Next to World War II, titles where you play a member of a criminal organization working their way to the top seem to be one of the most common settings in gaming. But few in the genre of underworld games earned more critical praise than Mafia.
Mafia II looks to be aiming for similar heights. With a high production value and attention to detail, 2K Czech may just pull it off too. Read on for a preview.
Mafia II (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC)
Mafia II is a third-person sandbox game set in the height of the gangster-era as popularized by fiction. Spanning a period of a decade from the '40s to the '50s, players will control Vito Scaletta as he makes his rise to power within the world of organized crime.
The city of Empire Bay, the game's world, is an amalgam of twenty different US cities during the period. It's a very detailed environment, and the streets are lined with vintage posters warning about the threat the German army poses to the world and billboards advertising various products in an appropriate art style for the time, which is a nice touch. Presumably, these decorations will change as time passes.
In the segment of the game we were shown, it was February of 1945, and snow was falling to the ground. Weather conditions play a role in the game, as demonstrated when the car being driven skidded lightly on ice during turns. But the weather is significant in a narrative sense as well. The game will be presented as being specific points in Vito's life, and the current mood of the story will be reflected in the seasons. Winter will be dire, while Spring and Summer have much more positivity.
At this period of the game, three to four hours in, Vito is not yet a made man but is working for a mafia family. His objective in the demo is to eliminate a small-time hood known as "The Fatman" who has refused to pay protection money. Hiding out in a distillery owned by Fatman, Vito and two NPCs, Henry and Joe, wait for their target to arrive and pass the time talking a little bit about their pasts.
The scene is short-lived, as Fatman moves towards the distillery. Some workers across the street deliver a warning to him about Vito and the other two goons lying in wait. This results in a firefight as Fatman attempts to hide and sends his own mugs to try and stop his assassins.
One noticeable aspect of the combat sequence which follows is the effectiveness of the NPCs helping Vito. They seem to be just as capable as the protagonist, taking down enemies with ease. Cover, as in most third-person shooters today, play a vital role, and it breaks down in a delightfully realistic manner as it is riddled with bullets.
As Vito and crew reach their target, a cutscene ensures where Henry is shot by The Fatman. Out of anger, Fatman is then shot point blank in the face, resulting in one of the most gory deaths I've yet seen in a game. It's downright visceral and reminiscent of Sonny Corleone's tragic death in The Godfather film. The sheer brutality is actually a little bit unsettling.
With Henry shot and The Fatman dead, the mission's objective switches to getting Henry out and to a Mafia doctor before his wounds become fatal. Henry has to be escorted and, once he has been carried out of the distillery, we can hear police sirens wailing in the distance.
And this is where the demonstration concluded. On the whole, the game looks very attractive from a visual perspective, and 2K has clearly spent a considerable amount of effort in trying to recreate the pop culture version of the gangster lifestyle. Whether the game plays as well as it looks remains to be seen, but it will be interesting to watch further developments of Mafia II come to light as we get closer to its planned release in early 2010.