Wot I Think: Mafia II

By John Walker on August 28th, 2010 at 5:11 pm.

Wot I Think Badda Bing Badda Boom

Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond our control, we were not able to get Mafia II review code before the game was released. So I’ve not slept much in the last 24 hours to complete the game, in order that I can tell you my thoughts. It’s a game I’ve been hoping to play for eight years, and have followed extremely closely during development. The reviews so far have been confusingly mixed, even the Eurogamer Network giving both a 4 and a 10. Below I’m finally able to tell you Wot I Think.

One of the criticisms that’s been frequently levelled at Mafia II is the city. They are incorrect. The city is extraordinary. It’s a remarkable achievement, both in scale and detail. It in no way fails at being an open world. It was never intended to be an open world. Instead it was always intended to be a vivid backdrop to a narrative. It’s the narrative that fails, and it fails terribly.

Vito Scaletta, the son of Sicilian immigrants, is serving in World War 2. Caught stealing cars, he was drafted into the army fighting in Italy in 1943, which is where we first pick up his story. Essentially a tutorial level, a rather damp invasion of a building neither begins nor ends, and then Vito declares in narration, “A few years later the Nazis put a bullet in me.” Since the war ended in 1945, this seems a little confusing, especially as when Vito returns to America on leave, the war’s still going.

Vito’s father has died, leaving his mother and sister in $2000 of debt, with loan sharks circling. A reunion with his former crime buddy Joe Barbaro results in Joe making a call that sees Vito on permanent leave, and the two of them partnering up to pick up work from the Mob. And off we go.

For a drive. A very, very long drive. Mafia II is a collection of menial tasks strung together by driving, with the occasional respite of a shoot-out. And these menial tasks don’t only make up the beginning of the game, but last throughout. Midway through the game, when you’re scrubbing a third urinal, it dawns on you that you’re scrubbing urinals in a game. Slowly, tiresomely, watching your player character with his face in the porcelain, scrubbing. Sure, he’s in prison and it’s an act of humiliation, but it’s still the game you’re playing. It’s just anther chore in a long line of demeaning chores.

Early on you’re given a task to carry some crates onto the back of a lorry. Vito is horrified by this manual labour, and loudly complains about how boring it is. The game promptly tells you that you can leave when you like. Which makes it a strange choice to seemingly model more tasks on this. In the second half, when you’re on the back of a truck picking out the correct coloured cigarette boxes for a line of customers, the only narrative complaining comes from you. (I do wonder if this was intended as a meta-comment on the crate-shifting scene in Mafia I, but it’s one that woefully backfires if it is.)

You’re essentially a courier/chauffeur for the Family, and despite apparently rising in the ranks, your tasks never become any more significant. Even by the end of the game you’re still struggling to do the most tedious of jobs, which inevitably involve driving a very long way, then driving back.

Vito’s only in prison because of another tedious task, in which you’re forced to drive to every gas station in the city in fifteen minutes, selling stamps. That’s his big exciting crime: selling ration stamps. That’s the scale in which Mafia II’s story exists.

Before I really pull apart why Mafia II’s story fails quite so badly, it’s important to celebrate its shoot-outs. They work extremely well, and all too infrequently.

A smart and superb cover system lets you take satisfactory headshots as the many enemies swarm you. Your AI buddies rarely mess up, and I never lost a mission due to one of them dying. (A vast improvement upon the original game.) These inevitably take place in peculiarly long, thin buildings, but so did Mass Effect 2’s, and everyone sensibly got over that. Sadly enemy AI is nowhere near what was promised, and they still do that ridiculous thing of popping their heads back up exactly where they were before they hid. But these sequences are often a lot of fun, with many weapons, and potential for improvised fun. The crazy thing is, there’s only very few of them throughout, despite being the game’s strength.

Madly, far more common are the ghastly hand-to-hand fight scenes. They’re utterly awful, but seemingly no one was aware of this during development, forcing these Street Fighter For Dummies scenes on you over and over and over. Dodge, punch, dodge, punch, hard punch, punch. Again and again and again. The dodge is extremely dodgy, however, meaning it often just doesn’t happen, and the whole affair is a dull trial.

The destructible scenery, however, is a accolade-worthy achievement, and the game’s physics are mightily impressive. You can set things on fire, shoot through wood (sometimes), and most importantly, blow things up very satisfyingly. The engine, while physically similar to those in many open world games, is stunning.

There are three Families in Empire Bay, the Vinci, Falcone and Clemente gangs. Vito begins working for Clemente, but through the machinations of the plot, meanders between them in a way that has you completely unable to remember who works for who. But none carries any emotional significance.

When Mafia: Lost Heaven came out everyone unfairly compared it to GTA III, in a way uncannily similar to how Mafia II is being unfairly compared to GTA IV. Neither game intends to be a living city in which you can ignore the plot and go raise havoc. It’s not the purpose of a Mafia game, which are intended to be story-driven missions, the city a backdrop in which they take place. To measure Mafia II against GTA IV is to measure Half-Life against STALKER. Neither has the same intentions, and neither should have to hit the same targets. Mafia II is more meaningfully measured against Mafia I, and it’s here that it reveals how woefully empty it is.

The city is far more involved than the first game, as it happens. For all the errant complaints you may have read, there’s lots of activity, and plenty of opportunities for accidentally getting involved in a gang war. None is particularly compelling, and the ridiculous omnipresence of the police spoils any potential fun, but it is in there. And there’s food, clothes and gun shops to visit, mechanics to improve cars, gas stations to refill your tank…

But, here’s the thing: they’re all pointless. You can buy food to heal yourself, but you auto-heal and there’s always free food in your apartment. You can buy guns, but the game gives you more than you’ll ever be able to fire for nothing. You can upgrade your cars, but there’s no need to at all. And gas? I drove one car a great deal, and it never got low on petrol, and if it had I’d just steal another one. The only establishments that serves a purpose are the clothes stores, which will let you disguise your appearance and shake police who may have a description of you. By, er, buying exactly the same clothes you were wearing before.

So forget all that. It’s a beautiful background, and it serves that purpose wonderfully. Where Mafia II should be damned is for its banal story.

Mafia I told the tale of a man, Tommy Angelo, reluctantly drawn into the Mafia, who found it becoming his whole life until eventually his buried morals conflicted with his hubris, and he ratted to the feds. It’s a fantastic arc, a decade of a decent man’s life descending into callous murder and emotionless crime. A fallen Angel in a Lost Heaven. It was a smart game – yes, one that robbed ludicrously from everyone’s favourite mobster movies – but still smart. And crucially, it was an emotional tale.

Mafia II is devoid of emotion. It’s hinted at near the start with Vito’s relationship with his mother and sister, but you quickly realise that despite the same author writing both games, there’s no longer the sophistication to manage a family dynamic. Vito is a sociopath, and not by cunning writing, but because he’s a hollow mannequin. His willingness to embrace the Mafia, and whichever grotesque tasks they demand of him, are met without conscience or consideration. Sure, why not fleece some innocent dockworkers? Who cares who you murder? When Vito finally does hesitate to do one illegal act toward the end, it’s of so little consequence when compared with the horrors he’s previously robotically performed, that you realise he was only ever a plastic pin stuck in an aimless plot.

The acting is fantastic throughout. Some of the best to have appeared in a game. The lines they’re delivering, however, are blabber. There’s a couple of jokes that work, but in two hours of cutscenes that’s really not enough. The rest is groups of people saying, “Fuck Marty, let’s kill fucking Tony.” (or whomever). It’s such a collection of cliché that you could use it as a museum. When someone asks, “Hey, how’d you get in here?” the demoralising reply comes, “We followed the fucking yellow brick road.” Imagine that dialogue endlessly repeated.

Being the types of gangsters they are, in the era they’re in, there’s a great deal of sexism and racism, as you might expect. But it really does seem to revel in the opportunity. Chinese people are called “Chinks” so many times that you begin to wonder if someone writing really has an issue. And women (or should I say “broads”), unlike in the first game, only serve one purpose here: fucking. Almost every NPC female character has the exact same pair of voluptuous breasts. None has an important role to play in the story, other than to be helpless or shagged. And on the receiving end of some delightful dialogue like, “Fuck you, you fucking cum-dumpster.”

And of course there’s the collectable Playboy pictures. Colour photographs (impressive for the time!) of nudey ladies, scattered around the city as a bonus item. It’s up to you whether you find this offensive, but it unquestionably sets the tone for women’s roles in this game.

However, the game does seem to have sourced a great deal of its content from the toilet. Quite literally. The story spends more time on topics of shit and vomit than anything else. One sequence in particular, involving disposing of a dead body, has drunken characters barfing everywhere, in what’s presumably supposed to be crazy frat-movie antics. Another has Vito covered in human shit for an entire mission, to the scatological hilarity/disgust of everyone involved. I lost count of how many times it was implied that Vito was raped in the prison showers, but it sure must be a funny idea!

“Two hours of cutscenes” is a dangerous boast. This can be a great thing when delivered well. And one that stood true. I timed how long I spent playing the game, and how long I spent playing the game. Of the 11 hours and 8 minutes it took me to reach the end, 8 hours and 46 minutes of them were spent being in control. This would, perhaps, have been fine if that two and a half hours of watching had occurred in sizeable chunks. But they’re scattered throughout, a minute here, a minute there, meaning you’re never able to relax into playing. Incessant interruptions steal the game away from you each time you settle into a scene.

The one time the game never wrestles the controls from you is when you’re literally at the driving wheel. The driving, while fine in most respects, is a dull affair interrupted by idiotic police. Go over 40, tap another car, nudge a pedestrian, and they come chasing after you. But evasion is ridiculously simple. The easiest trick is to brake to a halt, wait for the cops to get out of their car, then drive off. You’ll lose them in five seconds. And their responses are daft. A car t-boned me at a junction (as SO many do – the NPC driving AI is seemingly unaware of your presence at all times), and the police began a chase of me for my “hit and run”. Yet seconds later I rammed into another car at full speed, slamming it into a police car, and they did nothing at all. And they seem to ignore it when you drag an elderly man from his car in the middle of a street, but go crazy with fury when you pick a lock in their sight.

Checkpointing, despite plenty of warning from previewers (including me) is ghastly. It can only be an act of deliberate spite by the developers, seemingly in contempt of anyone who might die in their game. Get shot in the back of the head, or have an idiot NPC driver crash you into a tree, and you’ll have to not only repeat huge chunks of action, but also skip through cutscenes, get dressed, answer telephones, run down stairs, find cars… It’s inexplicable.

The ending is mystifying. Just… well, I couldn’t really think of a worse way for it to fizzle out. It’s like they just had to stop – maybe the phone rang. Huge set-ups from earlier in the game go completely unmentioned, and the meandering story, that really only gets going in the final third of the game, is of so little consequence that its expiration has no impact. Oh, some credits. I guess it’s done then.

It’s so maddening! This is an extraordinary game in many ways! An incredible city as wonderful decoration, with a really solid engine that’s been lovingly crafted and executed. Superb gun fighting, amazing acting, and occasionally even some decent direction. The radio stations are overly clichéd, but the news reports entertainingly report your actions, differently on all three stations. The animations are remarkable, the damage modelling on the cars like nothing I’ve seen before.

But then it’s let down by a nothing story, and the most peculiarly terrible ideas for missions. Why have such hateful checkpointing? What does it serve? Why make me pick out boxes of cigarettes (four times!) when I’m supposed to be playing a Mafia simulator? Why did they think those fisticuff fights were worth including once, let alone at least a dozen times? And why cast the player as a vacuous, uninteresting shop window dummy of crime?

What made Mafia: Lost Heaven special was Angelo, and his relationship with the world, the story, and the action. It was an enormously flawed game, with awful driving, overly-convoluted missions, and that race. But its heart was extraordinary. Mafia II has no heart at all. It’s an emotionally dead, frequently boring game, mostly spent slowly driving. The engine behind it desperately needs to be used for the excellent plot and thrilling action it deserved.

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310 Comments »

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  1. MWoody says:

    Arrrrgggh. Though I usually wait for reviews before making a purchase, I apparently went crazy this month and preordered both Mafia 2 and Elemental. How woefully, overwhelmingly depressing, especially when money is tight.

    • Beanbee says:

      We never learn :)

    • PleasingFungus says:

      Elemental seems to be on track to be patched into good health. Give it a month or two, and it’ll be a perfectly splendid game, I expect.

      (And I’m in it! (Under another of my many names.))

      Mafia II, on the other hand…

    • Dalamar says:

      Elemental will definitely be patched and improved over the next few months. No worries.

      Mafia II… not.
      It will get DLC (the kind you have to buy) and still be incomplete one year from now.

    • MWoody says:

      Elemental’s problems aren’t bugs, though. It’s just crappy. Just flat out not fun: an awful slog of a game with no redeeming features about it. It’s tremendously ugly, feature-light, slow to play, hard to use, difficult to learn, and even once you get past all that, there’s still nothing in there to recommend it.

      Until I see a patch note labeled “added fun,” I’m going to have to stay clear.

    • Nick says:

      Yup, just get Age of Wonders Shadow Magic and the 1.4 fan patch and you’ll have a great deal more (or, indeed, have some) fun. Or MoM with its shitty AI, which is still a thousand times better than Elemental. I haven’t bought this bad a game since Force Commander (thanks John! =P)

    • Kadayi says:

      The game’s fine. I’m not too sure what Johns particular issue with it is. Dragon Age: Origins is full of menial tasks to complete (most of which require you to traipse backwards and forwards across Ferelden repeatedly), yet that he labelled ‘RPG of the decade’. Marked down for a lack of elves and unicorns I guess.

    • Masked Dave says:

      @Kadayi What? He just spent an entire article explaining in depth what his “specific” problem with it was and I don’t remember a single instance of having to clean a toilet in Dragon Age. Maybe you don’t know what menial means?

    • Kadayi says:

      @Masked Dave

      I’m talking about the game as whole. Also that task merely sets the scene.

    • Fergus says:

      I think the difference here is that you don’t have to do most of the “menial” tasks in Dragon Age; that’s what sub-quests are for. If you find them boring and pointless, you just don’t do them. Mafia II seems to force you to do them as part of its modus operandi.

    • Kadayi says:

      @Fergus

      You know one of the big criticisms of the Godfather film is the fact that although there’s a lot of actual killing in it, very little organised criminal activity really takes place in it. The film is pretty much all about political power play between the various Mafia families in New York, but little if any of it actually deals with the the day to day of what the Mafia do, whether it be the running of protection rackets, prostitution, gambling, fencing stolen goods etc, etc. From such a lofty perch it’s all very easy to be poetic and sanctimonious in your storytelling, but it’s removed from the base realities of what the Mafia are namely, a hierarchical criminal business enterprise.

      As a game Mafia 2 is very much dealing with that. Vito is not a big player. He’s an entry level button man dealing with the day to day of making ends meet and hoping for better things. If that involves him having to carry out mundane tasks occasionally, that’s an honest reflection of the job. Personally I don’t see what’s so objectionable about that.

    • LionsPhil says:

      @Beanbee: Speak for yourself; not everyone is an impatient pre-orderer.

      Since the demo revealed to me that I hate the cover system and driving, combined with this review, I think I can now get all of the value from Mafia by just looking at the pretty screenshots for free.

  2. Xercies says:

    Wow the demo made me want to buy this game because that mission was pretty good with its gun play and what not. But this review has made me a bit wary now. God this game has made me go a bit topsy turvy first not liking the look of it in previews, then liking the demo, then not liking it through reviews.

    • DiamondDog says:

      I feel the same. I had no interest in it until I played the demo and enjoyed it enough to consider a purchase. From what I’ve read, however, the story and missions (the reasons I became interested) are the elements where it fails the most. Oh well, glad I didnt take a gamble.

    • Anonymous says:

      While the gameplay is not bad, its not worth it to buy a game just for 10hours of it. Since its only Single-player and even the posters and pinups wont drive you to beat it again. All in all decent.

  3. Curvespace says:

    So it’s only the narrative and game design that let it down? No biggy, look at da grafix and da boooobies!

    *sigh*

    :(

    • Dozer says:

      @Curvespace: Just the one boooob actually, mirrored and copypasta’d onto every female NPC, going by John’s picture above…

    • Freudian Trip says:

      2 bewbs then surely?

    • MWoody says:

      @Dozer: The collectibles in the game are uncensored vintage Playboy pinups. So in 2d, at least, there are boobs-a-plenty.

    • Xercies says:

      There not vintage unless they really had photoshop back in them days…and colour cameras.

    • Jason Moyer says:

      Playboy was in color starting with the very first issue, and pre-photoshop they used to have this fun technique called airbrushing.

    • John Walker says:

      Yes, and somewhat awkwardly for the game, founded in 1953.

    • Kadayi says:

      @Xercies

      The photos are period. This came up in the ‘preview’ comments and was clarified then. They’ve had a little bit of shop carried out on them, but just colour fixes and general clean up.

    • Jason Moyer says:

      Yeah I found it a little odd that Derek’s assistant was reading Playboy in the mid 40’s, but whatever. I find the collectible centerfolds to be fairly tasteful, in any case, probably more tasteful than what I’d expect a real wiseguy to have hanging on his wall.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Lambchops says:

    This pretty much puts this into the no buy zone for me. I never quite got into the first Mafia. “This is a decent story and a great setting” thought I, “but the shootouts are iffy and some of the missions somewhat dull.”

    keeping the great setting and improving the shooting definitely doesn’t compensate for keeping the missions dull and even worse they’ve lost the good story. Shame.

  5. mnerec says:

    Bummer, wish I’d read this before spending €70 euro on this. Hmm.

  6. toni says:

    right on. m1 had impact, m2 is just passing along like nice scenery in an overly long drive. I hate and love the game but it’s story/characters are too bad to redeem itself.

  7. Lanster27 says:

    So basically it’s sort of like GTA 4 (lots of profanities, no story and so on) in the 50s. What were they thinking? So it’s a no-buy since I’m looking for a Mafia game.

  8. Rich says:

    And I was so hoping it would be a worthy successor to the original. Looks like one to put in the “If its less than £5 on a steam sale” pile.

    • Rich says:

      Oh and just as an addition. I wanted to say how refreshing it is that a website obviously supported by this game’s release (massive adverts everywhere) is still obviously editorially free to go and give their honest opinion about it.

      A more important question thought what score would you give it? how many coconuts?

    • John Walker says:

      What’s important is that we’re not beholden to giving scores, but rather can express it all by the magic of words : )

    • SAeN says:

      What is this ‘score’ you speak of Rich?

    • Premium User Badge

      DollarOfReactivity says:

      Damn shifty Words. Never trust a Word! ;)

      But really, great review John. Here’s to hoping the next game you play is less saddening.

    • ChaK_ says:

      who cares about notes, the review is explicit by itself

      It goes in my steam sale pile too

    • RedFred says:

      I’m in agreement with Rich. Steam sale buy. Oh but how I loved the original….

    • SheffieldSteel says:

      Steam pile? I’m filing this one under “steaming pile”.

  9. Trite says:

    Mafia II was so bloody annoying. Sure, I enjoyed the well done gunfights (except that the shotgun is about the only fun weapon, all Thompsons and the like are like reskins of a single weapon) and few missions, but come on. The ending was so abrupt and made no sense!

    • sfury says:

      I don’t know what the ending is (and maybe won’t find soon after this review), but if it is abrupt and makes no sense maybe (in a good Mafia I tradition) they borrowed it from the Sopranos? ;)

  10. bebe says:

    touche!
    probably the best review aobut mafia 2 I`ve read.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I’m playing this right now and I completely agree with everything you said.

  12. Ricc says:

    Bummer. I think you are completely right about about comparing it to Mafia I instead of GTA IV. That’s a high watermark already. And the demo really made it look like they pulled it off! Fantastic tech, but that’s ultimately worthless, as long as there isn’t anything interesting they accomplish with it.

  13. StingingVelvet says:

    Well, I disagree with this a lot. First some factual things:

    1) You hold block during fist-fights and it never fails… maybe you were pressing it? I don’t know. I held it and never got hit.

    2) There are way more than a “few” gun-fights… the last half of the game has a lengthy one pretty much every mission. I could list them, but that would be spoiler-a-hoy.

    3) You only auto-heal up to a point, you do take permanent damage. Thus food is needed. You don’t heal between missions either, only chapters.

    4) I ran out of fuel twice, once in a mission, so it does matter and it does happen, and if you don’t want to risk cops then a gas station is easiest.

    Okay, now to opinion…

    The women thing seems like an unfair point because the stated goal of the writer was to show that women were always objects to these men, even the sister and mother. If they had a smart woman character who defied that then it would have ruined the message. The racist stuff… personally I thought they played it a bit safe, like never using the n-word… it certainly wasn’t too much.

    The story… I liked it. I LOVED the ending. I don’t view him being a petty thug as an issue, the story is different from the tragic fall of an honorable man in the first game, it’s about a thug whose careless behavior ruins everyone around him. [Giant spoilers removed – Ed] The ending was the ultimate result of his behavior, the final loss that comes from what he did. It’s about him not being the one who suffers, but about how others pay for his follies.

    I thought it was a great message, and I thought the dialogue was great throughout. You seemed to concentrate on only the vulgar sections, of which you listed them all really, and ignored the rest. I don’t think that’s fair, and on the whole the game is far less juvenile than The Sopranos and similar entertainment.

    Glad you defended the city though, that complaint in other reviews drives me up the wall. Still, I am disappointed by your review, I don’t think it gave the story a fair shake and focused on small parts to try and paint it as having larger flaws.

    • John Walker says:

      1) If that’s the case then the fighting’s worse than I thought.

      2) They are sporadic, and there are too few of them across the fifteen chapters.

      3) Yes – I chose not to go into the injury stuff, since it rarely has any meaningful effect and you usually auto-heal to more than plenty of health. And indeed, as I said, there’s free food in your apartment for healing between missions.

      4) Unfortunately, in my experience playing, I did not. And as I said, stealing a car is quick and easy – certainly less fuss than finding a gas station.

      And I absolutely didn’t comment on all the grotesque stuff! Mostly because of spoilers.

      It’s great that you took that from the story. But for me Vito had no personality at all – he was a nothing-human, and the consequences of his actions, as arbitrary as they all were, had no impact on him, since he had no personality to be impacted. I think you’ve done a lot of hard work to get anything from that story, but I’m pleased you were able to.

    • Ricc says:

      @StingingVelvet:

      The way it is described by John (I didn’t play the game yet), not only do the characters treat women like objects, the writers do as well. A good story would be able to portray the role of women in a 50s gangster milieu by actually introducing interesting female characters.

    • StingingVelvet says:

      @ John Walker

      I agree Vito kind of lacked personality… he was no Niko, that’s for sure. I am not saying the story was flawless by any means, I just got more from it than you did. I really look at it as a simple tale of a man who goes out and takes what he wants and how that devastates everyone around him. Even at the end he sort of gets upset about what was just taken from him, but then he kind of relaxes and accepts it. He is really an empty vessel, and that’s interesting I thought.

      @ Ricc

      The game is supposed to immerse you in that life and that mindset though, it’s a point of view tale. The box lifting, the errand-running… it’s designed to make you feel like you’re living the life of a thug in the 50’s mob. If there were women that challenged Vito’s perspective of them it would change the focus of the game through a perspective shift.

    • Kadayi says:

      @StingingVelvet

      I think you give a good counter argument and I agree that it’s disappointing that John has made a mountains out of mole hills regarding what he sees as flaws in the game, to the extent that people are talking about passing on buying/playing it (which would be a mistake in my view as it’s one of the better titles to come out in a lean year). Perhaps a couple more Wot I thinks on Mafia 2 from the rest of the Hivemind might redress the balance, because I don’t think a singular voice really does it any justice.

      Personally like you, I like the fact that Vito is an empty vessel. It puts you as the player firmly in the driving seat without a sense of obligation. One of the things I actively disliked about GTA IV is the fact that Nikko as a character is constantly going on about how he wants to do the right thing, and escape his criminal past, but his actions are never ever directed in that way, and in fact he just turns into a money obsessed sociopath about halfway through the game. It was like hanging around a chain smoker whose constantly saying ‘I really need to quit’ every time they light up.

    • StingingVelvet says:

      @ Kadayi

      Yeah, Assassin’s Creed does the same thing… it has a story about how you’re actually a crusading and honorable hero who fights the Templars that manipulate the world, yet you slaughter a ton of innocents to get to treasure and other loot, especially in the second one.

      It’s refreshing that Mafia 2 just has you play a complete asshole. Vito mocks his friends, treats his sister and women as property, kills without hesitance or remorse and even at the end is only doing what he needs to in order to survive, no matter how many die because of it. There seem to be people who think of this instantly as bad storytelling… I have read the same kind of dismissals about Kane & Lynch or movies like Pulp Fiction, but it’s a way to tell a story and a compelling one for me and a lot of other people.

      And I do think, no personal offense intended, that his desire to feel above the rare instances of vulgarity and sex colored his review in a poor way. Same thing in the Eurogamer UK review.

    • Kadayi says:

      @StingingVelvet

      Agreed about Assassins Creed 1 & 2 as well. I kind of hated that it makes you out to be the noble avenger (which is a great role to play) and then force feeds you endless missions where you just end up killing City Guards whose only crime is that of being in the wrong location and being a guard. If they were the minions/instruments of an oppressive force it would of made a lot more sense. I wish they’d actually introduced much more of a stealth mechanic to those titles, to the extent that you could really pick and choose who you kill rather than having to slaughter every fool who crosses your path/poses an obstacle. There is a dishonesty to games that operate in that manner.

      I actually quite enjoyed K&L2 (short as it is). I think it needed a bit more variety to it in terms of the activities (having the heist go a head would of helped in a lot of ways), but I liked the raw feel of it and it actually looked fantastic (I played with all the effects on as I enjoyed the intensity), and I wouldn’t be adverse to seeing more titles adopt that approach (It made me think a lot of Children of Men). It seems to have received short shift from many reviewers, which is a pity as I think it’s definitely a title to be experienced just as Mafia 2 is.

      Yes this increasing trend to colour reviews due to personal issues with the portrayal of the period or characterisation (K&L) is kind of depressing. I think the game reviews industry could learn some lessons from film critics with how to handle such things.

    • medwards says:

      @John: Does the players character have to be materially/emotionally affected by the consequences of their actions for the player themselves to be materially/emotionally affected by the consequences of their characters actions? I do not say this critically, but it seems like you conflate the character you portray with your real being. While I am not convinced that Mafia II does this, it seems possible to play a game in which you portray a sociopath who cares naught about the consequences of his actions but that this is entirely besides the point, because the concrete YOU is supposed to care.

      I’m reminded of Molleindustria’s Oiligarchy post-mortem:

      Our belief is that power structures can be understood more clearly if represented from a privileged position. The player tends to perform actions with both positive outcomes (profits, advancement in the game) and social or environmental costs (a.k.a. negative externalities) dealing with responsibilities in a system that does not really punish unethical choices.

      Games do not work as Skinnerian conditioning devices: games rewarding (virtual) social change do not produce activists for the same reasons games rewarding (virtual) violence do not produce violent players. As a result of taking a look at the players’ feedback, it is apparent that pushing the people to explore the dark side, especially if done with abundant irony, does not undermine the overarching game objectives.

      This applies to a bunch of stuff, ranging from why Red Faction’s insurrection is so inutterably boring and unmoving, to (*possibly*) Mafia II. Primarily I want to propose that the subject/objective of the game may not be entirely contained by the narrative and may include the real physical you, as distinct from the in-game form you take.

      For others reading this, I’d like to take a moment to point out that this actually underscores the critique of the portrayal of women in this game. If the game was trying to affect us as real people then these women would be presented with more depth. It’s not that I’m expecting a game to not have sexism, or have that sexism impact/influence/whatever an anti-hero. I’m expecting the game to give enough depth to the women involved for that sexism to be meaningful both to them and the me in the modern world.

      I’m disappointed by the people who backlash against the sexist critiques because the obvious counterargument is “We’re never expected to care about the private/emotional lives of all the soldiers we mindlessly gun down, pointing to a generalised dehumanisation that permeates the entire field of gaming.”

      I am now wildly off my original topic :/

    • Kadayi says:

      @medwards

      Your mistake is to assume that the games writers included the sexism because they wanted to make a commentary on it, not that it is merely a reflection of the social attitudes of the games characters and the world in which they operate (not necessarily of society as a whole at the time). That oppression is demonstrated within a period piece does not necessarily beget that there is any intention within its presence to be more than accurate as to the state of things at the time no?

      I think we seem to have reached a bit of an impasse here in that the games detractors such as yourself are focussed on running it down for an apparent lack of social commentary counter balance to the sexism displayed within the game (the strong female role who defies simple objectification). Where as people like myself and Stinging don’t feel that it’s a necessary pre-requisite, and that it’s inclusion would merely be a concession to political correctness.

  14. coldwave says:

    I uninstalled demo after 5 minutes of boredom and chekpoint-replaying.

    So, no surprises here.

  15. MartinNr5 says:

    After reading the EG review I was a bit torn but after reading this I know that I should stay clear of Mafia II.

    Well written and interesting review John.

  16. Blandford says:

    Sigh, the only thing this review makes me wanna do is reinstall Mafia 1.

    BRB installing.

  17. BobbleHat says:

    Wow, what a shame. I’m actually having a rethink about buying this now, at least at full price. Story was always something I thought they’d get right without much trouble.

  18. Freud says:

    I like it. I’m having as much fun with it as I did with GTA 4. What is a bit annoying is that they release the game 27th august and the first DLC comes out 31th august. Which would be more ok if the original game was 30-40 hours long, but when it is as short as it is, it stinks of a money grab and is offensive to me as a customer. But this is the brave new world of PC gaming and the end of me pre-ordering. I think I’ll more and more wait for the inevitable price drop (and patching) before buying in the future. I don’t like that those of us who actually pay for games have a bullseye painted on our foreheads by publishers.

    • Freud says:

      And I agree there is way too much driving and fisticuffs in relation to how much shooting there is. Shooting is well done and fun. Fighting/driving is decidedly average.

    • Freud says:

      Just realized that the first DLC is PS3 exclusive. Good decisions all over the place, 2K.

    • Ben says:

      I am confused. Do you want the DLC or not?

    • Freud says:

      The DLC is given free to PS3 owners who bought the game. I assumed it would come to PC the 31th (when it is released for PS3) since I have Steam achievements for it. And since I didn’t get a code to redeem with my PC purchase I assumed I would have to pay for it. Charging money for a DLC four days after a release would rub me the wrong way.

      Not bothering to give PC (or Xbox owners) a free DLC when you give PS3 owners one is just weird but I don’t really raise my eyebrows over that crap anymore. Especially when the game is as empty as it is.

  19. sfury says:

    I’m very sad to hear that. What mostly kept me going through Mafia I, and what I love it for, were the great (and hard) action missions and the amazing story arc and ending. If they’ve cut down on the action for chores missions and the oft interrupting cut-scene and the story is BLAND then what do I have left to look forward to?

    I don’t know what to think. Maybe they’re saving some more material for DLC? That would be also so wrong.

  20. Evil otto says:

    Still, your whole website design is a big Mafia 2 ad.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      You’ve seen websites before, right?

    • bleeters says:

      You people and your lack of adblock.

    • Koozer says:

      You evil, evil person bleeters.

    • Devenger says:

      I’m not too annoyed about the giant ads. At least they aren’t giant links to the thing being advertised. *shudder*

    • John Walker says:

      bleeters – we work really, really hard on RPS, and when you block the ads you choose for us to not get paid. Which is sort of sucky of you.

    • bleeters says:

      Oh, really? I didn’t realise. Fair enough then!

    • Antilogic says:

      Yeah if your gonna ad-block this site, which is epic, unlike most, then at least sub :D

    • -Spooky- says:

      bleeters – we work really, really hard on RPS, and when you block the ads you choose for us to not get paid. Which is sort of sucky of you.

      I pay the RPS Abo and block the ads, fair enough. uh?

    • Vinraith says:

      As others have said, if you want to adblock (and I don’t blame you in the slightest if you want to, I certainly do) it’s best to subscribe to make up for the loss of revenue. They’ll make more off of a subscription than they would off of ad imprints anyway, so it all works out.

    • LionsPhil says:

      A big ad that doesn’t even line up right in Opera. But frankly it’s a hell of a lot better than all the animated Starcraft noise and CPU-burning Flash.

      And it hardly seems to have influenced John.

    • Deston says:

      Yep, same here – $2 a month to support my favourite site and allow myself to morally remove the ads? Bargain.

      Anyone who reads and enjoys this site regularly should do the same – it’s about the price of a cup of coffee on the way to work. Spread over the month you’re paying about 4 pennies a day, it’s ridiculous.

      *sad guilt trip music with pictures of John swatting flies off his face*

      Your contributions to the RPS Cruelty Prevention Society can help us to feed and cloth these poor innocent creatures, as well as giving them access to clean fresh rum and Writer’s Elbow cream. So please, give as little as 2 American pounds a month to adopt a games writer today… If you don’t, you’re as bad as a seal-clubbing Nazi.

  21. Tusque d'Ivoire says:

    maybe they can port the story from the first mafia to the engine and mechanics of this game. that’d be a first dlc worth buying…

  22. MrTambourineMan says:

    Excellent review, pretty much sums up wot I think (I as in me not you John).

  23. Premium User Badge

    Rinox says:

    This however doesn’t change the fact that the 4/10 review on Eurogamer was a travesty. It suffered from the exact opposite bias of some indie games: being judged not objectively on its worth but in relation to its budget/production value. Yes, Mafia 2 may not be what we hoped/expected and yes it has its flaws, but 4/10? That’s just not right.

    • StingingVelvet says:

      Agreed.

      There are real criticisms of the game and no one should deny that, but a 4 out of 10 and bashing it for not being GTA is ridiculous. Eurogamer should be ashamed of that review, and several others recently.

    • PleasingFungus says:

      That reviewer also hated the combat (he had issues with the cover system, if I’m remembering correctly?), so there really wasn’t much of anything in the game for him to like.

    • StingingVelvet says:

      I think he just considered the combat mundane, which it sort of is… it’s basically Mass Effect 2 or Gears of War combat, there isn’t much unique to it. I’m fine with considering the combat not amazing but not bad, sort of a non-issue.

      Still, the story, whatever faults it may have, is still so far above the norm in video games that it deserves mentioning, and the presentation, atmosphere and attention to detail along is worth more than a 4.

    • Zenicetus says:

      It’s like Mass Effect without the Krogan charge, unfortunately. Enemies either fire from fixed positions or they fall back, they never rush you. You’re always safe if you have decent cover.

    • DiamondDog says:

      Are you annoyed by the score or the actual article, though? John could’ve put a completely arbitrary number on the end of that article but it wouldn’t change the feelings he’d expressed in the actual review. If he’d given it a 3/10 would that have made this review worse than eurogamer’s? Sure, it’s understandable if you have a problem with what has been written, but reading the comments on that review people seem to be more worked up about the score than the opinions in the review.

      I’d bet if that review had a 6/10 on the bottom of the exact same text, people wouldn’t be bitching as much. Going below the average mark on review scores seems to be sacrilege these days.

    • Premium User Badge

      Rinox says:

      I don’t entirely agree with the EG reviewer or John, as I enjoy the game quite a bit. But if they want to give a game a bad score because they didn’t enjoy it, that’s just fine. But 4/10 like the EG guy is just stupid. It’s better than that. It definitely isn’t worse than 60% of all games that come out, can we agree on that? When looking at EG’s overall scoring it’s supposedly one of the worst games in some time…which just plain isn’t true.

    • Matt W says:

      The impression I got from the EG review was that there was something about the game that completely ruined it from the reviewer, but he didn’t quite have the insight to pin it down. The result is a merciless review which suggests that the reviewer really disliked the game, but also that this was an emotional rather than critical response.

      I could be totally misreading it, but I’ve not seen that degree of savageness in a review for a while.

    • StingingVelvet says:

      @ Matt W

      Well the Eurogamer UK review certainly launched into a scathing attack on the so-called vulgar and sexist segments of the game, similar to Mr. Walker’s review above.

      Some people seem really sensitive to such things, even if they are a very natural part of mob stories and 50’s stories both. It’s not even that common in the game honestly, the cat house mission is pretty much the only one with a lot of that stuff in it, the vomit jokes and so on. Still, I think the two reviewers mentioned had some kind of personal beef with those segments, either from their socio-political viewpoint or otherwise.

    • DJ Phantoon says:

      I give it a hotdog and twelve ceramic jugs out of Kelsey Graham bullriding a giant 2 liter of root beer.

  24. A-Scale says:

    What a Goddamn fucking shame, Tony.

    Seriously, great review. I can see that we’re coming from the same place in loving the first game despite its quirks, and I appreciate that you bemoan the second one not being good. It was a guaranteed buy for me, but at this point I think I’ll probably just wait. I hope the tremendous mod community comes out of the woodwork for this game again. Mikmouse’s mod added countless hours of fun to the free ride gameplay. There is a free ride mode in this game, right?

    Shame shame. I can only hope that the developers use the same engine to quickly turn out a sequel/expandalone with a better story.

    Also, as to Mafia 1, I think much of its charm was in the emotion, but even more was in the set pieces. I’ll never forget the battle at the docks or fighting in the parking garage after Bill Gates gets wasted in a whiskey deal gone wrong. Shame shame shame on them for leaving behind the things that made the first game such an icon.

    • Bleh says:

      Sadly there isn’t a Free Ride mode in this one, as far as I’m aware..

  25. Hideous says:

    Strange. The original game was one of the best I’ve ever played, and I honestly think this game is everything I wanted from a Mafia sequel. Except of course for the extremely inconclusive ending, but I suppose that DLC will take care of that.

    I liked the story!

  26. Jackalope says:

    Ouch, that’s a shame. I did enjoy the demo, also found criticism of the city baffling. I didn’t have such a problem with the fist fights in the demo, I quite liked the mechanics of them. The Playboy stuff doesn’t bother me as I’m a bit of a Playboy fan, especially their older style, but the other stuff mentioned sounds ghastly. Just because of how it was back then doesn’t mean a game can jsut throw it in and not deal with it. Certainly it would be irresponsible to gloss over 50s attitudes to race, but to not confront it is a bad sign. I’m not entirely sure that every man was a raging sex pest back then either.

    I was going to ask for this for my birthday but don’t think I’ll bother now. I’ll just go to a Frankie and Benny’s restaurant and watch Once Upon a Time in America and The Unotuchables when I get home instead. I do hope the engine gets used for a more deserving game soon.

  27. Bowlby says:

    Sounds like a mess of a game, not even worth buying when it’s on sale. This was a fantastic review, and it confirmed to me my greatest worry about Mafia II: that it’s fucking dull. I also have a deep hatred for badly handled checkpointing in games, as well. But what really gets me is how insipid the characters and narrative seem to be, from what you’ve described, and then trying to get around that with the most immature, crass attitude towards women, minorities and bodily excretions. Because, of course, political incorrect dialogue and poop jokes equals edgy and hilarious, right?

    I feel like the original game, which I’m sure was a lot more intelligent and more tasteful than this, is having its memory desecrated by its association with this sequel.

    • Robin says:

      What a depressingly tiresome way to respond to a review. Why not play the game yourself, instead of proclaiming that another person’s opinion somehow validates your bizarre preconceived notions about it?

  28. Simon Jones says:

    Bah, read this literally 10 minutes after caving in and purchasing the game, having waited since release in the hope of a more nuanced view from RPS after the rather ridiculous Eurogamer et al reviews.

    Ah well. I actually quite like games that do mundane things, so maybe it’ll still work for me….. :)

  29. futage says:

    Nice and fair review.

    Playing Mafia II made me feel (hyperbolically, of course) depressed. The sheer boringness of the missions, the dullness of the driving and shooting (disagree with John as to that being owt) but most grindingly soul-destroying of all, playing as this thoughtless, emotionless automaton who unquestioningly carries out whatever grubby little task he’s told to… all conspired to quite genuinely make me feel like shit.

    So many mistakes made. The most important, overarching one though, for me, was any sense of irony or self-awareness as to the nature of what was going on. It’s an utterly stupid game, mechanically, structurally and narratively.

    So I installed Saints Row 2. Superficially dumber, substantially infinitely smarter (I’m not drawing a comparison between the two, beyond that). Now I’m having crazy-fun.

    • DJ Phantoon says:

      Well Saints Row understands it’s a McDonald’s game and so screams at you “HAVE A HOTDOG HAT!” rather than try to be nuanced.

  30. Keep says:

    I just wanna say I think it’s brilliant that I’m scrolling past huge Mafia II ads to read an honest appraisal of the game’s flaws (and features too).

    Kudos.

    • Isometric says:

      @Keep Exactly one of the reasons I love RPS.

      What a shame.
      Disappointing about this as I was really hoping for something special. I’ve yet to play it but will lesser my expectations and go in with an open mind.

  31. protobob says:

    This game will give you what you give it. I really like it a lot. If you are a connoisseur of ‘atmosphere,’ this game has it.

  32. Premium User Badge

    Hodge says:

    Nooooo!

    I pre-ordered this pretty much on the strength of the trailers. I’d never played the first Mafia, but I’d heard good things, and Mafia II looked impressive enough that I was willing to risk the game being a dud.

    Of course, when I pre-ordered on Steam I got a copy of the first game for free, so I’ve been playing that all week (wanted to finish the first game before starting the new one). In many ways it’s complete rubbish, with some awful bugs and design issues, but three quarters through it I’m beginning to see what everyone’s talking about.

    If wot John thinks is accurate, I think I should probably give Mafia II a miss entirely. Everything that makes the Mafai I so memorable seems to have been lost, while all of the mediocre stuff has been retained. Besides, I’ve already got my money’s worth with the first one.

    Oh well. That’s one of my ‘highly anticipated games of 2010′ down in flames. Let’s see how Amnesia goes next, eh?

  33. Unaco says:

    OMG! Why are you trying to destroy this game RPS??

    *ahem*
    Sorry.

    Seriously though, I tried the demo, and was ever so slightly tempted to possibly pick this up. Maybe. I think this review (and possibly last weeks STALKER sale on STEAM) has put an end to that. What it has encouraged me to possibly pick up is the original though, so that’s something positive at least.

  34. Zenicetus says:

    I’m about 2/3 of the way through the game (maybe closer to 3/4, I dunno), and I don’t know if I can finish it. All other pros and cons aside, it’s the stupid checkpointing.

    I hate checkpoint save game design anyway, but this is the worst design of that type I’ve seen. The only thing I can imagine, is that the in-house testers were so familiar with the game — they could anticipate the tricky intersections in “beat the clock” type driving missions, they knew how the gun battles were scripted, etc.. — that they never had to reload from a save, and couldn’t see how awful the checkpoints were. Don’t buy this game if you have a low tolerance for the checkpoint save concept in games, and spending long periods of time repeating things you’ve done before, just to get to the reload point you *really* wanted to be at when you died or got arrested, to pick up the action.

    Agreed about the fights, except, as Walker says above, they’re even worse than he thought due to the blocking system. You’re invincible as long as you hold the block key down, and just learn to recognize the openings to throw a punch. On the other hand, I’m not that great at this sort of thing in a game, so it doesn’t bother me as much as it might others, who want a deeper fighting game.

    Another immersion-breaker is the way there are cops everywhere. Not so much the guys walking a beat, but all those cop cars. I’d love to know how the taxpayers can afford this level of protection. The scripting of cop action is also very noticeable. They’re on hair-trigger alertness when the plot requires it, and they ignore you the rest of the time. That said, the times when I screwed up a car chase and ended up in a dead-end alley or park, with a half-dozen cop cars rushing up and surrounding me, sirens blazing, cops running out and arresting me… that felt pretty realistic.

    The only reason I *might* fight through to the end of the game through the stupid save systems, is that the feel of the environment is so fantastic. I love the look and feel of the city. There are some great lighting and weather effects, which help make the long driving sequences more enjoyable. I walk whenever I can, instead of running. Walking slowly, at street level, you can really appreciate all the little details. I don’t care that I can’t interact with it all that much, outside the plot. It’s just amazing to walk into a 40’s diner and order a burger with the snow falling outside, and have it look and sound so great.

    On the “empty” main character…. I didn’t play the first Mafia game, so maybe I’m not missing the big character arc as much as I would otherwise. Vito is a bland, opportunistic goon without much of a moral compass, yeah. But I see him as the classic WWII vet with a touch of PTSD, not that comfortable re-integrating into society. He’s a blank slate with some military combat skills, that the local mob took advantage of. But then I haven’t seen the ending yet (and may never see it, at this point), so I guess I don’t have the complete picture yet.

  35. Kadayi says:

    John Walker uncomfortable with game featuring ladies bits!! More at 10, now here’s the weather with Susan…

    • John Walker says:

      I have no objection to ladies’ bits, thankyouverymuch. I do have an objection to ladies being quite so lazily objectified and stupefied.

    • Kadayi says:

      Unfortunately John it seems to me that you objection has coloured your ‘review’ in it’s entirety. Albeit you might not like it, the game is for better or worst attempting to reflect a particular period (to make it distinct from the GTAs of this world), in the same way that Man Men is trying to reflect the 1960s. You need to understand that the past is not the present with different clothes and quaint cars, but it is also a cultural mindset. To criticise a game set during the 40s and 50s because it doesn’t cater to you ideas of societal balance is kind of petty in my view.

    • Chris D says:

      Kadayi

      That’s a cheap shot. Most of the review is taken up with criticising the story, the fist fights, the checkpointing and the menial tasks. There are two paragraphs dealing with sexism and racism. They’re not even long paragraphs. He also mentions the things the game does well, shooting, the city, and the engine, so I see no evidence to back up your assertion. While your devotion to defending the games no one else loves is touching you would do it more effectively by making a case for what the game does well rather than baseless personal attacks.

    • Kadayi says:

      @Chris D

      Cheap shot? That’s rich coming from you. The guy is bemoaning a lack of political correctness in a period notably devoid of it.

    • Chris D says:

      Kadayi

      Even if I were to agree with you it is stil unfair to imply the whole review is tainted by one area of disagreement.

      However, even though the game is set in an earlier time period it is still the product of this one. It is fine for the characters to have an attitude that reflects that period but the game as a whole should not. Or if it does then it is legitimate to criticise it for that.

      If the game were to portray the male characters as treating women as objects but portray the women themselves as rounded characters that would be fair comment. Albeit patronising towards men as even in that period I’m sure not all men held that attitude. For the game itself to portray women merely as objects is sloppy and sexist and is a legitimate grounds for criticism.

    • Carolina says:

      I have absolutely no idea why my last paragraph is a link. Please ignore thtat, my HTML tags have failed me yet again.

    • Kadayi says:

      @Chris

      “If the game were to portray the male characters as treating women as objects but portray the women themselves as rounded characters that would be fair comment. Albeit patronising towards men as even in that period I’m sure not all men held that attitude. For the game itself to portray women merely as objects is sloppy and sexist and is a legitimate grounds for criticism.”

      So your argument is that all games must have social commentary? That as long as they say something is repressive that it’s ok to be repressive? Just as long as they tell you, it’s all good. Because after all the 18+ player base is clearly incapable of knowing that already yes?

      @ Carolina

      I don’t think that they are trying to make a statement at all. I just think they are trying to accurately reflect the period from the view point of the protagonist and the kind of circles he moves in. That they leave the judgements up to the player I think is frankly refreshing (not an oversight). No end of games it seems want to tell you that you’ve been a good girl or a bad boy half the time. What’s more patronising than that?

    • MD says:

      Kadayi, nobody is demanding ‘social commentary’, unless the portrayal of women as human beings is a form of social commentary. The point isn’t that sexist attitudes should be signposted as wrong, it’s that the characters’ treatment of women and the game’s portrayal of women are distinct, and if the latter is negative then that’s cause for concern.

    • Kadayi says:

      @MD

      Actually that does seem to be what is being demanded. I’m not too sure why you think otherwise.

    • JackShandy says:

      There’s a difference between displaying a Sexist or Racist period, and making a Sexist or Racist game. A very clear, defined difference. Basically, in this time period, Men thought Women were idiots. That does not mean the women were idiots. It’s not a tricky concept.

      I haven’t played Mafia 2, so I can’t say where it falls.

    • Carolina says:

      @ Kadayi

      I just think they are trying to accurately reflect the period from the view point of the protagonist and the kind of circles he moves in.

      Hmm. It’s quite clear that from your posts that you love the game. I respect that; I think that we all loved some faulty games at one point or another. Even bad ones sometimes. There’s nothing wrong with that. I used to like Vietcong way more than I should, for example.

      That said, I honestly can’t see how you rationalize this feature as “accurately reflecting the period”; it’s clearly just shameless masturbation fodder. Now, I’m not saying that the game is bad because of that. I absolutely loved The Witcher even though it made the same mistakes. And to be honest, I don’t think John Walker based his review on those facts either. He just criticized the writer’s immature approach to women and moved on to other things. He didn’t like the game, but not because it featured boobs; he disliked it because it’s bad.

      Oh, and about Vito being an “empty vessel” as a good thing: I have to disagree on that too. I believe you’re trying too hard to rationalize Mafia II’s lazy writing. Vito isn’t an empty vessel for the player to navigate the story, he is just devoid of any content. Having a superfluous character isn’t refreshing, it’s inept writing. There are good games out there with placeholders as main characters: James Sunderland was an everyman in Silent Hill 2, in order to let the average player sympathize with him; Fallout‘s Vault Dweller was an empty vessel, so you could make the decisions, forging a personality along the way. In fact, you don’t even need likable characters to make a compelling story: movies like Downfall or Pierrepoint —althought I did like Timothy Spall’s character, I’m sure others didn’t—, featured perhaps unlikable but interesting main characters.

      Vito, on the other hand, is simply an unidimensional, vacuous, moronic character without any sort of depth. He isn’t interesting at all, and you can’t make it interesting. You can’t also sympathize with him, unless you’re a badly written character that somehow is playing a videogame. And you’re saying that’s a good thing? Really?

      It seems to me that you are really passionate about this game, and while that isn’t a bad thing in itself, you shouldn’t expect others to share your enthusiasm. The game is underwhelming to most people, and it does have its shortcomings in the writing department. It’s fine if you like it despite all that, but you shouldn’t charge at everyone who point out its obvious flaws. It doesn’t have to be perfect for you to love it.

    • Chris D says:

      Kadayi

      “So your argument is that all games must have social commentary? That as long as they say something is repressive that it’s ok to be repressive? Just as long as they tell you, it’s all good. Because after all the 18+ player base is clearly incapable of knowing that already yes? ”

      Um…No, not my argument at all. The others were right.

    • StingingVelvet says:

      @ Carolina

      It’s kind of pretentious to state the game is bad and we like it anyway when a ton of reviews have given it a high scrore you know. RPS, as good a site as it is, does not decide whether games are good or bad. Mafia 2 has had review scores ranging from a 4 all the way to a perfect 10 and everything in between in equal measure, it’s not like there are only 1 or 2 good reviews that serve as outliers.

      Anyway…

      It is perfectly normal for a story to present things from a certain point of view. Mafia 2 is a game set in the 40’s and 50’s where women were looked at much differently than they are today. Not only that, but from the perspective of thugs at the bottom end of the mob, who treated women even worse. The game presents all of this through the experiences of Vito, who only involves himself with whores and women he can classify as something to used or owned… he does not and would not associate with women who would challenge that notion. The game tries very hard to show you life from Vito’s point of view, so it would make no sense to challenge that view in the game, it goes against everything the game set out to do. The game tries hard NOT to shatter Vito’s world view.

      Insisting the game have that moment where Vito meets a woman who shows him all women are not dumb whores comes off as saying every story about a man with that point of view must eventually challenge him and show him that isn’t true and have some revelation to teach the viewer a lesson. I don’t agree with that, and what would movies like Heat or Pulp Fiction be like if they had to at some point have the crooks realize they’re bad people? It ruins the goal of the story, and not every story needs a moral lesson.

    • Kadayi says:

      @Caroline

      “Hmm. It’s quite clear that from your posts that you love the game. I respect that; I think that we all loved some faulty games at one point or another. Even bad ones sometimes. There’s nothing wrong with that. I used to like Vietcong way more than I should, for example.”

      I ‘love’ the game? Please, that I might disagree with you on an issue I’m afraid does not automatically make me an unrepentant fan boy (and therefore some one to be casually dismissed).

      In your response to my comment about ‘accurately reflecting the period’ you seem to have missed of the rest of what I said. Let’s have a look again, with some emphasis on the part that’s missing: –

      “I just think they are trying to accurately reflect the period from the view point of the protagonist and the kind of (social) circles he moves in.

      No one man (or woman for that matter) can be said to accurately reflect the attitudes of their time, because society is far to complex for one person to encompass it all.

      Plain truth of the matter is Vito’s operating at the very low end of the social scale, and so do his associates. These are not people who read books, or have long term ambitions beyond the most mundane and materialistic (get rich/get married/have kids/buy a bigger car/buy a bigger house). They exist very much within the moment, and their actions tend to reflect this, and as unpalatable a truth as it might be for you (and others it seems with terribly middle class sensibilities) to handle, this is as equally true for the women as much for the men.

      To repeat what I said elsewhere, the past is not the present in period clothing. In this day and age of instant communication and global awareness it’s very easy to loose sight of the fact that in the past people operated very much within a fixed space, both physically, socially and culturally with very little cross over if any. To portray the past as anything other than that would be dishonest. Personally I’d rather have honest ugly games, than ones that are simply fancy dress parties.

      Mafia 1 was a game that was channelling the grandioseness of The Godfather with all it’s trimmings. Mafia 2 is a game about a lowly button man making ends meet. Certainly mechanistically the game has flaws, but in terms of being a Mafia simulator I’d say it’s a lot more honest in many ways. There is nothing noble about mafiosi, they are criminals (in exactly the same way Kane & Lynch are). If you’re uncomfortable with taking the role of being a criminal and all that entails, you shouldn’t really of bought the game at the end of the day.

    • Carolina says:

      @ StingingVelvet

      It’s kind of pretentious to state the game is bad and we like it anyway when a ton of reviews have given it a high scrore you know.

      I agree. I’m not saying that Mafia II is bad because John Walker says so. I’m saying that John Walker disliked the game because he thinks it’s bad, not because it featured boobs, like Kadayi suggested.

      It is perfectly normal for a story to […]

      Alright. Straw man number one: I’m not demanding nor expecting a social commentary. In fact, my point is that you are giving too much credit to a cheap titillating T&A material for the teens out there. It’s not an “effort to accurately portray Vito’s frame of mind”. It’s just gratuitous boobs. You’re the one seeing social commentary or effective storytelling in a porn movie: “well, the male actors think that all women are whores, and this porn movie is set on the 50’s: clearly this constant fucking and shallow dialog is purposely made by cunning writers to accurately reflect the period”. Well, I have to disagree: bad writing is just bad writing. It doesn’t offend me, I’m just calling it bad.

      And speaking of that, let’s move on to other straw men.

      @ Kadayi

      I ‘love’ the game? Please, that I might disagree with you on an issue I’m afraid does not automatically make me an unrepentant fan boy (and therefore some one to be casually dismissed).

      I never said or implied that you’re an “unrepentant fan boy”. I just said that you appear to love the game to the point of overlooking its flaws, rationalizing its bad writing as a good storytelling mechanic, and generally being paranoid about its critics’ motivations.

      “I just think they are trying to accurately reflect the period from the view point of the protagonist and the kind of (social) circles he moves in.”

      Yes, that’s what StingingVelvet said. See my response above: I don’t believe is accurate portrayal of anything, I call it lazy writing and gratuitous titillating material for the male audiences, pretty much agreeing with John Walker on this. And you apparently can’t stand this idea, so you resorted to straw men and ad hominem attacks (you dislike it because it offends your middle class sensibility, because you can’t stand playing with a criminal, because you don’t understand it, etc.). That’s pretty lame of you, specially after my previous post.

      Didn’t you read that I’m a big fan of the first Mafia? Angelo killed innocent people there, too: cops in some jobs, a woman got blown up accidentally, more cops in his bank heist, and so on. I also liked very much Kane & Lynch despite its many, oh so many flaws, because of its main characters. Didn’t you read me praising movies with the likes of Adolf Hitler as its main character?

      I even defended games like RapeLay and I HAVE CANDY GET IN THE VAN in previous posts. I find your accusations, sincere or not, hilarious.

      Either you are so comfortable in your shell that you can’t fathom the possibility of someone disagreeing with you, or you are blatantly trying to come up with a straw man to debate with. I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but my point is much simpler: Mafia II is not Natural Born Killers, it doesn’t even try to make a point, and it doesn’t accurately reflects anything; it’s just badly written.

    • Kadayi says:

      @Carolina

      I’ve witnessed some impressive internet meltdowns in my time, but that one takes the biscuit (Bravo I guess…). Perhaps better to do the sensible internet thing and not post in this sub thread any more. I like how you deny that you’re patronised us (even though that was clearly the intention). Accuse us of both of using straw man arguments, when it’s fairly clear we were both talking generally. Use your psychic powers (again) to read our minds and reveal our apparent deep appreciation of the plot and social commentary of porn movies (to hell with John Carmack I say, he knows nothing about the deeper meaning of porn) and then finish off with a Chewbacca defense about how because you loved Downfall, therefore you must be right about Mafia 2. I also thought Downfall was a good film (I own it on DVD). Also I hate to disappoint but no, I’ve not read everything you’ve ever written on the internet.

    • Carolina says:

      *Sigh*

      Alright, Kadayi. John Walker, me, and everyone else who criticized Mafia II’s writing as uninteresting, lazy, cheap, boring and “emotionally dead”, did it because we failed to grasp the awesomeness of it. Your tastes are categorical and universal; if someone disagrees with you, it will be on emotional grounds, not intellectual; because it’s impossible for you to love a flawed game, and you love Mafia II, therefore it must be a great game. Gotta love backwards reasoning.

      Apparently you decided to cut off any way of communication with your quasi-religious fanaticism, cycling around the same —already addressed— arguments, so I’m signing off this conversation. I’m glad you enjoyed the game, honestly. I wish I could enjoy it as much as you did, but instead found it boring and badly written. So did many others. I guess you’ll have to live with that somehow, even if you have to convince yourself that it’s because we’re all offended and had unrealistic expectations of it.

    • rxtx says:

      @carolina have you actually played the game, or are you making these criticisms based solely on Jon’s review? Because you are speaking like you have some intimate knowledge of the characters etc and whether or not the writing works, but you don’t actually come out and say that you’ve played it

    • Kadayi says:

      @Carolina

      Please don’t bandy around words you clearly don’t understand. As a word ‘love’ (along with ‘hate’) is one of the most overused and misapplied words in the English language, having become of late the inarticulate cultural short hand for enjoy, appreciate, or admire when it actually means none of those things. Love is a emotive response to a stimuli. There is nothing emotive about my appreciation of Mafia 2. Like it or not it’s an opinion grounded very much in a critical assessment of the title on several fronts. From the unfolding of the storyline, the characterisation, the quality of the voice acting, the realisation of the Empire Bay, as well how everything ties together cohesively, whilst cross referenced and compared against both it’s predecessor and other titles I’ve played of a similar ilk and how they handled/managed things.

      You see I don’t think that John ‘hates’ Mafia 2, what I do think though is that certain elements he took grave offence to (the playboy magazine collectables being one), and those coloured his review unfairly, because his portrayal of the game doesn’t mesh in any way with my experiences when playing it. If there were some cross over I could perhaps understand it, but there isn’t, and from my perspective that says that there is something wrong with the review, and that it doesn’t do the title justice.

      Likewise it’s not enough to simply say something is ‘bad’, or that you don’t like it, you need to be able to explain why that something is ‘bad’ and the reasons ‘why I don’t like it’, and be prepared to accept that others will challenge you on your assessment. This is the cornerstone of critical discourse. Anything less is just pointless noise.

    • Kadayi says:

      @rxtx

      Not according to her steam profile (click on her name). Though I guess it’s possible that she may have played it on 360/PSN. Though given she seems to own a number of beefy PC titles I’d be slightly amazed if that was the case.

  36. deadsexy says:

    This makes me sad. I read a couple of reviews, every one of them contradicting each other, convincing me to just find out for myself. I loved the the original after all and the comments about failed open-worldiness did actually make me want it even more. So I preordered from the UK (I live in Austria and, boy, games are certainly affordable for you lot, but they take a while to ship). What’s sad is that I mostly tend to agree with your Wot I Thinks, but still, I guess I’ll just see for myself.

    Is there a chance of a Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days Wot I Think? It got similarly contradicting reviews. I preordered it as well and I’m currently just waiting for my coop buddy to come home from his vacation.

    Sadly, I have no interest at all for the remaining 2010 blockbuster titles. War shooter, will you ever get old?

    • JKjoker says:

      sorry to inform you but K&L2 is crap too

      some ppl liked the visual style, i hated the fact i paid all that money for a modern game and a modern pc just so i cant see anything because of the “filmed by the worst cell phone camera ever” filter, the shooting is boring, characters unlikable and it has no ending after a very short game making you feel ripped off

    • StingingVelvet says:

      You can turn that filter off you know.

    • JKjoker says:

      not entirely and the game is made for it so it looks really bland with it off

    • deadsexy says:

      I really quite enjoy it. I don’t know but there’s something about being downed with your screen all blurry, bloody and pixelated making it hard to kill the AI character that just rushed you. I only played the first 2 missions and the aiming on those guns is loose as hell which I really find quite refreshing. I’m spraying my bullets all over the place, not even keeping track of my ammo. I can just pick up another gun, who cares if it’s better, it surely will get the job done, right?

      All of that really fits the whole premise of the setting and the character of Lynch. It’s rough in every aspect. And it’s actually quite the beauty in all its ugliness. If it’s not for you, it’s not for you ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2EdEDVej2A ). They surely didn’t intend to cater to everyone, which is a key characteristic in making art and we want some of our games to be art, right? (I’m not declaring it for K&L2 here, just in general) I kinda expected contradicting reviews for this one, not for Mafia 2 though, which is the topic of this post. I’m terribly sorry.

    • Thants says:

      Yeah, I don’t like K&L 2 much either, even though I like the visuals. It’s nothing but cover-shooting, which gets boring and repetitive.

  37. Berm says:

    Glad I don’t pre-order games.

  38. TheInsider says:

    Spot on review, as always. I hope the developers read this :)

  39. phdr_vrba says:

    I liked and enjoyed this game quite a bit – I liked the story, dialogues, cutscenes, didn’t have serious problem with it, although the events nearing the end of the game felt kinda… well, let’s just say a bit wrong. But overally, it was still great experience, definitely when considering story standards in games today.

    Then I looked back and tought: Wait. Were there any side missions? There were those signs on map – dock office, the guy at the scrapyard, guy who sold me the lockpicks seemed like he might have a job for me occasionaly. So I loaded some earliear chapters, but nothing. “I dont have anything for you right now, try coming back later.” There are no side missions. But clearly, where were supposed to be. As there were supposed to be many other things – missions and situations from earlier trailers an gameplay videos are often gone completely. “There were no cell phones, so you will have to use phone booths during the missions.” – happened once in the final game. Three endings reduced to one. There were supposed to be story chioces. And all of it is gone.

    I wouldnt blame Vavra for all the things that are wrong with the story, because it seems to me like Mafia 2’s story was supposed to be like 2 times longer than it is in the end, with some storyline branching and side missions included and I am quite certain many of the story drawbacks mentioned in this article are the result of someone coming and stripping the original story into some sort of torso. And its really sad, because you can see how this game could have been so much better and that it actually already mostly was that good somewhere in the process.

    Now that is kinda speculation, but some time after Illusion Softworks were transformed into 2K Czech, Vavra was made to leave the studio. I wouldnt be suprised if the whole story cripling process was the reason behind it…

  40. Dozer (who occasionally drives John's bus to town) says:

    Long hours of driving slowly? Sounds like a blast! Are there any buses to drive?

    • latterman says:

      I remember having to drive the Tram with Paulie in Mafia I.

      And having to repeat it over and over because i got killed in the following shoot-out.

      And even then it was so much better than all of Mafia II.

  41. bleeters says:

    Presumably you’re forced to perform such menial tasks in order to reinforce the game itself as the crime.

    Ho ho ho… crushing disappointment is crushing.

    • Zenicetus says:

      I think the menial tasks thing is overblown. All those sequences are very brief, and you’re just watching a little cutscene. You don’t actually have to steer a mop around, and there’s no way to fail the sequence… you just watch it for a few seconds. Some of the menial tasks like the urinal scrubbing, are there to make payback a little sweeter, later on. Or it can be part of a hit operation, to get close to the target. Those sequences are so short, I don’t get the negative reaction… unless people just have a phobia about cleaning. Which I guess for an average male gamer, could be a problem. ;).

  42. Ysellian says:

    Let’s blame consoles for this! Shame I was really hoping this would be a good game, but it seems to me that the original outshines this by qutie a margin and to be quite honest the visuals are still very crisp even now so I may just replay that one.

  43. Plopsworth says:

    And now for something completely different: VROOOOOOOOAWR! (Scream it at the top of your lungs so your throat hurts and your girlfriend looks at you in shame).

    I never understood the complaints concerning Mafia 1’s race. It’s a brilliant and surprising crescendo of a story thread, built up from the preceding missions (e.g. sabotaging the competitors car requires stealing it and roaring through the city in it the middle of the night). It’s hard, yes. It’s based on luck, yes. It’s quite (brutally) realistic, yes. But therein lies its attraction. It’s a breath of fresh air in the game, in the crime-sandbox genre itself, and stands alone as a unique set-piece mission just like the Death From Above Spooky-operator mission in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.

    There’s something special about the mission where you drive around in bulbously flattened cigar-shaped monocoque coffins, producing an incredible unmuffled VWROOOOAAAAR (credit to Illusion’s consistently excellent sound team) with no downforce, in beautiful art-deco cars (Bugatti! In Bugatti Blue! Ah!) liable to kill the driver with a single crash or a fatal neck-mangling roll, which would be outclassed by my unimpressively pedestrian grandpa-inherited Mazda 323.

    I loved it, and so did my (then) 60 year-old dad, who typically played turn-based strategy games and racing games. He didn’t play any other missions or third person walking/shooty bits, he wanted to play the race mission. Over and over again.

    It came out as a well-made, beatiful slice of a game for which there would’nt be a sufficient audience to merit independent development. An extract of an unmade brutal hard-core 1930’s racer, completely breaking from the Prohibition (and beyond!) linear plot-based drivy-shooter. Oh, and the patch completely castrated the difficulty wall (along with removing bullet impact marks on the cars too.

    • bill says:

      Agreed. It was an awesome mission, and well placed within the game. It even felt like a proper racing game.

      It might have been hard, but I can’t see any other reason to dislike it at all.

  44. Al3xand3r says:

    I thought the melee fights were decent. Far better than GTAIV in fact. Just piss easy once you get the counter attack move. And the dodge always works. Don’t try to time it, you weren’t asked to do that, just keep the block button held down and if your enemy takes a swing he will fail for sure, letting you counter.

    I don’t mind the story. It’s well told, thus the atmosphere is how it should be thanks to it. Game stories should be better and we shouldn’t applaud mediocirty but when there are so many story based games that are rated well for their gameplay and atmosphere while having the same issues, it’s a bit unfair to be fair only for certian titles, like Mafia II. Nor did I mind historical inconsistencies. Maybe it’s meant to be, and looks, realistic, but you can always think of it as an alternative timeline. That takes care of most.

    I also don’t see the problem with the toilet scrubbing. It’s practically a cut scene, you just press E three times during that sequence. I suppose it could have been a whole cut scene that conveys this humiliation you speak of but the way it was handled was neither better nor worse. And not bad. I agree for the other mundane tasks you’re asked to do though.

    And I disagree about the insignificance of the crime. Besides, who told you Vito is supposed to become a big shot? In the end, he’s a loser like his father, and I think that’s the point. So yes, he’s always just the lackey for bigger fish than him. I don’t mind that the crimes are often more down to earth. Besides, if he was caught for one of your other crimes, you’d be in jail far longer than that, and that point is made in the dialogue as well so it’s hard to miss. He got caught for a mundane crime, yes. And he was thankful that’s all he was caught for. Makes sense to me.

    The other mundane tasks make sense mood wise, I only wish they had more gameplay to them. Perhaps if it was open ended like an RPG and management game instead of just tell you what to do and when to do it, players would find more value. You could threaten and blackmail to get goods, find the best ways to get rid of them for profit without getting caught etc.

    But story wise, I prefer this, just like I prefer an RPG that doesn’t only tell you go, save the world, but keeps a more realistic approach in its quests. Maybe it’s mundane to people who want to save the world, but it’s cool for others.

    • Zenicetus says:

      That’s a good point about “save the world” RPG’s. It’s one thing I liked about The Witcher: it managed to tell an interesting story without making the principal character save the world in some epic, overblown story. Geralt is a heroic character, but he’s also kind of a blue collar, working stiff hero, just trying to solve a mystery.

  45. Bluebreaker says:

    I’m the only one who noticed that some areas of the game are just retextured from the first game? (like the 2 curve road uphill to get to the doctor house)

  46. JKjoker says:

    i liked the shooting parts a lot (eve with the crappy AI, ive played better tho and the heavy scripting makes replayability nil), the cutscenes were alright (about what i expected), its everything else i hated

    i dont know why you had trouble with the fist fighting parts, i found a flawless strategy early on, hold dodge, wait until the dude throws a punch, then 3 light hit combo, rinse repeat until they get stunned then the 2 finishing blows, you win everytime and you get bored everytime

    i did not care about the open world, i really dont care if it is realistic or not, im more interested on what i can do with the sandbox, and the answer is nothing but driving and i found driving to be the worst of the game (apart from the HORRIBLE manual labor missions, seriously somebody needs to get shot for these, games are supposed to be fun, you know fun ? devs should be forced to read the definition of that word every day)

    in GTA3 i could always find something to do when i got bored driving between missions, jack a helicopter, pick up a truck/tank and ram everyone, drive the wrong way at high speed avoiding cars in the last second, trying to run over as many idiots as i could, other games like Prototype or Infamous gave you really easy ways to get around town to minimize dead time, but not in Mafia II, they spent a lot of hours in that city and god damn you are going to drive though it.

    the game forces you to spend 20 minutes driving cars that handle like drunken elephants slowly to keep the police from causing you to crash and repeat the driving for every 5 minutes of fun, if that wasnt enough the destructible objects in the game world are incredible inconsistent, you can drive though some lamp posts, others are made of undestructonium and kill you, you can run over telephone booths but a stick like tree will survive a nuclear blast

    im having trouble finishing the game because i hate driving those cars so damn much, i pretty much quit Mafia I for the same reason, i couldnt take another taxi mission, its obvious they made a game so short they had to pad it up somehow, the amount of day0 DLC adds fuel to the fire, sigh

    • John Walker says:

      I didn’t have trouble with the fist fights, and I’m a little confused why people think I did. They were easy to win, and very boring.

  47. Adrian says:

    This game just feels half finished! Some party are extremely well executed and some are just plain bad. I can’t believe they released a game this unfinished but allready offer dlc’s!

  48. Premium User Badge

    Phinor says:

    Tastes really do differ. I love this game. I loved every mundane thing about it and actually enjoyed the story too. Driving in Mafia 2 is hundred times more fun than shooting in a game like Just Cause 2. I just get no enjoyment out of games like Just Cause 2 or RF: Guerrilla, no matter how hard I try. *Those* games are boring to me, Mafia 2 is not. Go figure.

    • Plinglebob says:

      While I do get enjoyment from Just Cause 2 and RF: Guerrilla, I also enjoy this game for its mundane sections and its story. Too often in games the world revolves around the player, but in Mafia II it feels like they decided “So you want to be a Mafia member, here’s all the stuff they DON’T advertise”

  49. mcwizardry says:

    I would argue that if you’re a fan of the original Mafia you won’t be dissapointed with this game. They are almost identical in terms of mechanics and storytelling and I can see why sorting (a) crate (s) onto a truck will make some smile and leave others completely puzzled. I think it’s an interesting aspect that during the 8 years of development the game was at some point intended to be a more modern open-world game but the final product stayed very close to the original Mafia in many ways. Accurate and well written “Wot I Think”.