The game puts you straight into the action as Vito Scaletta alongside his best friend Joe Barbaro. You two get into some hairy stuff, which forces you into the Army and are in Sicily fighting the Nazi’s. You come home and your best friend Joe and his “connections” get you discharged from the Army. From there, you begin working for Derrick and taking jobs for assassinations, stealing stamps, and selling cigarettes.
Comparisons to Grand Theft Auto are obvious as it is the grandfather of the open-world game, but this is different type of open world experience. The game is not about going around the world as Vito shooting rocket launchers at cars, trying to rack up a high wanted level (there aren’t even any rocket launchers, so don’t get too excited). There is an open world to explore, with very little to do and that’s OKAY. The city of Empire Bay you are given is for atmosphere, not destruction or chaos. It encapsulates the living, breathing metropolis (similar to it’s New York City inspiration) and it’s suburbs as a sense of context of being part of a Mafia.
The dynamic between Vito (left) and Joe (right) is well-done. You can tell these two are best friends and will do anything for each other, no matter the situation. They take care of each other, almost becoming brothers. They just want the good life: money, women, booze, and cars. Nothing more, nothing less.
The gameplay is a cover-based, third-person shooter that works as it should. The physics of the cars are depicted accurately and attention to detail shows each car handling differently as you go through the years of the game. You don’t accidentally go into cover when you don’t want to (I’m looking at you Gears of War). The graphics are something spectacular for a game of this type, load times are quick and my computer handled everything at almost max settings. Sound design for this is utterly amazing. The individual sound effects for guns, engines, tires, city, and radio is something you have to hear. And let me continue about the radio, very time-specific and appropriate music absolutely sets the atmosphere perfectly.
The game is not without it’s bugs. I had a situation where the scripted event was to have Joe open a door for me and I follow him. I had gotten to the door first and Joe got stuck at the door in an infinite walking animation. A reloaded checkpoint and a more patient Vito fixed this. Another instance I can recall, is that when I went to Joe’s apartment, Vito’s character model freaked out and started doing some sort of jig. Hilarious? Yes. Game breaking? No. Another reloaded checkpoint fixed this.
I really enjoyed this game beginning to end, often playing one to three Chapters at a time. I feel some of the bugs get in the way, but don’t ruin this really well-done, story driven mafioso game. The open world could have been handled a little bit better with more activities for Vito that would fit with his personality and the story of the game. However, the open world serves as a stage not a playground. If you like the 1950’s, shooting, well-crafted stories then I recommend Mafia II.