This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to 2K Czech's open-world crime drama Mafia II
, which reviews describe as "really nothing you haven't seen before." Mafia II
currently earns a score of 80 out of 100
Game Informer's Matt Bertz scores Mafia II
at 9 out of 10
. "No video game franchise adheres more closely to this fractured dream of a romanticized criminal subculture than Mafia
," he begins. "Set in the '40s and '50s, Mafia II
is jam packed with familiar plot devices pulled from classic movies like Goodfellas and A Bronx Tale."
"The original Mafia
stood out for its engaging missions, and the sequel follows suit," Bertz explains. "You still drive through the city for long stretches (this time without a clutch or constant harassment from traffic cops), but once you reach your destination the action unfolds in smartly scripted missions that feel different every time.
"These quests feature your standard blend of third-person shooting and driving sequences, with the occasional fistfight thrown in for good measure. The controls don't depart drastically from genre conventions, though the finicky cover mechanic gave me troubles in tight quarters."
Bertz finds that the experience offers little challenge at its default difficulty level. "If you're a veteran of open world games, you should note that Mafia II
is extremely easy on the normal difficulty," he says. "No matter what difficulty you choose, don't expect [a] lot of interference from the clueless cops. When you break the law, the men in blue aren't overly concerned with apprehending you."
Otherwise, Bertz describes the game as a solid experience in its genre. "In an era when video games are moving away from relying on cinematics for storytelling," he says, "Mafia II
draws on the rich mobster film history to weave a gripping drama about family, friendship, loyalty, betrayal, and pragmatism. If you're fond of quoting Don Corleone and Tony Soprano, don't miss this game."
Mike Nelson at 1UP.com gives Mafia II a B grade
. "Mafia stories are about the pursuit of the American dream," he writes. "Typically, they're tales of a character who tries to claim a share of the world's wealth and riches. And, as is true with all mafia tales, these rewards come at a great cost.
"Instead of giving players a character who will rise through the ranks to achieve the rank of Best-Mobster-Ever," Nelson notes, "we're given one who is content with being the middleman. But in the process of trying to create a serious narrative, Mafia II
falls into the trend of other sandbox games: it reminds you time and time again with 'you're playing a videogame' moments that break the hard work put into crafting this narrative in the first place."
This lack of narrative cohesion weakens the overall experience. "Games like Grand Theft Auto 4
or Saints Row 2
get away with this because their created fiction is full of puns and tongue-in-cheek humor," Nelson explains. "Mafia II
on the other hand, a game that tries to create a serious narrative and a world full of colorful characters, instantly falls apart as soon as you're allowed to toss random pedestrians off a boat pier. Or when you comically pick up a Playboy magazine and are forced to view the centerfold in the midst of a heated gun battle."
"Still, with all of the inconsistent narrative problems, I was still able to enjoy the game," Nelson admits. "Features such as the ability to upgrade (almost) every vehicle in the game, period licensed music, character models, and solid shooting and driving mechanics help elevate this game from a technical standpoint.
"But those features pale in comparison to the fictional Empire Bay itself. The city in which the game takes place is gorgeous; it's hands-down one of the most impressive places to play in any sandbox game yet released. But it's also criminally limited in giving you the right tools to get the most bang for your buck -- no multiplayer, no alternate endings, and no character based side-missions limit the amount of time you can realistically spend in Empire Bay."
"For all of the hard work that has obviously gone into Mafia II
, I really wanted more than what it finally delivered," Nelson says. "I enjoyed the story, characters, and setting, and I learned to overlook the narrative problems so I could sit back and enjoy the ride. But once it was over, it was over; the lack of additional content for every platform right out of the box is unfortunate."
Giant Bomb's Brad Shoemaker rates Mafia II
at 3 out of 5 stars
. "I'm a sucker for a good mob story, but Mafia II
's is merely decent," he begins. "This mid-century tale of Sicilian immigrant turned low-level mob enforcer Vito Scaletta borrows so much from genre classics like The Godfather, Goodfellas, and The Sopranos that it's almost a surprise to see their respective filmmakers go uncredited at the end of the game."
Shoemaker explains: "You end up with a lot of (maybe too many) recognizable elements and scenarios mashed together -- dead bodies in trunks, mob bosses living in luxury behind bars, wiseguys turned Federal informants, traditionalist dons clinging to the old country fighting with American-bred bosses who are into dealing dope -- that do fit together reasonably well and result in a few genuinely exciting moments toward the end.
"But you have to slog through just as many predictable turns, and a lot of uninspired game design -- driving and shooting, then more driving and shooting, then still more driving -- to get to them. Then, just when it seems like it's about to really get going, the game is over."
Shoemaker finds that Mafia II
's weak gameplay fails to meet modern-day standards for the open-world genre. "Cliched or not, the plot would be strong enough to support Mafia II
if it were a better action game than it is," he notes. "This is an open-world game that doesn't utilize or really even need its open world. The story progression is completely linear -- there's only one plot-related mission available at any given time --a nd there are no side missions or activities to speak of, leaving the sprawling metropolis of Empire Bay to feel like so much finely crafted window dressing.
Shoemaker continues: "Mafia II
doesn't really take into account the eight years of progress in open-world game design since the first Mafia
came out. Not only is there a conspicuous lack of significant activities to keep you busy between missions, most of the missions themselves merely revolve around functional third-person shooting that's really nothing you haven't seen before."
"Playing Mafia II
gives you the feeling that the developers put more emphasis on telling a great mob story than designing a great video game, but had to split their attention too much to effectively do either one," Shoemaker concludes. "That story would have probably been better served if the game had shed its superfluous open-world trappings and focused on quicker pacing and greater diversity in the mission design. There are a lot of great mob stories out there already, and this one needed more focus to stand out next to all the memorable tales that came before."