Kotaku writes: In the runup to the game's release last year, Mafia II's development studio and publicity team tried, with limited success, to set reasonable expectations of the game. "It isn't Grand Theft Auto," Kotaku was told, more than once, in emails and in the game's review notes.
The talking point reflects the popular expectation, built over a decade of Grand Theft Auto releases and numerous imitators, that open-world games necessarily meant a sandbox. In popular expectation, they'd come to mean large maps littered with side quests and diversions, and key story missions that could be triggered out of order. This is especially true of crime thrillers, and absolutely true if they were major releases.
But it wasn't true of Mafia II, by a longshot, and it was beat up pretty bad for not being something it never said it was.