Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven was considered to be the best PC games ever, with a sense of realism with its sandbox gameplay compared to the more outlandish tone of Grand Theft Auto. I remember playing the demo, which eventually led to the purchase of the full game. The game was interesting, although it was annoying and frustrating with the driving controls and the health system, with my character dying constantly from invisible fire.
I didn't mind it, though, considering it's the one of the few sandbox games that I've played that took place in the 1930s. When the developers were bought out by Take-Two Interactive, they announced a sequel to the game, this time, with the setting being the 1950s. It sounds interesting and finally managed to get to play the entire game, and…it was okay.
The plot concerns Vito Scaletta, a Sicilian immigrant who was brought to Empire City (in our case, New York) with his family as a child to live the "American Dream". Obviously, with his family being poor and his father not being around, he immediately turns to crime. He gets caught and is sent overseas to fight in World War II.
I'm not sure if this would be considered punishment by law. I don't recall petty thieves recruited to the US Army to fight in Iraq after stealing jewelry. But I suppose this is a very cynical way that the justice system would handle their criminals back then: recruit them in the Army, send them where the gunfights are at their most deadly, and hope they get killed in the line of duty. You can imagine the judge crossing his fingers when he gave the sentence.
Fortunately, Vito managed to survive WWII after getting a gunshot wound and is sent back home. There, he meets up with his family and his friend, Joe, who happens to be the reason he was sent overseas in the first place. I guess Vito is all about "forgive and forget". His family now lives in a shanty apartment with a large debt his father borrowed and never paid back. To help his family out, he and Joe go through series of events that lead them to become part of the Italian mafia and in the end, crime does not pay.
The story is eerily familiar to the story of Grand Theft Auto IV. You have immigrants who are pursuing the American Dream, but are caught in series of events that lead them to perform high-risk crime duties, and in the end, crime does not pay. At least with Niko Bellic in GTA IV, he's more remorseful about the horrible things he has done, but this guy will run his mouth about how his life is completely in the shitter. With Vito, he has little personality that makes him more of a hired muscle than anything else.
The sandbox gameplay mechanic that was featured in the first Mafia is still present, but it would be overstating the actual gameplay in Mafia 2. It would be considered a "sandbox" the same way that Westboro Baptist is considered a Christian Church.
Empire Bay is big, but there's very little to do outside the main missions, other than finding Playboy Magazines. Again, going back to GTA IV, you had a plethora of stuff to do: go bowling, play darts, watch TV, blow stuff up, cause anarchy, and so on. Mafia 2 has some of those elements, but nothing much else. It actually becomes boring that all you're doing are the main missions. You think that Vito, for once, would've found himself a girl, drive them to a dark alleyway, and do their business, mafia style!
The combat has changed from the last game, which happens to be cover-based shooting! Yaaay! You take cover behind an object, pop out of cover, and shoot anything that's in your way. This is actually frustrating because Vito is apparently made out of peanut brittle and stick since he gets hurt more easily when getting shot and takes him a very long time to recover.
This is a mechanic where I wish cover-based shooting wasn't so prevalent because this brings the flow of the game to a considerable crawl. This is equally frustrating when you are driving cars. You can drive so fast and if you crash, you die. With GTA IV, if you go incredibly fast and crash into something, you are sent flying out of the window, making it really hilarious.
The driving is handled a little better than the GTA franchise, as in the cars don't feel they are on very slick roads. Plus, the developers wanted to add a sense of realism with the police by having them stop you for any particular violation: driving over the speed limit, starting a street fight, hit and run, picking your nose. It starts with a ticket that you pay a certain amount of money to them wielding Thompsons to make the next St. Valentine's Day Massacre, depending on what laws you broke.
Also, I found myself having more money than I need to get through some of the missions, when robbing stores seems pretty easy. You can get out of a jam, even, by robbing a clothes shop, take one of their clothes, and then your wanted level is dropped. Apparently the cops can't distinguish your character from one colored shirt over another colored shirt.
Lastly, the graphics are pretty good, but I find something off with the lip-syncing. We're in the 21st Century and they can't get the character's mouth to sync up with the voice acting. They look more like marionettes than actual people. But if there's ANYTHING that gets on my nerves are the glitches I've encountered during game time.
One particular glitch froze the game up and I was forced to restart my PS3, after a particularly frustrating gunfight, mind you. Yet the nail in the coffin is that there's a glitch in a particular moment where you need to turn in money to a loan shark. You need to be at a door, press a button, and enter into a cutscene, yet there was no such button prompt. The door wasn't even highlighted, so I went onto the Internet to find if there were other people that had this problem.
I was right. There's a YouTube video that suggests the following: restart the entire mission, or restart the entire chapter and do it a bit faster. What? Restart an entire chapter if restarting the mission doesn't work? I'm not wasting my time on a glitch that should've come across during play testing, considering that this is a game breaking glitch, forcing you to restart THE ENTIRE BLOODY CHAPTER just to fix it! Screw that!
At the end of the day, it's nice to drive in New York with the 50s music playing in the background, but the "game" itself is pretty lacking. It really emphasizes itself as being an "interactive cinema" taking part of the interactive medium and putting it together with the non-interactive segments. The characters were alright, but the main character was rather two-dimensional and uninspired and you're playing as him. You won't have much to do outside the main missions; no side missions, no minigames, nothing. My advice: play Grand Theft Auto – Vice City. It's a more colorful game than today's games.