(2K Games for Xbox 360)
By Mike Delano
The developers of Mafia II are great storytellers. They have an eye for the big picture: As you guide Vito Scaletta from small-time thief through his descent down into the bowels of the mob underworld, the seasons, color palette, and even the weather change to shape the mood. Expertly chosen period music and stellar voice acting further set the tone of both Vito’s mindset and the zeitgeist of the city (NYC substitute Empire Bay). They also make the little things have a big impact: You’ll sit down with your mom to discuss the direction of your life, and later you’ll take a slow first-person march past berating guards as you’re led into jail. There’s little doubt you’ll be impressed by the cinematic approach of the game, but chances are, you’ll be just as let down by the limited gameplay. Too often, it feels like you’re just filling in the blanks of a tightly orchestrated story, your actions micromanaged to the point that you’re simply advancing the plot rather than experiencing it. That may be the price to pay for such narrative satisfaction, but at least when you do take control, the third-person shootouts are solid (and set in very attractive environments), and driving around town in classic cars is breezy (provided you steal a sporty one). Like another high-profile late summer sequel, Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days, Mafia II leans too heavily on style over substance, but Vito’s tale is one worth tagging along for.