I was originally going to write a review of sorts for Mafia II but as it’s been out a good few months, it seems a little unnecessary. I did want to write something about it, though, but more in terms of some of the weird design decisions that I think stopped the game from being great, rather than just good – or offensively bad if you’re John Teti.
1) It wasn’t an open-world game
In defence of 2K Games, I don’t think I ever read them saying that Mafia II would be an open-world game, but the game was set in a city- a fairly sizable city at that. No, it wasn’t quite on the scale that Libery City was/is in the Grand Theft Auto games, but y’know, it was a city. It had alleyways and abandoned buildings and other such things, and during the course of the game they used about a tenth of it. I don’t think I was being all that presumptuous by expecting it to be an open-world game.
Also, there was an Xbox achievement for completing Grand Theft Auto IV in under 30 hours, that I never got – I spent too much time between story missions being distracted by the amount of fun* I could have in Liberty City. 2K did a brilliant job making me feel like I was in the 1940-50s, but I never got a chance to explore (Yeah, ok- shoot/drive into police) unless I strayed from what they were telling me to do. It took me less than 10 hours to finish Mafia II, and I wasn’t really in any rush.
2) The Wanted Level system was great
Yeah, that doesn’t sound like a bad thing, does it? Combine it with the first point, and the fact that I had countless hours of fun on GTA when left to my own devices (Look, I like to shoot people who get in my way- don’t judge me**), and you start to see why it frustrated me so much.
Generally, when the police are a bit annoyed with you – for shunting them, or blowing up three or four police cars with a rocket launcher – a circle appears on your mini-map that you have to escape from; the naughtier you were, the bigger the circle. Once you’ve escaped this circle for a few seconds, the entire police force in the city develops amnesia and you’re a fine upstanding citizen again. Wonderful. In Mafia II there is a similar system, expect if you went a little too far the police would mark you or your car as wanted; so even if you managed to escape one particular chase – or just killed everyone – if you were spotted by another policeman-officer, they would come after you again until you changed your clothes and/or your car (or your number plate).
There was a small section of the game where you had to make your way from point A to point B while you were wanted by the police, and it really worked; I found myself diving behind parked cars whenever a police car drove past – often being spotted anyway due to my stupidity. I remember a frantic and, again, rather pathetic attempt at trying to make it into a clothes shop before a police car turned the corner the shop was on- it was fun, and it could have led to many more hours of fun, I suspect. It just felt like a missed opportunity.
3) Sometimes, realism isn’t fun
I work from home and, as hard as it is to believe, I get dressed every day- I’m even dressed now. I did leave the house for a driving lesson earlier though, so I had a good reason to today. I suspect a lot of people have a similar thought process- Am I leaving the house? If so, wear clothes. So I guess meeting your friend and another member of the Mafia is a good reason to get dressed – you can’t deny their logic – but that doesn’t mean you should make me do it at the start of every chapter. Yes, it’s great that there are other outfits available, but let me change my outfit if I fancy a change, and don’t make me go through to the process of choosing the same one because I’m not that interested.
One of the first things I did this morning – after getting dressed, obviously – was turn the light off that my girlfriend had left on before she went to work. “Oh, how very exciting!”, you cry. I’ll be honest, turning the light off wasn’t all that exciting either, and, unless there’s a very good reason to, it’s never that good in games. So, please, developers, stop programming it in unless there is a use for it. The same applies for ceiling fans – yes, ceiling fans. If you program a functional on/off switch for a ceiling fan into your game, I demand that you allow me to throw things into it.
Now as far as I know, the game may be so linear and story-driven because of time constraints – Gamasutra recently posted an amazingly honest account of why Splinter Cell: Conviction turned out the way it did – but as far as functional light-switches and getting dressed every single day, there’s just no excuse. I get to experience both of those things every day and they’re never really that interesting. Which is why the ceiling fan inclusion is so mystifying – if I had one, I’d spend most of my days throwing stuff at it, and that would have made an amazing game. Another missed opportunity, 2K.
* Generally getting Niko run over/shooting the people who run me over.
** Not in real life. In real life, I do what everyone else does- sigh loudly and hope they don’t hear you.