RPS At E3: Mafia II’s Buzzsaw

By John Walker on June 4th, 2009 at 7:30 am.

He's fighting light itself.

A couple of months ago we brought you lots of information about 2K Czech’s forthcoming Mafia II. A new mission has been demoed at E3, this time one set near the beginning of the game in February 1945, so it’s time to tell you some more. (You can see some clips of it in the trailer released this week.) The war’s still raging, and Vito Scalleta was recently back from Europe, flat broke, looking to get himself some well paid work. Hello the mob. By the start of this mission, called The Buzzsaw, Vito’s already met his buddy Joe, along with Italian immigrant Henry, both acting as his wingmen. It’s time to go kill the Fat Man.

When not time-sensitive, starting a mission doesn’t prevent your exploring Mafia’s sandbox world. Like the original, Empire Bay can be driven around freely if you choose to make a diversion on the way to your task. Except this time there’s a lot more to do on your travels. With around one hundred interior locations to find, poke around, and shop in, and all manner of AI pedestrians playing out their own lives, it’s a much more vibrant city. But of course, the focus remains on the story.

The initial task in The Buzzsaw is to take out an individual known as The Fat Man. He’s running an illegal distillery, which wouldn’t be a problem you’d care aboutwere he not failing to make his payments to your ‘family’. The three of you head in to teach him a life lesson.

This begins with an ambush, which offers opportunities to show off the new exploding cars and spreading fire. Blow up vehicles and the men standing by them are going to get hurt. Rather brutally. But despite their best efforts the Fat Man gets away, and heads into his distillery. Following him in leads to a shootout that shows quite how resilient the cover system really is. Snapping into place next to pillars, or behind crates, Vito can shoot from temporary safety. It also demonstrates the AI of your buddies, who unlike the original Mafia and so many other games, don’t run on ahead or try to take the initiative. They’ll protect themselves, use cover smartly, but will not, we’re promised, run off into the line of fire or douse themselves with petrol and start smoking a stick of dynamite. Less fearful of fiery deaths are the enemies, who set fire to the distillery as the gang are making their way through its dank rooms.

Finding the Fat Man, he manages to get a shot into Henry’s leg before he’s shot to bits, which means Vito’s tasked with escaping with an injured man. The building is now pretty impressively on fire, making this less than a simple task.

In something of a relief, this was all relatively uninterrupted by cutscenes. At crucial moments they appeared, and each was splendid, but the slight overkill of the mission we’d previously been shown was completely absent.

The game begins in wintry weather, with the driving for this mission taking place in chilly conditions. It’s a frosty, frozen city, the roads covered in ice. As Vito’s cars slipped and skidded around corners, we wondered at the idea of beginning with such advanced driving. Perhaps it was a nod to the original game, where the early ’30s cars were far more tricky to drive than the later ’40s automobiles. While the snow makes the car handling slightly more treacherous. 2K Czech say, they considered the backward nature of making the road surfaces simpler later in the game, but pointed out that the increasingly powerful cars of the later 40s and 50s present their own challenges. And frankly, it was more important to them that the weather match the tone of the scenes.

This is thanks to the enormous emphasis on telling a story. It’s snowy because it’s Winter, but it’s Winter to present a mise en scene relevant to Vito’s impoverished, post-war life. His existence is bleak, and so it the world. It’s thinking like this, along with the incredibly smart use of focus in the cutscenes, that makes the claims of being “cinematic” for once appropriate when hyping a game. Combined with the remarkably visceral weapons and their enormous impact and damage to the world, it’s a game that’s looking interestingly hefty. So long as the balance between the action and story is found, Mafia II is looking pretty special.

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23 Comments »

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  1. Lack_26 says:

    I want this game so much, I loved the original and this looks like it can live up to the originals legacy.

  2. Count Zero says:

    Style and atmosphere were the best parts of the original Mafia, and it’s good to see they’re still the focus for the sequel. The theme song for the original is probably the best I’ve heard in a game, and the cutscenes had an impressive gravitas to them that was missing in competitors -GTA 3 felt like a violent cartoon white Mafia was more of a classic mafia film, with the trade off that Mafia was not nearly as much fun…
    I love the cars of that period, and they really tried to make the driving realistic with a speed limit and cars you actually had to fill up. The original Mafia made good point about the difficulty of driving a 30’s car, and made that point a bit too well in that one infamous race mission. I’m curious how the driving will feel this time.
    Definitely looking forward to this one.

  3. Rinox says:

    I still don’t understand why the GTA games of the time gained such almost instant status as ‘classic’ or ‘blockbuster’ while Mafia is seemingly only remembered by the more hardcore crowd (the RPS crowd if you want).

    Apart from initial bugginess, Mafia was superior to the early 3D GTA games in pretty much every way. The story, the details, the understated quality of all the characters, even the driving and weapon handling made sense most of the time. I know, I know, the unpatched race was ridiculous, but the GTA series is full of crappy ‘gotta get lucky’ missions that you need to do 5 times to get right too. So meh.

    So what was it? The switch to consoles for GTA? Or the fact that most gamers prefer light-hearted fun and blowing stuff up?

  4. Kieron Gillen says:

    Rinox: GTA3 didn’t get an instant classic status and only got Blockbuster because it sold phenomenally. GTA3 was under-reviewed when it came out – I mean, it “only” got 8/10 in the Official Playstation mag in the UK. Reviewers didn’t seem to get how good it was.

    (Along with the Sims, me just knowing it would be huge when most of my peers didn’t think so was one of the few moments as a games critic when I feel justified in my tip-making abilities)

    And, yeah, Mafia coming on the PC first and limping onto the consoles later is one reason why its profile wasn’t higher. GTA had already taken the position as Open-world crime game to be feted.

    (For my money, it’s fair. Since I don’t think Mafia is all its reputation has grown into, I’ll be quiet)

    KG

  5. Rei Onryou says:

    It definitely is looking the part. Story driven open world gaming FTW. Hopefully. I’ll be playing Mafia soon, so I hope to make up my own mind about it.

  6. Professor says:

    I can’t wait for this one! I really hope it’s as good as everyone make it out to be.

  7. Rinox says:

    @ Kieron. Thanks, I didn’t remember the general, global reception of GTA 3 not being stellar. I do recall it getting heaps of praise in my local gaming mag, so maybe that clouded my memory.

    So you are/were not particularly fond of the original Mafia, which is fine, but did/do you think the GTA series worthy of its praise? Because one of the things that always struck me about playing Mafia, in hindsight, is how the use of a savepoint system didn’t really bother me much at all in that game, while it has always been a source of frustration for me in the GTA games.

    Perhaps my like for the one game and dislike for the other just comes from Mafia being made for PC and GTA for consoles. The little differences like, when walking into a shop, you have to walk up to (say) a sunglasses rack and have to cycle through item by item and press buttons to check prices on each item. Obviously, this drudgery is complete nonsense on a PC but just keeps getting ported in every GTA installment and sucks the life out of many fun features that make the games so great, like character custimization. But maybe I’m just a hater.

  8. MetalCircus says:

    I cannae wait.

  9. Kieron Gillen says:

    Rinox: Yeah, I think the GTA games – much like the Sims – deserve every sale they got, especially early on. GTA3 was inspired and Vice City genuinely visionary.

    KG

  10. Rinox says:

    Ok…I don’t really agree on GTA 3, but Vice City was a marvel indeed. Easily the best game in the series afaic.

  11. Kieron Gillen says:

    (One day I may write a compare and contrast essay. My gut feeling without doing any re-playing was that GTA3 really understood what an open world was about, and the potential it offered, and Mafia didn’t. All the attributes which people hail in Mafia are ones of actual linear older-school games – the story, the missions. Mafia’s missions were basically just *levels*.)

    KG

  12. Rinox says:

    @ Kieron: I think I understand what you mean. Mafia operated in a city that (for all its shiny graphics) was in essence merely a backdrop for the story it was trying to tell, while in GTA 3 and onwards the city itself was basically a/the game. Even though they are very similar games on paper, they do play very differently. Never really looked at it that way.

    In the end it’s all about what you expect from a game, I guess. Maybe I just have an old-fashioned taste. That would explain why I keep dragging out Alpha Centauri on a yearly basis and break down into a month of sleepless addiction.

  13. EBass says:

    GTA3 was a better game than Mafia on its release. But Mafia has aged far far better, I’m with Kieron on this one that GTA is a far more important game series. However I hope Kieron didn’t write the PCG review of Mafia because I felt it kind of missed the point by a long shot.

  14. Kieron Gillen says:

    EBass: I did. 85% or something wasn’t it? Maybe a touch lower. Not my finest review in writing, I suspect, since I can’t remember any of it.

    KG

  15. EBass says:

    I don’t think it was an absolutely terrible review, in most cases it was pretty fair. I must confess I can’t remember much of it, however one thing did stick in my memory, you said something along the lines of “Comparisons to GTA3 are as unfair as they are unjustified.”

    Which was right on the money (well actually comparisons to GTA3 are quite appropriate as long as you remember to place them in the right context, same with most competing games of a similar genre with differing styles, say UT and Q3 just for arguments sake.), however I left the review thinking, well he may of said that, but he is kind of comparing it to GTA3 isn’t he?

    And I think it was 82%. Too bad the review archive isn’t on the disc anymore.

    Much likes Tim’s recent FC2 review. I didn’t necessarily disagree with the words of the review, rather the tone and the conclusions you drew.

    With regard to Mafia’s “levels” again you’re right, but I don’t think you take into account the advantages that system brought.

    The level based nature of the game allowed the plot to advance much better, particularly with the gradual passing of the years (I think the game started in 1931 and ended in 1940ish). Also, after every level save one or two you were given the freedom to drive around and explore the wonderful city before “ending” the mission and going on to the next bit, which isn’t really so different from GTA’s “Drive around until you decide you want to visit the next mission hub.”

    As for Mafia not being all its reputation growing in to, I’d just like to say that its driving and shooting weren’t bettered by the GTA series until GTA4. I also felt Lost Heaven felt more real than Liberty City (though GTA3s wonderful radio stations blow it out the water in terms of a general sense of place.)

  16. Kieron Gillen says:

    Yeah, was 82%. Or maybe 83%. I think 82%.

    KG

  17. Bullwinkle says:

    What I much preferred about Mafia was the sense of progression. You started out with unbelievably crappy cars (that were nonetheless fun to drive) but got better and better ones as you went along. Getting a new car was a joy, especially those hot rods from Lucas’s side missions. (Celeste Marque 500=pure awesome.) In GTA, you could get pretty much any car you wanted at any time. I found that far less immersive, and far less interesting.

  18. Rinox says:

    The funniest thing re: immersion that I keep thinking about when talking about Mafia and the earlier GTA games, is that in all of them ending up in the water = instant death. This in cities that invariably featured a lot of water.

    No matter how well you make the rest of the game and make a player believe he’s ‘in’ the gameworld, seeing the proverbial ‘GAME OVER’ letters every time your character fell into a puddle of water tended to crush that sense of immersion pretty effectively. :-D

    I think Vice City was the first GTA you could swim in. All the more reason to love it…that and the pastel-colored outfits, eighties stations, Colombian drug lords and Miami Vice neon signs.

  19. Beastman says:

    I think Vice City was the first GTA you could swim in.

    Nope, San Andreas was the first in which you could swim.

    I remember that being built up as a big selling point at the time, which seemed pretty ridiculous at the time and just seems absolutely ridiculous looking back on it now.

  20. The Innocent says:

    I remember those Vice City missions where you had to drive a little powerboat and shoot people, and I was terrified of them. Not because there were a ton of Haitians with guns, but because jumping into the boat at the start of the mission and jumping from the boat to the pier at the end were deadly, especially with how clunky jumping could be.

    But then again, there was that Mafia race that I got stuck on for three weeks until I found out that there’s a way to beat it super easily by just going around to the start and then “resetting” your car. Yeah, that was clunky too.

  21. Rinox says:

    The Innocent said:

    I remember those Vice City missions where you had to drive a little powerboat and shoot people, and I was terrified of them. Not because there were a ton of Haitians with guns, but because jumping into the boat at the start of the mission and jumping from the boat to the pier at the end were deadly, especially with how clunky jumping could be.

    Hahaha, so true. Those were the days.

  22. Nick says:

    To be fair, getting your nice pastel blue suit wet was enough to induce suicide anyway.

  23. nicolas says:

    Mafia was among the most incredible games i have played..
    I am looking forward for this installment with great anticipation…

    But as i LOVE the 30’s i hope they make a remake or another game based on that era….