Mafia II super review

  • Engaging story and characters
  • Driving and shooting are a lot of fun
  • Top-notch presentation and attention to detail
  • Empire Bay a big, pretty shell of what could have been
  • Cops are almost too easy to get rid of
  • Music can get repetitive, stuck in your head

It’s been a long time coming – almost exactly three years since it was first announced, in fact – but Mafia II is finally here. We’ve seen a lot of the game prior to its release; learned about its characters, its attention to detail and its aim to immerse players in its sharply realized mid-century Mob fiction. So far, it’s seemed like a worthy enough successor to the original Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven, but obviously it’s got a lot to live up to.

So, here’s the first thing you should know about Mafia II: It’s not the revolutionary game that its predecessor was. In some ways, it even feels like a big step back for the car-crime genre, with a structure that’s so linear and narrowly focused that we have to wonder why the developers bothered to set it in an open world at all. Once you come to terms with that, though, you’ll find a charming, brilliantly written mob drama that’s enormously fun to play through.

Getting your hands dirty

Unlike your Grand Theft Autos and just about every other open-world game, Mafia II features no side missions to pursue, no mission-givers to go and find, and no spontaneous events to distract you from the task at hand. The game is divided into chapters, which usually begin with Vito being woken up at home by a phone call. You’re then directed to drive somewhere and meet with someone before being thrown headlong into firefights, car chases or (and these are rare) stealth missions.

Above: Shoot cars in the gas tank, and you can make them explode with a single bullet

Apart from a couple of annoying “follow that car but don’t get too close” tasks, the missions tend to be enjoyable even at their most thuddingly straightforward, and the action will be more or less instantly familiar to anyone who’s played a car-crime game. Vito can steal cars, either by jacking them while in motion, by breaking their windows when they’re parked or – if you don’t want to deface your new ride – by picking their locks with a quick minigame. The cars themselves, which range from crawling 1920s shitwagons to beefy ‘50s hotrods, all handle well enough (and are enormously fun to ramp up to ridiculous speeds on the freeway), although it isn’t uncommon to fishtail or spin out during high-speed pursuits.

Gunfights, meanwhile, follow the Gears of War model, with lots of emphasis on sticky cover and enemies who know how to use it as well as you do. Better than you do, in fact; while Vito can’t blind-fire around corners, his enemies can, and that’s kind of a pain in the ass. When you’re not getting into fights in the streets – which can break out if you do anything to piss off the cops or rival gangsters – the missions take you through big interior spaces, ranging from a warehouse to a hotel to a huge Chinese restaurant, which tend to be filled with cover points, destructible scenery and faceless goons to gun down. Which, by the way, you can do with an improbably large arsenal that includes several types of pistol, Tommy guns, Molotovs, grenades, shotguns and a full array of World War II service weapons from both the Allied and Axis sides.

Above: That includes a devastating German MG-42 machinegun. Sadly, you only use it twice

If you prefer a more nonlethal approach, there’s also a simple system for dealing out hand-to-hand punishment. Run up and punch an enemy, for example, and you’ll enter into a one-on-one fistfight that revolves around two- or three-button combos and context-sensitive finishing moves that enable you to slam your opponents against walls.

It’s fun, but it feels artificial and weirdly out of place, and has limited uses at best. Sometimes it’s mandated by the story, but you can also start a fistfight in the middle of a firefight, which will usually get you plugged. Either way, fistfights are always fought one-on-one while the others wait their turn, like in a kung-fu movie. And while that makes sense in certain instances, it seems like an awfully counterproductive tactic when used, about a third of the way through the game, by a gang of would-be prison-shower rapists.

More Info

Available Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Genre: Action
Published by: 2K Games
Developed by: 2K Czech
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood, Intense Violence, Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Use of Drugs, Use of Alcohol
PEGI Rating:
Mikel Reparaz

After graduating from college in 2000 with a BA in journalism, I worked for five years as a copy editor, page designer and videogame-review columnist at a couple of mid-sized newspapers you've never heard of. My column eventually got me a freelancing gig with GMR magazine, which folded a few months later. I was hired on full-time by GamesRadar in late 2005, and have since been paid actual money to write silly articles about lovable blobs.

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  • mademan33 - January 10, 2011 2:29 a.m.

    i love this game and thought it was well worth the purchase.Got it new for 59 bucks
  • Ricochet3438 - September 7, 2010 12:28 a.m.

    I'm not plannin on buyin this game. I'm savin my pennies and dimes for Halo Reach next week. But that'd be nice if i wont the sweepstakes in a couple days......
  • dorrick - September 2, 2010 5:44 p.m.

    This game has an amazing story, and is very realistic. Of course the cars handle funny these are the first cars on the road so they don't handle like the sports cars today. This game comes very close to a real driving simulator, than i have played in any other open world game. If you don't like MAFIA style movies then don't get this game because you wont like it. This game plays more out like a movie then a game so because of that i can see how the A.D.D. generation today(which i am a part of) can't handle to sit and watch a good story unfold. Also if re-playability is your big issue or the fact the game ends.....Well you don't have to finish the missions right when they are completed. When it tells Vito to go home to sleep you are allowed to drive around and do whatever you want. My only complaint is why can't vito blind-fire. I mean i can open every window in my place and turn on all the faucets and the shower but i can't just shoot with-out looking? That's my only complaint.
  • Anduin1 - August 31, 2010 9:16 p.m.

    This game is short, virtually NO replayability to be found, ending absolutely sucked and you can tell stuff was left out for DLC. 6/10 would've been a better score and I played it on PC so the graphics were better than both 360 and PS3. Some of the missions are fun but overall there's much to be desired, wayyy too much driving and seems like the devs split your contacts and destinations all over the map so that you have to spend several minutes driving in 1 direction and then back for every mission. Places you need to go are never nearby, theyre always across town. And no free roam after you beat the game? You HAVE to be effing kidding me. Can't recommend this game at full price, wait till its $30 or less.
  • Zaphers - August 26, 2010 7:58 p.m.

    The senior car crime editor returns to his roots. Was going to get this but think I'll hold off for a while, don't think I can handle enougher open world game after 100%ing Red Dead.
  • denvertdino - August 26, 2010 5:50 p.m.

    I thought the demo was wicked. Looking forward to tomorrow. Did anyone see the ad during the football last night - must have cost them a few quid! Noticed too you can win a trip to NYC with a gangster tour of the city on the Rustlers site. Looks pretty cool.
  • civver - August 26, 2010 12:29 a.m.

    Probably worth a rental.
  • Mudrock - August 25, 2010 3:16 p.m.

    Driving and shooting are fun? The controls and stiff and horrible. The cops aren't that easy to ditch because of the dodgy car controls.
  • nighthawk205 - August 25, 2010 2:27 p.m.

    I don't see a difference in the comparison picture with the blood... is it that the woman is bleeding from the anus while the man is not?
  • mahabat - August 25, 2010 12:21 p.m.

    @spaceherpe, i'm more tired of the lack of innovation in these games, and yes i know shooters are also in the same rut, and i am a little tired of them as well, but some shooters do have a story that is worth a crap to me any way, looking back i guess i'm tired of a lot of modern games. everyone makes the same things now days, i wish there was more variety going on.
  • philipshaw - August 25, 2010 11:31 a.m.

    I was interested in this game but when I played the demo I didn't like the gameplay much but the story did seem great. I think I will rent this or wait until it comes down in price a bit before getting it
  • CurryIsGood - August 25, 2010 3:51 a.m.

    huh shame I was hoping it would be like a 1950's GTA
  • rickrossthaboss - August 25, 2010 3:45 a.m.

    woo i can't wait to play this. cannot wait. thanks for the great review.
  • spaceherpe83 - August 25, 2010 3:09 a.m.

    @mahabat Um, no not at all. Its my favorite game style. Couldn't you say the same thing about shooters and whatever else? There are a heck of a lot more of those then the open world type. I personally thought the stories in Assassins Creed 2, Fallout 3, and Red Dead Redemption were great. That said, played the demo for this and I its amazing how utterly dull this game looks.
  • mahabat - August 25, 2010 2:28 a.m.

    any one else tired of open world games? they are getting very very old if you ask me and they never actually have a good story no matter what critics say
  • OneToBoner - August 25, 2010 1:19 a.m.

    I wish you had some PC comparisons, but I'll be getting it for that no matter what. Good review.
  • GayforGilbert - August 25, 2010 12:53 a.m.

    @therawski: No, just no.
  • TheWebSwinger - August 25, 2010 12:43 a.m.

    The demo was sooo bad, I'm really surprised this got as high as an 8. Psh, Mikel's just open-world-game-biased. /s
  • therawski - August 24, 2010 11:17 p.m.

    I played the demo, the controls sucked unbelievable ass, just play Red Dead. I not every game company has to change the controls in some ridiculous way, good thing I played the demo and saved myself some money, it really could have been good if Rockstar made it.
  • JADENkOTOR - August 24, 2010 11:13 p.m.

    I liked the demo too... The actual gameplay is much superior to that of GTAIV for sure. The world being so bland is a big let down but damn does it look good... its a rental.