Mafia II Review | Retro Review
Picture yourself in 1940s New York. What do you see? If you’re like me, you’ll see a massive Empire State Building-looking tower skying toward the heavens while the streets throng with vintage cars and people dressed in suits and sundresses.
In the distance, you’ll see an expansive bridge that spans a large body of water and keeps impoverished from the wealthy. Of course, since we weren’t alive back then, there’s only one way to get this view. You’ll see all this and more only if you play 2K Czech’s Mafia II.
How does Mafia II hold up as a strictly single-player experience? Does it faithfully portray the life of Vito Scaletta, a hopeful immigrant trying to make his name in the criminal underworld? Or does it end up sleeping with the fishes?
Let’s find out.
1 - Visuals
When Mafia II first came out in 2010, the graphics looked great. Almost 11 years later, it’s surprising just how well the game’s held up, even as newer open-world games continue to push the boundaries of what can and can’t be done.
As the game ages, it still looks good, albeit with some par-for-the-course drawbacks. For example, though the character models and Empire Bay landscapes are well-made in terms of design, there are instances where the game’s framerate drops to accommodate the relatively small number of people and cars littering the streets.
At the same time, the cutscenes are rendered in real-time and, though the engine can struggle at times, the engine is on full display during cutscenes. Scaletta, Joe Barbaro, and the other main characters are very detailed, as the game’s engine is able to render the characters’ facial expressions and features well, be it anger, frustration, and more.
The weather effects are top-notch, too. In particular, cars with snow on them during the early chapters will slowly be freed from the snow as players drive. Footsteps will also appear in the snow, characters’ breaths will be seen due to the frigid weather, and so on.
Though very minor, the clothing effects add a nice touch, with jackets and trench coats swaying in the air as the player sprints, jumps, and does other athletic abilities in-game. It’s a minute aspect of the game, but it adds realism.
Mafia II’s visuals get three stars.
2 - Audio
From the jump, Mafia II’s voice acting is top level. Rick Pasqualone’s portrayal of Scaletta from his younger years, when he was more wide-eyed and curious, to his later years, when he became more hardened, demonstrates a terrific amount of range. His ability to showcase Scaletta’s change simply through his tonal shift throughout the game is commendable and really draws the player into Scaletta’s story.
Barbaro and Leo Galante’s voice actors, Robert Costanzo and Frank Ashmore respectively, deserve mention as well. Though Constanzo typically has a friendly and jovial air toward his portrayal of Barbaro, there are moments when he tonally shifts to have a more menacing presence. Meanwhile, Ashmore’s depiction of Galante is the stuff of Mafia movie cliches, which is not a bad thing at all.
Ashmore’s voice is gruff, gravelly, and carries a certain sense of gravitas, one fit for a person of Galante’s stature — a high-ranking Mafia member. It serves as the perfect contrast to Pasqualone and Costanzo’s voices; in a way, Ashmore’s tone is an indicator that Galante has been around for a long time while Scaletta and Barbaro have a long way to go, hence their more uplifting tones.
The music selection is fantastic as well, even if some songs are anachronistic. Players can often hear Bing Crosby, Buddy Holly, The Chordettes, Chuck Berry, Dean Martin, and Ritchie Valens, among many others, on any of the game’s three radio stations. For fans of “classic” songs, at least relatively speaking, Mafia II has those and more.
Mafia II’s audio gets four stars.
3 - Story/Progression
One of the most captivating aspects of Mafia II is the story, which is well-done and gives the player a sense of Scaletta’s progression. From a lowly military man to a Mafia man and finally back down to Earth as another soldier in a mob family, Scaletta travels a journey many would choose to avoid altogether.
While many might consider that lifestyle glamorous, Mafia II shows that it comes filled with death, despair, loneliness and hardship. Scaletta’s life is not one anyone would want, and Mafia II makes it abundantly clear that in order for someone to succeed in this line of work, massive sacrifices have to be made.
This means the loss of everything Scaletta has.
2K Czech’s ability to let players play through hardship, reach a section of relative wealth, and experience an even more crushing hardship is unparalleled. It really hammers home the point that being a criminal might have its upsides, but they’re far outweighed by the negatives.
As such, Scaletta’s rise and fall is something players can latch onto, experiencing his emotions firsthand. For that, 2K Czech has to be given credit.
Mafia II’s story/progression gets four-and-a-half stars.
4 - Gameplay
Much like every open-world game on the market, Mafia II’s gameplay is everything you’d expect and nothing you wouldn’t. In order to survive, players must stay in cover, as enemies will rip through them with relative ease, especially on higher difficulty levels. Even on lower difficulty levels, the game could be challenging if players aren’t careful.
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the gameplay is how cars handle; they look and feel heavy, much like how they operated in the 1940s and 1950s. As a result, cars feel very floaty on turns, and turning the cars is a process in and of itself. Players must also put gas in their cars from time to time in order to keep them running, which is an interesting gameplay element, to say the least.
Interestingly enough, though each chapter feels straightforward with the “go here, speak to this person, do this” mechanic in place, players can actively ignore objectives and explore Empire Bay to their hearts’ leisure. That said, there isn’t a lot to do outside of the main story aside from minimally customizing your car, changing your clothes, eating food, buying weapons, and finding Playboy Magazines and wanted posters.
In all, Mafia II’s gameplay doesn’t revolutionize the genre, but it’s a solid addition. Mafia II’s gameplay gets three stars.
5 - Context
Contextually speaking, Mafia II is filled with the racism, misogyny, violence, and sexism of the era and time in which it takes place. Mafia II’s inclusion of these themes hammers home what life was like for certain subsections of people in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s.
There’s a particular chapter midway through the game that makes the aforementioned aspects extremely apparent wherein Scaletta must carefully navigate his surroundings if he is to survive. It’s a harsh reminder that this is how the United States used to be not even 100 years ago.
All this in mind, Mafia II was received fairly well, with Metacritic giving the game an average of 75/100 and other retailers giving it a grade anywhere from 4/10 to 9/10. Many critiques how 2K Czech removed a decent amount of content prior to launch, leading to a very linear open-world game which, in a way, is the antithesis of what an open-world game is.
Nevertheless, the game sold well, with over five million copies purchased since its release. Given Mafia II’s initial success, 2K Games remastered it in 2020, though it wasn’t as well-received, with new bugs and glitches in the remaster.
Nonetheless, Mafia II’s context gets three stars.
Overall, Mafia II doesn’t necessarily sleep with the fishes, but it doesn’t rise to the top, either. While the story may be one of the better-written storylines in recent years, the gameplay and visuals are nothing to write home about.
The audio is one of the more underrated aspects of Mafia II, and 2K Czech’s ability to put certain themes into the game without being overbearing needs to be noted as well. Considering the remaster has had issues since launch, playing the 11-year-old version should still be a good time, especially for players looking for a strictly-single player experience, gameplay, and visuals notwithstanding.
In the 1940s and 1950s, New York never felt so vivid. Hop into the Mafia II world for a city-slicker experience like no other… Or, at least, like few others.