Fans of other sandbox games will feel right at home with most of the game's missions. Players will constantly find themselves in the middle of a huge gun fight, where Vito will have to hide behind objects and wait for his opportunity to attack. The game has a strong duck and cover-style mechanic, ultimately making it feel more like a Gears of War than Grand Theft Auto. Other missions have you driving people around the city, running from the police and sneaking into government buildings. There's nothing especially original about what is being asked of the player, but the missions are usually exciting and I found myself constantly wanting to know what happens next.
The game spends a lot of time stressing the importance of abiding by the law, especially while driving on Empire Bay's many roads. Unfortunately, this doesn't play as big of a part as I would have liked. The idea that Vito must always drive the speed limit or stay on his side of the road is an interesting one, but it seems to have very little bearing on how the police react. Yes, the police will engage if a player exceeds the speed limit; however that seems to be the only thing they will do. I had a lot of fun driving on the sidewalk, circling them recklessly and even side-swiping them, and yet none of that bothered the EBPD.
While driving on the wrong side of the road may not be enough to alert the police, once Vito has them on his tail he'll need to do more than just drive faster. In an interesting twist, the police will radio in your license plate number and description. So in order to get clear of the police, players will need to ditch the car (or change the license plate) and put on a spare set of clothes. This is a good idea, but I wish 2K would have fleshed this out more.
Fans of mob movies will certainly be impressed with the strong voice acting and well-directed cinema sequences. From start to finish, the game's presentation is phenomenal. The character models are extremely lifelike, right down to their rough complexion. There is also a soundtrack full of dozens of authentic 40s and 50s bands. Despite the fertile subject matter, there aren't a lot of 1950s era mob games, so it's easy to be the best when your competition is EA's The Godfather.
Perhaps that might explain some of my disappointment with Mafia II. Yes, the game's presentation is first-rate and the story is compelling. But at the same time, it all feels so safe. The setting, the characters and even the beats of the story are far too typical, almost to the point of being cliche. There's nothing about this game that pushes the envelope, it's just a series of familiar mobster themes that hammer you over the head with the "crime doesn't pay" moral. If you've seen a mobster movie, then you already know what you're getting yourself into. Heck, it's even narrated by the protagonist, just like those Martin Scorsese gangster films.
I found myself constantly wanting to compare this game to Rockstar's Red Dead Redemption. Believe it or not, these two games aren't all that different. They are both long-overdue sequels to games set in eras all but forgotten by modern game developers. The big difference is that Red Dead Redemption took all of the elements of a typical western and turned it into something completely unexpected. Mafia II, on the other hand, is exactly what you expect.
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