The action in Mafia II boils down to that of a cover-based, third-person shooter. This is unfortunate because the combat is not nearly as polished as many of the other games in this genre… The controls are rather sloppy – you can’t vault over most objects and there’s no way to easily move from one piece of cover to another – while the AI does little more than pop in and out of cover like a corridor version of whack-a-mole. On the bright side, it’s more realistic than other shooters in the sense that you can die from only a few bullets or even a single shotgun blast, so you have to be at least a little careful. If you do take some non-lethal damage, you can hide for a few seconds to allow your health to regenerate up to about three-quarters (you must eat or drink something to fill it all the way back up).
The variety of weapons is very decent, though they all fit neatly into four categories accessible via the 1, 2, 3, and 4 keys: throwables (grenades, molotovs), pistols (M1911, .36 revolver, magnum), long arms (pump-action shotgun, Kar 98k, M1 Garand), and submachine guns (tommy gun, M1A1, MP40) You can carry the entire arsenal with you at once, including some that are not listed here, likely to offset the fact that the amount of reserve ammo you can carry for any one of them is pretty limited. Even so, you’ll rarely have to go purchase ammunition because every fallen enemy provides a clip for whatever gun they were using.
It’s also worth mentioning that the hand-to-hand combat is mind-numbingly tedious at best. Considering that you’re forced into fisticuffs multiple times throughout the game, you’d think they would make it more, well, fun. All you do is hold down the evade key until the enemy attacks, counter-punch, rinse, repeat several times, and then finish with a scripted triple-click combination. There are rival mobsters scattered around the city that will pick a fist-fight with you on the street… Just pull out a gun and blow their head off. Done! No sense wasting two minutes trading blows with a nobody, right? That is, if a cop doesn’t notice and come break up the brawl.
Fighting the cops isn’t fun like it is in Grand Theft Auto because their highest alert level only means the handful of officers that spawn around you will shoot tommy guns instead of pistols. If you’re well-armed, you’ll be able to knock them out before they get close enough to be able to hit you. It is far more entertaining and fulfilling to evade the police, due to their ability to recognize you as a criminal even after you’ve gotten away. If you’re in a car and speed or crash into another motorist, the police will pursue you and eventually mark the car as “wanted.” Similarly, if you’re on foot, they will broadcast your description to the rest of the force and you will be hunted down that way. In that case, you’ll have to change your clothes in order to get them off your back for good.