If there are two things I enjoy in life, it’s mob movies and shooting people in video games, so naturally, I was excited to playMafia 2, the recently released mobster offering from 2K Games. This excitement was soon shot down like Spider in Goodfellas.
You play as Vito, the generically named Italian immigrant trying to escape a childhood of poverty and crime. Fresh off a tour of duty in World War 2, you arrive home to your old friend Joe offering you small-time jobs for local made men and are blinded my the lifestyle it will allow you to lead. This is right before you are blinded by all the glaring problems of this game.
Underwhelming graphics are as dated as the era they try to detail, with an ambitious story lost in the shoddy design of a game seemingly archaic when compared to other next-gen titles. With its grainy textures, lagging frame rates, terrible lip syncing, and broken character animations, it legitimately feels like a Playstation title at times. It is just a very uninspiring, flavorless experience, a dish that tastes like Vinnie’s motha’s pasta fazool. Oh, hey!
Car handling is slow and wretched, albeit probably realistic to the time, but why not spare some expense at authenticity’s sake to provide something enjoyable for the player considering they’re spending 80% of your game behind the wheel of some putt-putt vehicle fresh off the Ford assembly line?
Adding to the sense of divide are the local law enforcement who play the role of Helen Keller with a badge. They are deaf and blind to most anything you do in this game, and shooting a pedestrian is as simple an act to escape from as turning a corner or changing your clothes. Speeding through city streets never alerts them to your presence, and shootouts are often anti-climactic when officers seemingly just stop arriving at the scene, forgetting you just killed 15 of their men.
In these shootouts, the large targeting reticule is more of a hindrance than it is an aid, blocking your vision and making shootouts more obnoxious than enjoyable. Aiming is clunky and unpolished, without any real system to it other than tediously having to line up your shot each time you reveal yourself from cover.
Speaking of obnoxious and tedious, the save system. If you die, there aren’t centralized locations like police stations and hospitals for you to respawn at. You are left to painstakingly begin the entire process again in your Driving Miss Daisy mobile from one side of the lifeless town to the other.
"Ain’t that a Kick in the Head" by Dean Martin, “Boom Boom” by John Lee Hooker, "Mambo Italiano" by Rosemary Clooney, "It Don’t Mean a Thing" by Duke Ellington, and "Manish Boy" by Muddy Waters are but a few of the songs offered on this game's tremendous score, the one redeemable trait keeping this DVD from becoming a coaster for my seltzer. Driving around to period music—while I appreciate the mood it attempts to bring—is ultimately nothing more than a novelty. It's hard taking a trip on over to steal something or knock a guy off seriously when you're listening to songs you'd expect to be foxtrotting or jitterbugging to with some local dame. It sure is a kick in the head, Mr. Martin.
It’s tough for me to get excited for a game that’s already been done in so many better ways, let alone justify its purchase or play. Liberty City in Grand Theft Auto is a microcosm, this living, breathing experience which feels like it has a pulse. Empire Bay just feels like it’s there, a cheap imitation populated with the same five looking character models. It isn’t even a true open world experience, with there being load times when entering and exiting buildings leading to separately explored areas. Outside of linear missions, there isn't much else to do in this city that always sleeps.
The major problem with this game—and there are A LOT of problems—is that it never manages to successfully meld its story between cutscenes and gameplay, often failing to keep you engrossed when it makes you sit through five minutes of dialogue to play two minutes of a mission. It doesn’t quite know its own identity, fumbling between wannabe mobster movie and Grand Theft Auto knockoff, and is often left searching for it at your expense.
The game thinks it has the liberty of treating itself like a movie, where it has the time and our attention spans to build up a plot or develop characters. After three hours of mind-numbingly slow missions that would even make busy work bow its head in shame, the completion of which hinged on the horrible driving mechanic to see you to your destination, it had lost me, with what was some of the most boring gameplay I’ve sat through in recent memory. As a developer, what makes you think that just because wiseguys work up the Mafia ladder with low-level jobs that players will enjoy the same comeuppance? The end result is a mundane, poorly designed, repetitious experience that is an offer you can refuse.
It’s as if a bunch of guys with Goodfellas and The Godfather posters on their walls got together, had a few beers, and thought it would be cool to throw a game together about the mob and riddle their dialogue with the F word and all the other Italian American clichés they've come to accept as fact. If this game were a Mafioso movie it would be The Godfather: Part 3: painful, sluggish, and a disgrace to the genre, lost in its own expectations and formulated with banalities. If you want something tastefully Italian and cliché, go to the Olive Garden and order their never-ending pasta bowl for $8.95.
Mafia 2 should be bludgeoned to death in a shallow grave in a corn field, never to be heard from again. Should you play this game? Fuggedaboutit!