Mafia II – PAX East Hands-On

PhotobucketThe walls of 2K Game’s PAX East booth were adorned with a powerful scene – the mobsters of Mafia II casually digging a grave, lit cigarettes and pistols in hand. If it wasn’t clear from the title, this sequel is an Italian mob story brimming with this kind of dark bravado. It’s exactly what will set this game apart from its many open-world contemporaries, and we got a chance to check it out.

2K gave us an extended look at the game on the show floor, and we didn’t waste any time tearing into it. First impressions are impossible to ignore, and the first thing we noticed is that Mafia II plays and looks a lot like Grand Theft Auto IV. It’s got the familiar mini-map, the car-jacking, wanted levels, and even similarly hefty driving controls. But it’s also tighter in certain areas (like shooting), and regardless, if you’re going to borrow ideas, borrow from the best. Ultimately, it all looks and feels great, and that quality allows the game’s more unique aspects to shine through.

Mafia II aims to tell an authentic mob story. It stars a small-time crook named Vito and his friend Joe as they rise through the ranks of the mafia from the 40s to the 50s.. The demo started with Vito’s early days selling cigarettes out of the back of a truck. Things quickly went sour as a rival gang showed up. Words were exchanged (followed by bullets) and we got our first taste of the game’s cutscenes. The voice acting is excellent, and the characters perfectly evoke the look of the period. They could be a little more emotive, but if you’re into crime dramas you’ll quickly be on board.

PhotobucketThe first real mission is a simple car chase that quickly establishes the authenticity of Mafia’s world – the game’s classic cars accelerate quite slowly, hitting a good balance of realistic and fun controls. The cars have weight, and you can really feel them swerve around corners. The car radio even plays music from the era, with Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman” just one song featured in the demo.

Afterward we were tossed into a little piece of the game’s bustling cityscape. Game engines still haven’t hit the point where they can pack a city street with pedestrians, but Empire Bay, the game’s fictional backdrop, is sufficiently dense. Storefronts, houses, and skyscrapers are littered with details sure to evoke warm, familiar feelings for any city dweller.

At this point in the demo, our goal was to track down a phone. After soaking in the scenery we came upon an occupied pay phone booth – a convenient place for a hand-to-hand combat tutorial if we ever saw one. The cool thing about this moment wasn’t that it taught us how to fight, or that we yanked an unsuspecting citizen off of his call, but how the police reacted to the antics. In most games, the cops would have already worked a dozen bullets into Vito’s gut; but Mafia II’s lawmen are a more patient bunch – they broke up the fight instead of pulling the trigger. While our time to experiment was limited, it seemed that the game’s police are both more lenient on smaller crimes and murderously aggressive for the bigger stuff. It’s certainly a better balance than the scatterbrained psychopaths upholding the law in Liberty City.

PhotobucketIn the next mission, the demo heated up with a bit of revenge and property damage. We met up with Vito’s crew and made Swiss cheese out of a rival bar, then finished the place off with a couple Molotov cocktails. The physics and destruction in this section were quite impressive. The minutiae of damage inflicted upon this poor building was something we hope to see much more of in the final game.

Finally, the demo’s climax took us and our crew of goons through the rival crew’s junkyard hideout. This was where the game introduced some serious gun-play. A simple cover system worked just how you’d expect, and the collection of old-school guns were fun to use despite their low rate of fire. We’ll admit, the scripting of this scene seemed a bit off, with a few too many obvious trigger points and a few too many dead bodies for what seemed like an early part of the game, but the shooting was solid nevertheless.

PhotobucketAs the demo came to its conclusion, we decided we’d reboot and roam around the city a bit. While a lot could change between now and Mafia II’s August 24th release date, it was clear that Empire Bay was much more of a backdrop than a sandbox. While the map was littered with clothing stores, bars, and places to sleep, there didn’t seem to be much in the way of side-missions. Combine that with a relatively small 10-square kilometers of real estate and linear mission progression, and Mafia II appears to be a very directed experience. Not that that’s a bad thing – the amount of variety and detail packed into Empire Bay could still add a lot of atmosphere to a linear tale.

Even with our extended look at Mafia II, it’s not clear what we’ll end up with when the final game comes along. What we saw was shaping up quite well, with tight controls, fun combat, and some stunning visual depth. Still, a lot will be riding on the story and characters. All the solid technical bits seem to be in service of immersion, with the focus on an engaging crime story. Let’s hope they can pull it off.

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Written by Joe D

Inspired by a love for obscure Sega Saturn games in the 90s, Joe is pretty much open to anything gaming has to offer. What he looks for in a game: creativity and strong design, or sometimes just an overwhelming sense of style.

One comment

  1. Keirra Mitchell /

    Man I Really Want This Game And I Think That Will Be A Awsome WallPaper
    That You Guys Have Up On The Screen..

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