I have just completed Mafia II on the Xbox 360 and I have to say it was an absolute joy to play from start to finish. The game is very story intensive, but I'll do my best to review the game without any spoilers.
Mafia II is very similar to the Grand Theft Auto games in terms of open world platform, style of story, and style of driving. However, I enjoyed this game more than Grand Theft Auto 4 because of its very immersive and twisting story. Mafia II puts three key elements together exceptionally well: great shooting, great (and satisfying) fighting, and great stealth.
The game sees you cast as Vito Scaletta. Vito joins the mob and then tries to work his way up the family ladder. Starting in the mid 1940s in fictional Empire Bay, Vito is asked by the bosses to do a range of jobs from jewelry heists to killing someone, without asking questions.
Empire Bay has very authentic environments with heavy creaking cars that play classic music and radio messages from the time, citizens walking about in interesting but realistic clothing, and policeman patrolling the streets with their hands behind their backs. As you play, the time period changes, eventually progressing to the 1950s, when cars are notably more powerful and handle better, fashion is different, and the cityscape is changed as well.
Vito is joined by his best friend and side kick Joe Barbaro who will often help him out but also get him in more trouble. These two have a lot of fun together and there is certainly more than a couple of sequences that will make you laugh.
As Vito goes through the Mafia ranks he is torn between looking after his family and enjoying the perks that comes with his work. This makes the story that more engaging as you see Vito start to question whether he has made the right moves; however he also realizes that he is in too deep now to get out.