Anthony "Tony" Magestro--or known on the field of battle as Metzge--is an avid writer, gamer, and entrepreneur. When he's not writing, gaming, or entrepreneuring, he enjoys cooking, trippy movies, and trying to be awesome to varying degrees of success. Feel free to check out his LinkedIn page, especially if you need freelance help with content writing or digital marketing. Or just like to network, that's fine too.
If there’s one thing more enchanting than stories of war and heroism, it’s the tales of organized crime, gangsters, and that “bad boy” image everyone seems to fall in love with. Though The Godfather comes almost immediately to mind when one hears the words “Mafia,” “schmuck,” or “wise guy,” the title I’m thinking of at the moment is Mafia II, the game developed by 2K Czech that chronicles the life of Vito, a Sicilian immigrant to America who turns to a life of crime within the Mafia of Empire Bay during the 1940s and 50s.
WARNING: DUE TO THIS GAME’S EMPHASIS ON STORY, THERE MAY BE SPOILERS. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.
From the get go, one can tell that 2K spent a lot of time on all the little details, from police officers driving around enforcing speed limits, to witnessing people working on broken down cars on the side of the road and others going about their daily routines. After Vito gets out of a taxi taking him home after serving his tour in Italy during WWII, you’re immediately immersed in this fictional American city. Snow gathers on parked cars (and subsequently drifts away as you drive and pick up speed) and vehicle damage is accurately depicted; police chase down hapless criminals on foot or on the road; you’re really in a living, breathing world.
Empire City and all its inhabitants provide a colorful setting and cast for Vito’s story, showing his evolution from misguided street urchin to Mafia enforcer. Though I’ve never personally belonged to any organized crime syndicates, Vito’s story is engaging and overall relatable, being the child of immigrants stuck with limited opportunities and unfortunate circumstances in a new country far from home.
Though the story and visual presentation are pretty thorough and well executed, the rest of this game, however, is about as sloppy as one of Vito’s buddy Joe’s half-baked plans. With all of the attention to aesthetic detail, the game falters in delivery and substance: gunplay is kind of lame and the checkpoint system is broken. In some missions, you have to start from the very beginning if you’re killed (which happens all too easily, especially when a guy with a Tommy gun or shotgun gets the drop on you).
Moreover, aspects in other similar titles like Grand Theft Auto and The Godfather where you’re placed in an urban environment left to your own devices, concepts like driving across town that are usually fun are surprisingly mundane in Mafia II. That’s probably because the police are impartial when it comes to enforcing speed limits and the handling of 1940s and 50s automobiles are understandably terrible. Your drive-along buddies even critique you when you fail to stop at a red light. Oh, but popping some guy in the head that looks at you funny is perfectly acceptable.
Don’t get me wrong, Vito’s story is enthralling in its own right, but I feel that there was too much focus on too many little details for it to be truly engaging and fun. It would even be safe to say that the game misleads the player into believe it’s something it’s not. Given the open world, I thought there’d be more interaction with it rather than just a mere setting for the action. Empire Bay has plenty of gun shops, though I never needed to visit one because I always have weapons and ammo after scrounging it off of the bodies of my victims; there’s a junkyard that you can sell off cars to that you’ve stolen for some extra cash, but given the mission’s payouts and the emphasis on strictly following the story, you never need to chop up these rides.
Instead, you’re too busy fending off rapists or cleaning urinals in prison, trying to get across town against an unforgiving time limit, or evading police because they witnessed a car crash into you while you’re driving, but mistake you as the culprit. For the intelligent visual design of this game, it’s rather disappointing to see how stupid the AI is. The police car about how fast you’re going, but don’t respond to you stealing a car despite the screams of the women who’s ride you just jacked. One part in the story where your house is torched (I mean, how often do you hear about gang members doing this anyway?), everyone outside continues walking like there’s nothing going on.
Mafia II is an alright game, but I’d have to say I’d pass since it’s too linear for any sort of replayability and the tracks it has you on aren’t engaging enough to purchase the game, even at a discounted price. You’re honestly better off borrowing this title from a friend on the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 before you even think of buying a copy for yourself… but then again, you might as well just borrow it until you finish the game rather than spend any money at all.