Mafia 2 | Punching Minorities Was Never This Classy
Imagine yourself riding down a coastal road in gorgeous, glistening red, tail-finned convertible. Lil Richard blares on the radio while police armed with Tommy Guns fire incessantly at you from their pursuing cruisers. Your fat, wise-cracking partner in crime and your shifty ex-boss turned FBI informant shoot back, as the former yells some obscenities about doing business “with the chinks” while more vehicles packed with cops and gangsters close in. This utterly chaotic, but masterful blend of gangster movie clichés and GTAesque cynicism is called Mafia 2, and believe me when I say; it’s a criminally underrated masterpiece.
While the GTA franchise is the subject of much praise from the gaming community, and in many ways, rightfully so, it’s the Mafia trilogy which I personally find to be far superior. The story-telling is second to none, especially considering the game is written and designed by some guys in a studio in Czechoslovakia, whose sole experiences with the Mafia are I assume old VHS copies of The Godfather 3. Still, the game does wonders in the way it presents the story of a war hero and his rapid, poetic, descent into a life of crime while still keeping the charming backdrop of the mid-20th century that’ll have you yearning for the god old days when the kids were bopping, seatbelts were a communist plot, and women didn’t have rights.
Mafia 2 is set in two distinct time periods, the winter of 1945, and the summer of 1951. The contrast between the two worlds you’re thrust into is rather profound; one is snowy, gloomy, and war-torn, while the other is bright, optimistic and prosperous. The game does a phenomenal job at world-building, perhaps even more so than any of the GTAs, and Empire Bay truly feels like a thriving but somehow homely metropolis. Never do you truly feel a greater sense of love for the incredible city they’ve built than on your first night back from the war; when Bing Crosby’s White Christmas plays on the radio as you walk the frozen but serene streets of Empire Bay, into the waiting arms of your mother.
Perhaps even more admirably, not once do the developers shy away from the less politically correct idea of the 1950s. I learnt more racial slurs in the first 15 minutes of the game than I did in five years of browsing 4Chan. As far as characters go, Mafia 2 never strays too far from movie clichés, with the exception of Joe, your best friend and the comic relief in an otherwise dark game. When I say he’s the comic relief, I mean he calls women bitches, shoots a bartender in a drunken rage and gets a teenager shot to death. But nobody’s perfect.
Although it was made back in 2010, the AI of Mafia 2’s NPCs is downright revolutionary. The game has arguably the most realistic police force for any open-world shooter. It’s possible to bribe cops once they arrest you and they don’t automatically shoot you dead in the streets just for trying to steal a car, but that could just be because you’re white. Fist-fighting is a big part of the game, and if pummelling members of different races to death with your bare hands is something you find appealing, you’ll especially love the prison section of the story.
The vehicles in Mafia 2 are of course, beautiful, but what really makes them so memorable is their handling and performance, and the thought the developers put into these two game mechanics in particular is commendable. This especially profound in the first half of the game, when you have to navigate the icy roads of Empire Bay, where skidding and having your brakes fail are every bit as life-threatening as mobsters with Tommy Guns. Hell, they put so much detail into the aesthetics of the game, that if you leave your car out for an extended period of time, it’ll get covered in snow or dust, depending on the weather. You can truly experience the raw power of the vehicle you’re driving every time you accelerate, and more so when you turn. These aren’t some nimble little toys to be trifled with; these are vintage machines worthy of reverence.
It’s not all praise however, and my main gripe with Mafia 2 is its linearity. While Empire Bay city is vibrant and exciting, there’s literally nothing to do really do aside from the actual story missions. It almost seems like a waste. Why build such a fantastic open world with a treasure trove of great vehicles and beautiful buildings when all I’m going to do is drive from my house to the mission area? It isn’t exactly easy to admire Brooklyn Bridge when I’m being hunted by the Irish. Furthermore, I get that the main story is important, but would it kill you to add a few side missions so the game has some replay value? In short, the game feels incomplete.
Mafia 2 has aged beautifully. It looks spectacular to this day, and more importantly, it still manages to stay fun. The DLCs are extremely shoddy in my opinion, and use a whacky arcade-like point system that lacks the elegance of the base game. Still, they got a lot of things right, and the tasteful Playboy nudes strewn across the city are a very welcome feature, which is why I give them a solid 8.5 on 10. This may not technically be the greatest game of all time, but it certainly is one of my favourites.
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