As a long-time fan of the original Mafia game, which I have played through numerous times, I had high expectations for the long-awaited sequel. I'd like to start off by saying I wasn't disappointed.
Graphically, Mafia 2 can boast some of the finest the Xbox 360 has seen to date. The new city, Empire Bay, is very atmospheric and bustling with life, as a fairly wide range of civilians window shop, commute and interact with one another. There are points in the game where you simply have to sit back and admire the level of detail that the developers have achieved, particularly the landscape views of the city. The cars accurately reflect the wear-and-tear that the player has made them endure, with the paintwork scratching, headlights smashing and windows cracking. Barring the odd graphical glitch, the game is a visual treat, with a wide range of textures which are never drab. The transition between the 40s and 50s is also very satisfying, as the cars, costumes and feel of the town dramatically change.
It is worth noting that the soundtrack to the game is fantastic - the music is varied and has a large catalogue of classic hits, and it is refreshing to hear voice acting pulled off how it should be; there are rarely cheesy moments in the dialogue and it is, more often than not, very humourous - particularly the exchanges between Vito and Joe.
A lot of reviews I have read particularly focussed on and criticised the fighting system. I personally didn't find too much wrong with it, barring the fact that it seems essential to stay in cover at all times otherwise you'll be backtracking to the last checkpoint, some of which can be incredibly frustratingly far back. You do get a feel for the weaponry almost instantaneously though, and the game has some of the nicest physics you can find, bits of wall breaking off and obstacles literally being destroyed in front of you. As for hand-to-hand combat, I was quite disappointed to see a lack of melee weapons after the popularity of the baseball bat in the first game. Vito seems to prefer using the same combinations and animations over and over again, which are fine once or twice, but do get repetitive very quickly.
However, one of my major gripes with the game is the linearity of it. At times you do feel as if you're on a set path to accomplish goals, while you can see the city around you just waiting to be explored. I know this is the same model as the first game, but with the influx of free-roaming sandbox games you would have expected a little more freedom. When you do break off from the main storyline, which is not often, it is usually just to return to your home and sleep, which can get very repetitive. It also seems as if the developers had an obsession with phones, as everytime Vito tries to sleep he is awoken by a phonecall telling him he needs to be in a certain place with a car and a weapon. Not that this is a particularly big issue, but it would be nice to see the formula mixed up from time to time.
Overally, Mafia 2 is a brilliant homage to the gangster genre, with an excellent soundtrack and graphics. However, it does seem to lack a certain something that the first game had, and I can't help but feel a bit disappointed that after a ten and a half hour playthrough there is virtually nothing to do other than replay chapters or find collectibles which seems essentially pointless. The first game had excellent free ride and free ride extreme modes, and I was quite saddened to see that they haven't made a re-appearance. I would definitely recommend this game, but don't expect the world as you will be slightly disappointed. If you're after a game that can keep you engaged for a period of time, this is the game for you, but once it's over, that's pretty much it I'm afraid. The real reason most players should purchase this game is the storyline, which is highly impressive. With a fair amount of unexpected twists, references to very popular Hollywood gangster films and characters who are both believable and with whom you can relate to, it is one of the best and most polished scripts I can recall seeing in a video game for a long time.
I'd give it 8/10, but if only the developers had made more available to do it would definitely be a 9 or even a 10. Still, with the crazy modern world of downloadable content, who knows?!