The ’40s and ’50s feel real in action-packed Mafia II

One might logically wonder where the Mafia franchise could go since everyone from the original game is dead.

Mafia II

Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC

Genre: Action

Publisher: 2K Games

ESRB Rating: M, for Mature

Grade: 4 stars (out of 5)

One might logically wonder where the Mafia franchise could go since everyone from the original game is dead.

But have no fear: Vito is here.

You play the sequel as Vito, a newcomer to the organized-crime world who must ply his trade in small-time jobs while methodically moving up the ranks.

The journey may be linear but the story is far from it, littered with excellent plot narratives and plenty of twists and turns to keep you fully engaged.

Mafia II envelops itself in two different periods of time, the mid-1940s and the ’50s. The stark contrasts between the two do a fantastic job of giving you senses of place and time. The cars you obtain (by legal means or otherwise) pipe in period music, while news broadcasts and commercials provide plenty of quirky information and fun.

The three main sources of action: racing around town to do jobs; getting into fistfights; and the ubiquitous and always exciting shootouts.

Driving sequences are decent but expose the game’s most noticeable flaw (more on that in a sec). But the fights (whether by hand or gun) are full of action and drama. The punches feel appropriately punishing, while such weapons as guns, blunt objects or grenades all pack a wallop.

The biggest drawback is the size of the city. It looks, acts and breathes beautifully. The map features all sorts of icons for potential activities, but none of them pans out into anything necessarily interesting. It’s a massively picturesque city that doesn’t really give you many ways to interact with it.

The lack of a truly open world means you are left to the strictly linear story, which is no flimsy tale by any means. It’s a tightly woven narrative with compelling characters and enough excitement to certainly keep any gamer well-sated.

The original Mafia is a tough act to follow, and while Mafia II doesn’t necessarily exceed it, the sequel provides an excellent experience you will have a hard time walking away from.

Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC

Genre: Shooter

Publisher: Square Enix

ESRB Rating: M, for Mature

Grade: 2.5 stars

If a game ever cried out “Please rent me. I’m not worth the full retail price,” it would have to be Kane & Lynch 2.

The game is not necessarily bad. In several aspects, it’s a marked improvement over the relative stink bomb that was the original. Its visual style and some better AI from your partner make the game a more action-packed experience.

The game lasts just a tad longer than one of the Lord of the Rings movies. There is plenty of action squeezed into those approximately four hours, but it abruptly ends.

Aided by a camera that acts like the game was filmed with a cell-phone camera or disposable video recorder, the jerkiness and exacerbated lighting effects lend a distinct style to the game. It’s something no other game features as strongly, and I suspect it will be mimicked by others.

This game gets high marks for presentation, but is seriously undercut by brevity and shallowness. I’d call it a weekend rental, but you could rent, finish and return this in one day.

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