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Review: 'Mafia II' an energetic, bloody ride

"Mafia II" follows the ascent of a gangster, from streetwise kid to "made man."
"Mafia II" follows the ascent of a gangster, from streetwise kid to "made man."
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Reviewer: 'Mafia II' is fun, energetic and bloody
  • Story follows gangster Vito Scaletta from streetwise kid to "made man"
  • Game uses authentic songs, cars and architecture from the '40s and '50s
  • Games was released Tuesday for Playstation 3, XBOX 360 and PC.
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(CNN) -- Set in the 1940s and '50s, "Mafia II" (2K Czech) is a violent, historical, and definitely exciting journey through the mob world in the United States -- featuring a great story, accurate artwork and music for the time period, and gameplay that isn't overly complicated.

The tale begins with a streetwise kid from Sicily named Vito Scaletta, whose parents immigrate to the United States and Empire City, a sprawling metropolis based on New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

It ends with Scaletta as a "made man" for the mafia. But along the way, he goes through many scenarios involving theft, betrayal, stealth and murder.

Much of the action takes place with Vito's childhood friend, Joe Barbero. Barbero is a nonplayer character who helps spur the action along and also helps out in some of the more wild firefights.

Jack Scalici, director of creative production at 2K Gamers, said writer Daniel Vavra wanted to base the story on Mafia history with an alternative slant.

"Daniel is a Mafia historian," Scalici said. "He really wanted to show what Mafia life was like through one guy during a specific time period."

There are plenty of opportunities for classic gun battles in iconic mafia-story buildings like a bourbon distillery, a dock warehouse and a Chinese restaurant. Some scenes can end in total bloodbaths after the player has mowed down dozens of other mobsters and gangsters.

Conflicts with police (and there will be many of those) can be resolved through bribery, or, for a more exciting option, car chases and gunfights rolling through the city streets.

Despite a free-roaming city that spans 10 square miles, the story is a linear one. Each episode flows directly into the next in a series of events that doesn't require side missions. There are plenty of shops dotted throughout Empire City, but they are visited on an as-needed basis for guns, clothing or food.

"This is not a GTA (Grand Theft Auto) game," Scalici said. "There is nothing out there like it. There is so much more you can do."

Scalici described the game as an authentic '40s and '50s-era experience -- right down to historically accurate cars (which players can customize), the music on the radios, the billboard ads, and the buildings.

"In the '40s, the buildings are mostly brick with very few skyscrapers," Scalici said. "Once we get to the '50s, there is more glass in the building and more skyscrapers in the skyline."

In an effort to achieve historical accuracy, Scalici said there is language and dialect that is appropriate for each neighborhood of Empire City. There are also more than 100 different interior designs so players don't feel like they are visiting the same room for every building.

Because getting from one place to another usually involves a car ride, music was a huge component in creating a believable environment. Scalici said there are 120 licensed songs from the '40s and '50s that play from radio in vehicles and in some buildings. The process of picking those songs took nearly two years, he said.

"I told our music people to send me all the music before Phil Spector," he said. "They sent me thousands, which we whittled down to 1,500. I listened to them for the next two years before finally getting it down to 120."

Scalici said he didn't want to pick the greatest hits from each era. In fact, he said they eliminated some artists just so people would want to listen to them throughout the game.

"I picked Roy Hamilton instead of Elvis," he said. "I chose songs that wouldn't get on the players' nerves after a couple of hours."

Even the radio announcers were chosen because of their classic sound. Los Angeles-based AM radio DJ Jim Thornton is heard doing many different voices in the style of his counterparts from that time period.

The gameplay is pretty straightforward, since the game was designed for the casual gamer. There aren't complicated controls during hand-to-hand battles and firing weapons is as easy as pointing and shooting.

Different cars behave differently on the road and under changing weather conditions. Each vehicle has its own speed and handling specifications, which can make some chapters more challenging depending on which getaway vehicle the player decided to bring.

"Mafia II" is not without some bits of controversy. The game is rated "M" for mature and it earns that rating fairly. There is a lot of coarse language befitting the time period. Know the old saying, "Use it like a comma?" In "Mafia II," it's more like "Use it instead of spaces between words."

There is also some nudity sprinkled through the game in collectible Playboy covers and centerfolds from the 1950s. It's part of a licensing deal that ads a bit of authenticity to the game, but isn't overly front and center in any of the game play.

The one glaring drawback to the game was the ending. Without giving anything away, the finale feels abrupt -- like the ending of the middle movie in a trilogy that really doesn't resolve anything, but seems to be setting up the next movie.

Ending aside, "Mafia II" is a fun, energetic, sometimes bloody game that steeps the player in the alternate world of the crime families from the '40s and '50s. There are 15 chapters, with each taking anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes to play.

Once you start, it will be hard to put down. The flow and story of the game really pull you along. There are two downloadable content packs that introduce a new character with a storyline separate from the main one.

"Mafia II" was released Tuesday for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC.

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