I don’t know about you, but when I think about the first Mafia game, I keep seeing the coolest mafioso game ever made. With that hellish race, the hardest I ever played… and it wasn’t in a racing game, but in an action one; the story has some interesting twists and the cars were true works of art as long as you didn’t have a timed mission that needed you to push the pedal to the metal.
Now, 8 years after the story of Tommy Angelo, the mafia families are back in action, in a rich historical period for illegal activities: the second world war and the ’50s. The hero is Vito Scaletta, a little Sicilian boy brought to America by his parents, fooled by the dream of a perfect life. If you saw The Godfather or other similar movies, you already know what’s next: the American dream goes down the drain, Vito’s father has a poor job, what little money he gains, he drinks them all and the boy turns to not-so-legal actions, ultimately ending up arrested.
Luckily for him, the war was raging, so Vito ends up on the Italian front, coming back as a medal-wearing hero. Meeting again with his old pal in crime, Joe, he will take to the sinuous path of the titled Mafia, from small time jobs to high profile murders that, at a certain point, link to the first game in the series, but only those that finished it will realize when, how and where. For the collectors, the game also features Wanted posters (almost 160) and Playboy magazines (some 50 of them), Achievements and many statistics to improve.
The story includes all the needed elements for a true mafioso intrigue: rival families (three of them now), traditionalist capos versus those who see the drug business as the bright future, the wise guys with high aspirations, personal matters solved with a punch and/or a bullet to the head, betrayals, but also real friendship.
Overall, a well done mix, but some parts are a little bit forced (the prison chapter) or just appear out of nowhere, without explanation (the FBI informer). As for the rest, the story is catchy and, following it strictly, without riding along just for the fun of it, you’ll get around 10 hours of driving, shooting, fist fighting, driving, shooting, fighting, driving, shooting… you get the idea.
From the goodness of their hearts, the developers gave us the Empire Bay metropolis, a mix of real cities like New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles. The drivers have highways, city streets filled with traffic lights, brick roads which underline the fact that in said era, suspensions were pitiful springs, but also dusty country roads where one can find shady bars and scrap yards whose owners are willing to take a blind eye when it comes to the ownership of the cars sold to them.
Besides the main missions, you get total freedom to roam around the city (somewhat akin to the Free Ride mode in the first game) and, with only two or three exceptions, to complete the missions when you want to. Any car can be „borrowed” and used until totally wrecked, at which point you just abandon it and pass to the next one, just like a respectable thief that matches his convertible with the tuxedo. When a car is parked, you either break the window or unlock the car with a lockpick and the aid of a simple, but annoying mini-game when the cops are on your heels or you are in a hurry to eat your Carbonara while is hot. Alternately, you can place yourself in front of a car and shove its driver out after he stops in a desperate attempt not to make you road kill.
If you really like a car, you can keep it in your garage, fix it and improve it in the special body shops. A nice element (but mostly useless since you can get any car) is the possibility to change and personalize the license plates to be sure the police won’t come your way when you go for a stroll in your Roller 330 on the main street of Empire Bay. Inside the body shops you can also change the color of the car if green isn’t your thing, but don’t expect too many options here. Not without some fan made mods anyway.
After the driving part, funny and predominating, here comes the shooting one. Most missions involve “misunderstandings” one way or the other, with a lot of enemies, in areas filled with crates, barrels and pillars to take cover behind. Fist fights that Vito seriously takes up in prison involve light / hard hits and finishing moves to sweep the floor with your enemy.
These fights actually save Vito’s life at certain points, but they also work if you feel in the mood to kick the hell out of a citizen who annoys you or to protect an elegant lady (but not very skilled when it comes to driving) insulted by a two-piece nobody whose car she bumped a little. Unfortunately, once you learn the counter-punch technique, the fights become trivial, just like in Assassin’s Creed. True, you don’t have to use said combo all the time, but if it assures the win, why not?
Guns are the most important though, modeled and inspired from the historical ones and Vito’s survival depends not only on his accuracy, but also on the smart use of cover points. The enemy doesn’t forgive you, and 2 or 3 bullets are enough to turn the screen red, your heard pounds in the audio system and the life meter drastically goes down to zero. The producers chose the Gears of War and Call of Duty style of healing, so it’s enough to find a safe spot and you’ll be back on your feet in a few seconds. But, after hard fights, you’ll still have a penalty to your health, so the solution is to eat or drink something in a bar or from your own fridge.