Publisher:2K Games Platform:PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 Release Date: August 2010
Mafia 2 isn’t anything new. A big, open sandbox, a bunch of story missions that leave you free to explore and explode the map in between them and some pleasantly distracting side missions and areas to pad things out; this is old hat. It’s not even the first time 2K Games has done it – in fact, sandboxes like this are arguably what 2K Games does best and most often. Realising that, it’s sometimes hard to stay excited about Mafia 2.
Until you play it, anyway. Then it dawns on you just how good the game is and how slickly it’s been put together.
It’s that slickness which is Mafia 2’s most important attribute, as it’s what separates it from the likes of Red Dead Redemption and GTA IV. Red Dead Redemption’s main strength was how evocative it was – or, how great the empty expanses were at conjuring the feeling that you were a real cowboy. GTA IV’s advantage was the quantity of it’s content and the fact that you could beat up prostitutes. Mafia 2 benefits mainly from how smoothly all the different elements have been put together, and how gloriously complete and stylish the world feels.
It's OK, there are Chavs inside
There are lots of little bits which work towards this effect – the long, billowing trench coats, the fact that the weapons sound authentic and feel suitably lethal and hard to wield, not to mention the script which deals with clichés without ever relying on stereotypes. Mainly though, it’s down to two very simple things: the cars and the music. The soundtrack is amazing, with tunes appropriate to the period, both new and old – the first thing we asked 2K’s rep when we finished playing was whether a soundtrack CD would be made available. Unfortunately, there was no definite answer at that point.
As for the cars, it’s hard to pin down exactly what makes them feel so fantastic, mainly because they’re so perfectly balanced that no particular attribute stands out. They control smoothly on PC, but can also be spun into unmanageable handbrake turns when needed. They aren’t fast like the supercars of modern day, but nor are they so slow that you grind your teeth and consider sticking the accelerator key down with a bit of Blu-Tack. They look the part and fit in with the era, but they aren’t just boxy replicas. They’re… just wonderful.
They see me rollin'
There are other areas of the game worthy of note too - bigger, more content-rich sections - but driving is a big part of any sandbox game. The walking around parts of Mafia 2 could be the best ever, but if the driving is rubbish, then the game as a whole will be significantly weakened. Thankfully, the cars are brilliant and the biggest single note we jotted down during our Mafia 2 preview time was ‘Cars feel beautiful!’
Scrawled just below that little notation was a little addendum too, which referred to the way that Mafia 2 requires you to take close care of your transport – it read ‘Engine/Petrol Hmm’. That’s shorthand for ‘Mafia 2 requires you to get out of your car and fix the engine if you take too much damage to your vehicle, as well as refill the petrol tank lest you run dry. This is an interesting and immersive element to mix into the game, but could potentially become a pain if not balanced correctly. Thankfully, the engine repair feature adds tension to drawn-out car chases and I only ran out of petrol once in a two-mission period. Thus, it doesn’t seem to be a big problem.’