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