In a year loaded with megaton games like Super Mario Galaxy 2, Mass Effect 2, Fallout: New Vegas, and that one cowboy game from Rockstar, Mafia II stood out just fine in 2010.
Made by former devs 2K Czech, Mafia II was a nice action-adventure GTA replacement for folks who want actual cars to drive and “modern” guns to fire at in a city. At the time, it came bow-wrapped with a decent narrative that went well with its pacing, 1940s/ 1950s gangland trappings, and game structure. Concerning the latter, the devs made it clear from its design that Mafia II is linear, with a living breathing facsimile of New York (called Empire City here) for players to sometimes faff about.
While the Grand Theft Auto games were packed with a plethora of things to do, Mafia II was a focused experience attached with a semi-explorable living world. It’s a unique place for the franchise to set in, but one that earns it cult status.
So what does the remastered version of this 2010 sequel bring to the table? Facial pores. Lots of facial pores in HD glory.
In all seriousness, Hangar 13 and D3T Limited did a decent job in remastering the game’s past assets anew. The remaster makes the trials and tribulations of war hero-turned-mafia-goon Vitto Scaletta and his partner-in-crime Joe Barbaro all the prettier to play again. Driving through the cityscape of Empire City, be it during wintertime in the 40s or using hot rods in the 50s at broad daylight with Fats Domino playing on the radio feels good with these pimped-up aesthetics.
I am seeing some Steam reviews reporting graphical glitches here and there. But apart from one or two cutscenes, everything seems golden on my end so far.
Mafia II’s lovely gameplay moments are still present and intact, from your stamps-selling escapade as you sell bonds before midnight strikes using old-timey cars, to storming a mafia-filled slaughterhouse single-handedly while covered in sewage. The banter between Vitto and Joe, alongside other mafia associates, is still entertaining and swear-laden if you’re not looking for anything too meaningful in your crime film-apeing video game storylines.
Still, the game suffers from 2010 “sandbox-itis” problems. While the shooting and action portions are fine and still hold up, the bits in-between can become unnecessary busywork. Driving from point A to B while having exposition waylaid to you via dialogue is fine and all, but games like Mafia II rely on this too much for the sake of padding.
There’s a section where you sell cigarette contraband that’s mercifully short; a developer like Rockstar would have extended that section to 30 minutes, ski-bobbing movement and all. But this seems like a missed opportunity for the remaster to let players jump ahead to point B to cut out the tedium like that example.
Players expecting a GTA IV-like experience are going to be incredibly disappointed. Again, the Mafia games are going for the “linear with semi-illusion of freedom” design. However, that focus was unfortunately done better by Rockstar’s efforts in the same year. When you have 2010’s own Red Dead Redemption showing other sandbox titles how to balance story and gameplay in a tight and medium-length package, Mafia II does come off short.
Combat-wise, you can pretty much destroy all of Mafia II’s mobs with a 12.gauge shotgun. Seriously, that weapon is a beast and works even at long-range. Enemies also seem to have some problems spawning in as scripted during key main mission scenes.
Still, that shotgun sound is still satisfying to hear, even 10 years later.
Once Upon A Time In America
In retrospect, Mafia II is still steps below some open-world titles. But if you’re looking for a 1940s/50s crime saga that balances its gameplay and narrative competently, you’ll have a blast replaying this effort, especially via the remastered version and with a less triple-A price tag.
If you have RM122 in hand, you can get the Mafia Trilogy and get this one and the eventual Mafia remake (out this August). And maybe even play Mafia III: Definitive Edition and see where it all went wrong. Protip: it tried to channel past Rockstar’s side game excess without the knowhow to weave it in an interesting fashion. At least they one-upped the story and explored a more tumultuous time period, but that’s another Mafia tale for another day.