At the beginning of July, we took a sneak peek at the Mafia II demo that's going to be hitting consoles shortly. It was a quick bite of gameplay but enough to convince us to make the trek up to Novato to visit the 2K "family" and spend some more time with Vito Scaletta and the boys. Over the course of four hours, we played four different levels; two were set in the first half of the game, which occurs in the 1940s, while the other two occurred in the latter half, which is set in the 1950s.
Given that pretty much everyone died or was otherwise incapacitated at the end of the original Mafia, the sequel starts up with a fresh cast of characters. The main protagonist this time around is Vito. Home on leave after getting injured in World War II, he is offered a reprieve when his childhood friend Joe offers to provide some "fixed" medical documents that will get Vito a permanent discharge.
Planning on living a normal life and taking care of his mom and sister, Vito gets drawn into the world of the mob after discovering that his late father racked up a large debt before dying, and now a loan shark is threatening to take it out on his family if they don't pay up. With nowhere else to turn, Vito looks to Joe. Already performing low level jobs for the mafia, Joe sets up Vito with a local car theft gig. The job starts out simple enough: steal cars for the local mechanic so he can strip them for the parts he needs to repair his customers' cars.
As the first mission we played, "Home Sweet Home" provided a smooth introduction to the game. From hand-to-hand combat to lock picking, driving and shooting, the game managed to squeeze all the basics into a tutorial mission that really didn't feel like a tutorial mission. While there was a lot of story to convey, it was interspersed with the action in a way that felt natural.
The script in Mafia II is written so that conversations never sound forced, and key information isn't just limited to the cut scenes. For example, a conversation may occur while you're driving. In many titles, this would just be down time, but here, the game uses it as an opportunity to advance the plot. Most notable about the script is that it doesn't pull any punches. This is a game that is set in the '40s and '50s, during a time when racial tensions were the norm. As a result, not only do the characters swear a lot, but they also don't hesitate to throw around racial epithets either. While it may be off-putting to some, the use is accurate and doesn't feel out of place. Rather, it adds to the authenticity of the dialogue, and 2K should be commended for taking the risk.
The second mission we played was called "Buzzsaw." A modified version of this mission makes up the official Mafia II demo, so you'll get the chance to try it out for yourself soon enough. Here we learn a bit more about the inter-family rivalries and prepare to take out someone who has crossed a few too many people. Again, the dialogue is a surprising strong point of the experience, but the core gaming aspect emphasized here was the use of cover. In short, no matter what gun you currently have, you cannot run and gun. To do so is instant suicide. Intelligent use of cover is the only way to survive.
From there, we skipped ahead a few missions to the 1950s and played a mission called "Balls and Beans." In the ensuing time, it seems that the proverbial shit had hit the fan. Vito was thrown in the slammer, and the family was double-crossed. Now free, Vito is tasked with securing proof that they've been sold out.
The mission has you playing a bit of stealth as Vito infiltrates a meat packing plant via the sewer system. In order to progress, you have to keep to the shadows and stay out of sight. The path to your goal is clear; it's simply a matter of timing when it comes to staying out of the watchful eye of the guards. Once you find the other family members, the mission shifts into a full-on, balls-to-the-wall shootout. It's a complete 180 from the first half but a complete blast. Using cover is just as important here as it was in "Buzzsaw," but both missions highlight the tight controls. Shooting feels right, no matter which weapon you're currently using.
After leaving the meat packing plant, we moved on to the final mission available during our hands-on time, "Room Service." Setting up a climatic battle, Vito and Joe paired up to go after a rival mobster, Clemente. As the head of a competing family, Clemente would normally be untouchable, but he broke the unwritten rules of the mafia and has to pay. There is a family meeting at a local hotel, so the plan is to blow up the conference room.
Sneaking into the hotel is done by way of the laundry room, where Vito and Joe don disguises as janitors. Up at the meeting room, you actually have to work as a janitor, cleaning blood stains out of the floor while Joe preps the bomb. From there, it's up to the roof for another shootout and triggering the bomb. Of course, things don't quite go according to plan, resulting in another shootout through the devastated hotel.
Although "Room Service" was the end of our hands-on time, it left us wanting more. Mafia II may not have a franchise name like Grand Theft Auto or Saint's Row, but based on what we've seen, it has the polish necessary to provide a compelling experience. With that said, Mafia II isn't an open-world game. It does have a city to explore, but your path through said city is a linear one, so don't expect any side missions. With the tightly wound narrative, however, side jobs don't seem to be a necessity.
Mafia II's optional collection quest is sure to send conservative parents into a conniption fit while simultaneously making the game a hit with pre-teen boys (and dads). In a collaboration with Playboy, the game features 50 issues of the magazine hidden throughout the game as collectibles. In addition to the cover, each magazine features a full-size, high-definition, digital copy of that issue's centerfold layout — completely uncensored.
Digital boobs or not, Mafia II looks to be a game that is targeted at mature gamers in content as well as in style. It isn't explicit just to shock but because that's the nature of the beast. Assuming the rest of the game is up to the same quality level, Mafia II looks like it could be a standout in gameplay as well as story. It isn't often that games tackle mature themes well, but the team at 2K Czech may just have pulled it off.
We'll have the final verdict on Mafia II when it ships next month, but in the meantime, don't miss our Mafia flashback contest. 2K Games was kind enough to give us a handful of Steam download codes for the original Mafia, and we're passing them on to you. Check out the contest page for details.
More articles about Mafia II