There is nothing shocking about Mafia II, the long-overdue sequel to the 2002 open-world crime simulator. Players know exactly what they're getting when they buy this game; it's not the kind of game will throw you for a loop. This is a by-the-numbers sandbox game that plays in exactly the same fashion one would expect, complete with stereotypical characters, a bittersweet ending and lots and lots of firefights. The only thing surprising about Mafia II is just how predictable the whole experience really is.
You play Vito Scarletta, a kid who gets mixed up with the wrong set of friends and is arrested for a botched robbery. He's given the choice to serve his time in jail or enlist in the Army. He chooses the military, where he finds himself overseas fighting a war he knows nothing about. Upon his return, Vito is shocked to learn that his childhood best friend has become a major player in the local mob scene. All of a sudden they are going out to lavish dinners, driving in expensive cars and living the high life in decked-out apartments. This is the life Vito has always wanted.
Unfortunately, things are not going as well for Vito's immediate family. His mother is in poor health, his sister has bad luck with men and his father left a $2,000 debt. Things couldn't get any worse. At least, that's what he thought before he went to the docks to do an honest day's work. Before long our hero realizes that it will take years to pay off his father's debts and that performing back-breaking manual labor for $10 a day isn't going to cut it. So he does the inevitable, he falls back into a life of crime.
It's here that Mafia II becomes every other Grand Theft Auto-style action game you've ever played. This is one of those games where you start with nothing and then become a major player, ultimately controlling your own destiny and settling old scores. There are a few twists and turns along the way, but this is a fairly straight-forward telling of a traditional mobster story.
Much like the 2002 original, Mafia II takes place in two different decades. This brand new game trades the swinging 20s and 30s for a slightly more modern 40s and 50s. Our adventure begins in 1945, where we spend a lot of time pulling off crimes for a number of low-life mob bosses, all while earning Vito some street cred. Before long the game fast-forwards to 1951, where the cars are shinier, the music is a more uplifting and the colors are more vibrant. 2K Games has done an excellent job capturing the different atmosphere from the two different decades.
At first glance this may look like any other Grand Theft Auto rip-off, but Mafia II is significantly more linear than Rockstar Games' popular franchise. This is not one of those open-world games where you choose which missions you want to go on and when, instead all of the levels are to be played in order. There are 15 chapters in all, each playing out exactly the same way no matter how many times they are played through. Players can still explore the Empire Bay (yet another fictional New York City), but I found the game was always pushing me complete the level and move on to the next chapter.
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