shooter that just happens to have a pretty big city as a backdrop. Those looking for a grand sandbox experience, or thriving open world, won’t find it here. The city of Empire Bay is open for exploration, and you’ll certainly spend a decent amount of time driving around the city. The problem with the open-world of Mafia 2 is that there just isn’t anything to do in it. You can browse shops (clothing, guns, diners, bars, shops, and gas stations), but other than spending a little bit of cash to buy something, or robbing the place, there’s nothing else to do; or rather not much.
You’ll spend the bulk of your time riding from one point to another to doing story missions; there are no side missions in this game. To their credit, 2K Czech did a really good job of offering the player variety in the missions. Yes, most of the sequences involve you arriving at a place and either escaping or getting in a shootout, but there are a few surprise scenes and “jobs” to do in certain chapters. They also try to encourage stealth elements in certain situations, and you’ll encounter a few time sensitive missions that will keep you on your toes and can be quite frustrating in a fun way.
At this point, what we have here is really pretty standard stuff for a third person action shooter; shoot, race, and advance the story. And there’s a mediocre fighting element that you’ll be forced into quite a bit, and it only serves to break up some of the shooting based missions. What elevates the game is the narrative. For as dull as the world may be if you’re expecting a really open world in the vein of Grand Theft Auto 4 or Red Dead Redemption, you will want to do the missions to advance the story as quickly as possible. It’s a really good mob story, filled with great cut scenes and some terrific voice-work and writing. In this sense, it’s probably a good thing that the game doesn’t get bogged down in providing a load of side missions and quests that could distract you. This game is all about the story, and the world is just there to provide realism, not to be an open sandbox to run wild in with a bunch of interactivity.
Outside of the excellent story, which is told in missions throughout 15 chapters, Mafia 2 really nails the little details and, to a degree, realism. Toilets can be flushed, lights turned off, windows opened, faucets turned on, etc. The vehicles, of which there is a wide variety, can be customized with new paint jobs, license plates, new rims, tune ups, and repaired when damaged… and they will be damaged pretty realistically. Your car or truck can also get dirty, and that of course means you can take it to a gas station (and fill up with gas) and enter the car wash where you’ll be greeted with a scene of your car being washed. It’s a minor detail, but I couldn’t help but smile the first time I pulled into one and saw the machine turn on.
The attention to detail and realism is something that really impressed me the most. In one chapter you’ll leave your house in your pajamas and travel to your friend Joe’s apartment. This isn’t a timed sequence, but there is a sense of urgency so you’re supposed to rush straight over. When you get there, Joe will comment on your being in your sleeping clothes. If you go buy or steal an outfit from a clothing store though, Joe will have a different greeting for you. That may seem like a little thing, and it happens a lot, but that minor attention to detail goes a long ways with me because there are plenty of games that would’ve shown you standing there in your pajamas despite the fact that you changed clothes. The soundtrack played on the radio, and the news reports and advertisements in between songs, are fantastic pieces from the time period that adds a lot of enjoyment to just cruising around the city, which isn’t as keen on realism.
All the realism goes out the window when it comes to driving around the city. The cops will attempt to pull you over if you’re speeding or if you hit another vehicle/person, but you’re free to run red lights, stop signs, and even drive in the wrong lane all day long. Your partner in crime will point out when you ran a red light, but there’s no consequences for do so and thus the player has no incentive to even attempt to follow basic traffic laws. The cops can be pretty aggressive too, even so going far as to aggressively attempt the PIT maneuver, which besides being surprising to me, was pretty frustrating given that I was already on bad wheels and had to be somewhere by a certain time.
The biggest flaw or drawback to Mafia 2 is freezing. You will more than likely encounter a freeze in any game at least once at some point, but never have I had a game do it with the frequency of Mafia 2. The game froze probably four or five times during my eleven hours of beating the game, and the last freeze was at a really unfortunate time that angered me greatly (hint, the final shootout in the very last mission). I can’t speak on whether or not these freezing issues are prevalent in the Xbox 360 or PC versions, but they’re frequent enough to be a big annoyance on the PS3.
When it was all said and done, I was disappointed in the ending. I don’t deal in spoilers, but suffice to say it was too abrupt for my liking and just not a very satisfying conclusion to the game. It’s kind of a cliffhanger, and I just didn’t care for it.
Overall, Mafia 2 is a standard third person shooter with an excellent story, despite the lackluster ending. The controls are usually good, some sticky spots cause some frustration, but the shooting combat and driving is handled really well. Ultimately though, Mafia 2 does not to set itself above the pack, which combined with the fact that there’s nothing to do in the city outside of the story, and no multiple paths to take, the game has very little replay value (playing through the DLC once excluded). If you’re a fan of great stories in games, good combat, and the idea of an open-world set in the 1940s-1950s America, then you’ll want to experience Mafia 2 once and then you probably won’t care to touch it again as there are much better genre games on the market with a lot more to offer.