Mafia II Updated Impressions

This mob story may have an old-fashioned setting, but its take on open-world storytelling is anything but.

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In our previous encounter with Mafia II at E3 this past June, we came away impressed with the game’s 1950s-era tale of organized crime wrapped around one man’s pursuit of the American dream. But one thing that makes this open-world action game from 2K Czech interesting is the way it takes optional missions and intertwines them with the main story structure in a way you don’t really see in games of this genre. That was the focus of a demo led by publisher 2K Games earlier today at GamesCom 2009.

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The demo we checked out started with a phone call. The main character Vito receives a message from an associate of his named Giuseppe asking him to come by and pick up some less-than-legitimate papers. Vito agrees to help Giuseppe and sets off to meet him--though only after the player selects an outfit from the wardrobe and a car from his garage. On the way out of the parking lot, you witness a minor auto accident nearby. A fight erupts between the angry fellow and the woman he ran into, giving you the opportunity to walk up and defend her from this guy’s brimming rage. If you choose to help her out, you’ll jump into a fight with the guy and test the game’s melee combat. It relies on just three buttons--light attack, heavy attack, and evade--but manages to look very brutal and convincing.

This little subquest is one of the many examples of how you’re often given the opportunity to take on optional side missions while making your way from one point to another in the city during a larger story mission. That’s something that should help make the city feel much more alive--that feeling that an opportunity might randomly fall into your lap without you having to go searching for an icon on the map to trigger a mission. Another example of these side quests intertwined within the main narrative came just a moment later in the demo when we ran into a gentleman named Steve while walking up the stairs to meet Giuseppe. After exchanging pleasantries, Steve hints that a friend of his has been having some trouble selling cars due to a rival salesman cutting in on his business. Long story short, Steve wants you to mess up some cars belonging to the other guy.

Naturally, the 2K Games rep leading our demo chose to help Steve out in this scenario, further delaying the main story a bit while Vito goes off on his own business. But upon leaving the building, Vito runs into some trouble in the parking lot and gets confronted by a police officer demanding to see a permit for Vito’s gun (which Vito had just brandished to ward off some muggers). The player is given the choice to bribe the cop, show a permit if he’s got one, or just plain run away. The 2K rep went with the third option, causing a wanted icon to appear on the screen and the cop to give chase. Unlike Grand Theft Auto, you can’t just hide and let your wanted level disappear; you’ll need to alter your appearance by running into a clothing store to change clothes so that your last known appearance no longer matches your current one.

There’s actually a different wanted system for when you get in trouble behind the wheel of a car. That particular vehicle goes on record with the police, not the driver, so the easy option is to simply make your way out of the sight of the police tailing you and jump out of the car. But if you ever go back to that car (say, for example, you store it in your garage for a few days and go back to it), you’ll be wanted all over again. But if you’re attached to the vehicle you’re driving and want to make it safe to drive, there’s another option to take the car to a mechanic to have the paint job redone and the license plate swapped.

But let's get back to the mission. After losing his wanted level, Vito makes his way over to the car lot and uses some stealth tactics, such as sneaking in the shadows and taking cover behind crates, to make it in without alerting the guards. He manages to do so and immediately proceeds to toss Molotov cocktails on the cars inside. Chaos ensues as the cars explode, shelves come toppling down, and bits of the ceiling cascade onto the ground in an impressive showing of the game’s destructive environments.

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And that’s just about where the demo ended. We walked away from the demo very impressed with Mafia II, thanks in large part to some of these interesting new additions to the open-world action genre and an impressive presentation that blends striking character models with great voice acting. We’re looking forward to bringing you more on this one in the near future.

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