In the summer of 2002, the original Mafia was released to PC gamers who were hungry for something akin to Grand Theft Auto 3, which was only available for the PS2 at the time. What they got instead was an open-world game set in the 1930s that emulated Rockstar's efforts rather well while injecting an actual story. The release to the consoles two years later went rather well, though the port wasn't as clean as it could have been, emphasizing some of the PC game's issues while throwing in a few of their own. It was still a good open-world adventure, and GTA players embraced it, if only for the different setting. Eight years after the game's initial release, we're finally getting a sequel that will be simultaneously released on all three platforms. With the game's final release drawing near, 2K Games brought Mafia II to E3 and let the press spend some time getting comfortable with it.
In the demo, we have to meet up with our employer and partner to assassinate a rival mob member. We start off in our house and are given a bit of time to wander around before we get the call to meet up to begin the mission. We see that the partnership with Playboy in full effect, as we can browse through a vintage magazine on the table. By "browse," we mean that we can look at the images in full, uncensored HD. We can head to the mission or walk around the city to explore. Procuring a car provides a glimpse into how much detail the team at 2K Czech has put into the game. Instead of just opening the car, our character takes the time to bash in the window of a parked car before entering. It also takes longer to start up the vehicle since he'll be hot-wiring it. Another hint of the amount of detail in the game is in the interaction with cops. Even a simple burnout in front of the cops will send them our way. Once the player makes it to the destination, the game fades to black and into the next scenario.
After a short cut scene designed to provide some insight into our employer, the target arrives at the scene. We get our first taste of combat as we man a turret and mow down the henchmen and their cars. Despite our best efforts, though, our target manages to escape into a distillery, forcing us to abandon the trusty turret and go after him on foot. This is where we get our first taste of combat and the game's cover system. The cover is pretty basic, though, as we can take some cover and lean out, but we can't do any blind firing. The combat is more satisfying, as it plays out like any modern third-person shooter. The enemy AI is fairly good, as they don't try and stand in the line of fire. Our partner AI holds its own as well, since they not only dispatch enemies but also provide us with tactical opportunities so that we can flank the enemy or run to the next cover spot unharmed. After fighting through two floors full of goons, we get an in-game cut scene that shows the target being confronted and shooting our boss in the leg before dying. We have to escape the building, which is now engulfed in flames, and head back to the car.
(An accidental discovery is that death doesn't immediately mean that you fail the mission. If you die, you get a checkpoint restart, eliminating the need to start over an entire mission from scratch.)
The third section of the demo, the shortest one in the game, deals with getting the employer back to a doctor to treat the fresh bullet wound. Upon leaving the building and entering the car, we're immediately spotted by cops, and a car chase ensues. If your car gets wrecked, the mission is pretty much done. You can try to procure another car, but because since boss is injured, he won't leave the original vehicle. The chase lasts until we come across a police blockade, where a cut scene shows our character thinking about what to do next before the whole thing fades to black.
From a technical standpoint, everything looks very good in Mafia II. The graphics look great, with some nice attention to detail on the characters, particularly the faces. You'll see hints of stubble on some faces, while your main character has a faint scar on his face. The amount of detail also extends to the animation. Death animations are pretty dynamic, with bigger characters showing faint shockwaves flowing through their bodies as they are slammed to the ground. The music does a great job of transporting the player to the 1950s, with some big artists of the time, like Buddy Holly, blaring through the car and home radios. The voice acting is also pretty top-notch. Throughout the demo, there wasn't a single line that seemed forced, out of place or underacted. There wasn't any issue with the controls, though controlling cars seems fairly difficult due to their weight, but they don't seem a bit out of control when compared to the original Mafia game.
Mafia II looks to fill in an era of organized crime that hasn't been covered in any game to date. The gameplay mechanics control very well, and driving doesn't feel like a chore, as it does in some other games. The graphics are great, and the attention to detail is astounding. The sound, like the graphics, also adheres to the idea of being as authentic as possible, and the story looks like it could be the game's biggest strength. There's word that the demo we played at E3 will be released to the public soon, so if you're still on the fence about the game, be sure to check it out.
More articles about Mafia II