Though numbers count for only so much, the nearly 700-page script that is behind the narrative of 2K Games' upcoming open-world action game Mafia II should be a good indication that the team's focus on telling a compelling story is perhaps the primary goal. More telling is the fact that the team at 2K Czech (one of 2K Games' newest development studios) isn't even creating a multiplayer mode in the game. Instead, the team seems determined to raise the bar for video game storytelling while still making a game that's a lot of fun to play. We had a chance to see the latest slice of Mafia II behind closed doors at 2K's E3 press room.
You play as Vito, an Italy native and former soldier whose only goal in life is to make a living for himself in America. Of course, this being a mob tale, Vito's path through life has resulted in taking a job within organized crime. That said, this isn't a game about Vito's rise to the top of the Mafia; rather, it seems the devs are aiming for a more plausible and human story, one producers liken closer to Goodfellas than The Godfather.
The demo showed during the presentation took place about three to four hours into the game, with Vito taking his car across the snowy streets of Empire City, the fictional town in which Mafia II takes place. Producers said that there are elements of real-life cities found in the design of Empire City and the 20 neighborhoods that make up the city will have their own distinct look and feel. It's worth noting that Mafia II takes place during a 10-year span beginning in the mid-1940s and ending in the mid-1950s. Those eras will be defined not just by their look (with period-style autos to drive and old-school advertisements spread around town) but also by the music playing in the background (including licensed music from that particular time period).
After sliding around on the icy roads of Empire City, Vito made it to his destination and on to the next mission. The mission in question called for Vito and his crew--the wisecracking Joe and the ice-cold Henry (who, unlike Vito, is a "made man")--to take out a small-time hood nicknamed the Fat Man, who has been operating an illegal distillery but refusing to pay his protection money to the local Don. It doesn't take much imagination to figure out what happens next.
As Vito, Joe, and Henry discuss the plan to take out the Fat Man, you get a sense for the tight dialogue and attention to detail that the development team has paid to each of the characters. Vito isn't a reluctant mobster, for example; as a former soldier, he's killed before and, as the Fat Man would soon find out, he has no compunction about killing again. The tightly wired Henry is also more than he seems, and the interaction between the three characters looks set to be a continuing source of entertainment throughout the game.
Once the Fat Man arrives on the scene, the three Mobsters open up on him and his crew with a hail of machine-gun fire while perched in a building across the street. After devastating the crew and exploding the Fat Man's cars (and thus his means for escape), Vito and Friends head into the distillery to chase him down and finish him off.
Chasing down the Fat Man through the distillery, Vito will run into plenty of enemies to fight his way through. Although you don't have direct control over Joe or Henry, the producers said that they've put a lot of work into making sure that your buddies aren't a hindrance; as a result, they'll follow your lead, charging in with guns blazing where appropriate and taking cover when you hide. We saw a mixture of weapons in the game, everything from pistols and machine guns to shotguns and explosives such as Molotov cocktails (which, for perhaps obvious reasons, can be especially destructive when used in a distillery).
After trading some more bullets, the trio eventually catches up with the Fat Man, who's found cornered, trembling, and begging for his life. What transpires is a scene that's as strong in narrative as anything that we've seen in the genre this year: Henry jams his gun into the Fat Man's mouth, the camera shifts to Henry's face, and a single gunshot is heard. The camera then shifts to a shot of a smoking revolver being held by the Fat Man, at which point Henry tumbles to the ground with a bullet of his own. Joe and Vito, not believing what has just happened, unload on the Fat Man with a slew of bullets, resulting in one of the more dramatic death throes we've seen in a while, with some extremely effective camera angles that add to the overall tension of the scene.
At this moment, the gameplay mission shifts from a simple hit to keeping Henry alive. Joe, being the strongest of the group, hauls Henry up on his shoulders as the three begin their escape out of the building. As Vito, your job is to run interference, taking out any enemies who happen to be in your way. Once out of the distillery, the pressure is really on; as you pile your injured friend into the car, the whine of a police siren becomes audible and your goal becomes to try to get the injured Henry to a Mob-friendly doctor in the area.
After another car chase, the trio eventually ends up on a bridge that's been roadblocked by the cops. With the police closing in, Henry bleeding out, and Joe panicking, the responsibility for escape is placed squarely upon Vito's shoulders. How does he pull it off? We don't know; it was precisely at that cliffhanger moment that our guided demo of Mafia II ended.
The game's open-world design promises a rich world to explore. Combine that with characters that are likable (if not exactly lovable), and a story that looks to have plenty of memorable moments, and it appears that Mafia II is on track for success. The original Mafia was a minor cult classic; here's hoping that its successor is an upgrade in every possible way. Stay tuned for much more on the game in the coming months.