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Mafia 2: Still a Classic, But Does the New Shine Hide the Scuff Marks?

Mafia 2 Made Men
Mafia 2 Made Men

Title: Mafia 2 (And Definitive Edition)
Developer: 2K Czech (formerly Illusion Softworks) Publisher: 2K Games
Platform Reviewed: PlayStation 4
Released: August 24, 2010 (Original release)

Definitive Edition Release: May 19, 2020
Platforms Available: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC (Mafia 2: Definitive Edition is available on PS4, Xbox One, PC)
Article Reading Time: 6 minutes

Mafia 2 Attack
Mafia 2 Attack

The Lowdown on Vito’s Rise

The game’s story is set in the 1940s and 1950s in the fictional city of Empire Bay in the USA, where the game’s protagonist, Vito Scaletta, initially born in Sicily in 1925, moved as a child with his parents and younger sister. Since childhood, Vito has been friends with Sicilian-born heavyweight Joe Barbaro, who got into a lot of trouble until he was arrested in 1943 and was offered the option of either going to prison or going to the war that was currently underway. Vito chose the army and was deployed during Operation Husky when the Allies invaded and occupied Sicily as a staging post for another move. Vito was later wounded there and sent home on leave. At home, he met up with Joe again, and they began planning their future together. Joe even arranged fake discharge papers for Vito from the army, and they were able to embark on their dream of getting rich and making a name for themselves in the criminal underworld, but this time, it was just to work for the Mafia.

To add historical context, the backdrop of the 1940s and 1950s was a time of significant change in America. The aftermath of World War II brought about economic prosperity, changing social norms, and rising organized crime activity. Vito and Joe’s ambition mirrors the era’s entrepreneurial spirit, albeit channeled into less-than-legal enterprises.

Empire Bay: A City with Bite

The most striking thing about the second installment of Mafia is the time and the setting. The 40s and 50s in the US had their charm, which is also true in a game where the player can feel this atmosphere from every corner. The whole of Empire Bay, in which Mafia 2 takes place, is visually beautiful and, at first glance period, accurate and believable. The game’s map can be considered a small open world, but apart from the occasional gun and clothing shop or petrol station, expect little content; it’s more of a highly detailed backdrop for frequent travel within the story. Naturally, you move around the city in a variety of period cars that are lovely to look at and whose driving model is quite pleasant and less responsive than its older 2002 predecessor. Even on ice or snow, the cars are pretty maneuverable, and therefore, you’ll enjoy driving around this beautiful city in a more arcade-style design.

Empire Bay isn’t merely a backdrop but a character in its own right. The game designers likely drew inspiration from real-world cities such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, notorious hotbeds for Mafia activity during this period. Keen-eyed players might even spot visual references to iconic landmarks of these cities.

Mafia 2 Automatic Gun Shooting
Mafia 2 Automatic Gun Shooting

The Look, The Feel, The Deal

What definitely didn’t offend me was the visuals of the game, which are very solid considering its time and the fact that a major studio didn’t develop it. While the Definitive Edition offers a visual upgrade, it’s not perfect. Cutscenes sometimes lack polish, particularly facial details, feeling like a downgrade from the original in certain aspects. You might also experience occasional texture flickering, especially on the map and in-car views, as well as some quirky NPC behavior. Even clothing textures on your main character can bug out.

Beyond the eye-catching neon and period cars, Empire Bay also showcases subtle visual storytelling. Observe the changing fashion and architecture as you progress through the decades. These details create a strong sense of immersion, making your journey through time feel authentic.

Packing Heat and Making Moves

Mafia 2, like its predecessor, is controlled from a third-person camera perspective but with a distinct difference, this time in cover shooter-style gameplay. Closed cover shooters like Mafia often have a problem with difficulty balance in the form of damage taken, enemy counts, scripts breaking the game’s naturalness, and so on, which is not a problem with the second Mafia. The missions are just so long; you don’t feel like you’re killing half the city in each one, and you don’t have to worry too much about your health on the higher difficulty levels either; it’s just an excellent and balanced cover shooter with a solid fluidity of progression through the individual encounters, whether with rival Mafia or police, and the game overall.

Mafia 2’s cover shooter mechanics were ahead of their time in some ways. Notably, the fluid movement between cover and the destructible environments made for dynamic gunfights for the period. Compare this to other, more static popular titles from the same era for even greater appreciation.

Mafia 2 Poster
Mafia 2 Poster

A Soundtrack with a Smooth Hustle

The previously mentioned music has a special place in the second mafia game, as in every game in the series… Songs from the 40s but especially from the 50s by artists such as Bing Crosby, Richard Penniman, or Dean Martin are emblematic of the era, which are complemented by many other well-known songs and, as a whole, form an excellent soundtrack for the game, which will make you feel like you’re in the authentic “50s” when driving through the streets of Empire Bay, for example.

Music holds thematic significance in Mafia 2. The upbeat swing and rock ‘n’ roll hits often play in stark contrast to the darker acts Vito commits. This juxtaposition highlights the moral complexity of the characters and the allure of the criminal lifestyle that the soundtrack embodies.

The Wrap-Up

Mafia 2 might not rewrite the book on open-world action games, but it delivers a tightly-crafted experience. Its evocative setting, smooth gunplay, and a story that grapples with the allure and consequences of the gangster lifestyle make it a worthy play. If you’re craving for a well-paced crime saga with a satisfying dose of period atmosphere, Vito Scaletta’s tale in Empire Bay is an offer worth considering. Just be prepared for a few visual inconsistencies if you opt for the Definitive Edition, which may be your only option because the original game is challenging to get online these days.

Buy Mafia 2: Definitive Edition
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