When I sat at my computer writing my initial Mafia II review, I wondered how long the events of the game would stick with me. Here I am only three months later and I'm stunned to admit that I remember very little of that game. I can recite entire passages from Red Dead Redemption, but Mafia II went right in one ear and out the other. Not even Joe's Adventure, the newest downloadable episode, did anything to jog my memory. I'm starting to wonder if the events in that game were actually this forgettable, or if I'm suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.
Although this is not Mafia II's first downloadable episode, it's the only one I've experienced. The first episode (The Betrayal of Jimmy) was a PlayStation 3 exclusive and I guess I missed Jimmy's Vendetta somewhere along the way. This third episode takes us back to a time when Vito (the lackluster lead character of Mafia II) was in prison. Joe Barbaro has been brought in to help flesh out this world and give players another reason to dust off the game.
After learning of Vito's incarceration, Joe sets out on a journey to exact revenge for his friend. Unfortunately, in doing so he's run out of town and forced to stay hidden. But now he's back, and Joe is ready to climb up the ladder and return to being the go-to guy everybody can count on. This means that this tubby hero will need to run a lot of errands for some lowlife characters. Joe's Adventure may not be the most original open-world action game, but it does a reasonable job filling in a missing decade from Vito's story.
For the first hour I was riveted. As I skidded my way through the snow-covered world, I started to believe that the developers had figured out a way to make Mafia II a compelling action game. The atmosphere is thick, and not just because of the snow that lines the streets, trees and cars. For a few seconds I was invested in this series like I had never been before. Sadly, it doesn't take long before everything reverts to your usual paint-by-numbers open-world adventure game.
For ten dollars, players are treated to a good sized adventure full of all the trappings you expect from this type of game. There are boring side quests, seedy characters to deal with and plenty of high drama that can only be resolved with wanton violence. Even if the gameplay doesn't vary much from the original Mafia II, there's no question that the voice acting is spot-on and there are a few new set pieces worth checking out (including an inspired shootout at a supermarket).
But even with the interesting set-up and good voice cast, a lot of puzzling gameplay decisions bring this expansion pack down. My biggest complaint involves the mission timer and the lack of checkpoints. In one especially frustrating mission I am tasked to follow a well-protected car. Eventually I'm supposed to steal that car and return it back to the docks, but that's only after I tail them for a good five minutes. Although this is a boring way to spend five minutes, driving behind a car is easy. The shootout at the end, on the other hand, was not. I kept dying over and over, only to have to replay the boring driving portion each and every time. Half the time I simply ran out of time, because it's not always easy to do everything they are asking for in the allotted time frame.
If that wasn't bad enough, I found that most of the filler missions to be incredibly dull. There are a few too many missions where I am tasked with going somewhere and shooting somebody. By the time I got to the exciting set pieces, I was already sick of playing Joe's Adventure. There are certainly some exciting highs in this Mafia II DLC, but too much of the game is boring, monotonous and not worth playing.
Even more disappointing is the lack of any real payoff. It turns out that the missing years in Mafia II aren't all that important after all, which is sad. There is certainly some character development and a few great action moments, but players can easily skip this and still feel like they experienced the full Mafia II storyline. They will miss out on some solid voice acting, but that's not worth suffering through boring missions and the infuriating timer.
As you might expect, this expansion pack offers all of the same quirks found in Mafia II. The cars are still hard to steer, your character is woefully uncoordinated and you can't drive too fast without attracting the fuzz. I wasn't a huge fan of this the first time around, but there's a style and pacing to this 1950s/60s world that I love. I only wish it was connected to a more interesting narrative.
The problem with Joe's Adventure isn't that it feels a little generic and the timer makes normal missions frustrating. It's not even the filler missions that nearly put me to sleep. No, the real problem is that this story ends up being insignificant. Mafia II proved that you can skip this entire storyline without missing a thing. Die-hard fans may get a kick out of Joe's antics, but his adventures never quite reach the heights of similar downloadable content. Forget Mafia II, it's time to revisit Red Dead Redemption with Undead Nightmare or finally get around to playing through The Episodes from Liberty City.
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