Mafia II GDC 2010 PreviewBy Eric Eckstein - Posted Mar 10, 2010
What We Know: In Mafia II players step into the pinstripe suit of Vito Scaletta, a Sicilian immigrant looking to earn his spot at the top of criminal underworld. The third-person gangster action includes intense shootouts, deadly car chases and more presented in cinematic style To see just how cinematic, check out this extended trailer. Mafia II comes out this summer for the PlayStation 3, PC and Xbox 360.
What We Saw: I didn't play a ton of the first Mafia. Actually, it's fair to say I didn't play even a lot. I hopped into the game, drove around, shot some goons and figured I'd had seen enough. When a colleague confirmed some of the less than stellar sequences, like the car racing segments, I was glad I skipped it. After all, this was a day before gamerscore so what was the incentive?
However, I have played a ton of open world games, virtually all within this console generation, and have had Mafia II on my radar for a while. It's a game I really wanted to play to see if they got it right, so thankfully I was able to go hands-on with the game recently. It's not all the way there yet, but it's certainly on the right road.
Mafia II takes place in 1951 in the fictional city of Empire Bay, a metropolis that sprawls 10 square miles, which is twice the size of the game world in the original game. As a wounded soldier from WWII, you find yourself returning home and getting wrapped up in all sorts of thuggish behavior, from firebombing bars to whacking greasers. It's important to understand my own tastes before we talk about the story presentation of Mafia II. While I thought Grand Theft Auto IV was a great evolutionary step for the franchise, it bored me to tears. I preferred the less serious insanity of Saint's Row 2, which to me was more fun to play. That said, Mafia II feels more like GTAIV in terms of serious storytelling; this is a cinematic experience wrapped around action and driving sequences. There is a tale to be told, gosh darn it, and 2K Czech is going to tell it! One point of concern, though: While the developer is going all out on the portrayal of its digital characters, what was surprising to me was that everyone seemed to be flat with no expressions. A character may be seething with anger or humor, but they delivered their lines with a blank stare. Hopefully, this is something still under development, but for a game so proud of its narrative, I expected more from its presentation.
But what about the game itself? I took part in an early mission called “Wild Ones,” where I woke up pantsless and needed to get dressed before leaving my apartment. This proved more difficult than I had thought because I had no idea that I kept all my clothes right near the front door. On reflection, this sounds like a GREAT idea. If my clothes are all on the way out, there's no way I can forget them if I nap on the couch or get distracted by a shiny thing.
Once I was dressed, I hit my garage where I could take one of my cars for a joyride. As this was merely a demo, my garage was stocked with convertibles, so naturally I took the fastest one out. I found car handling to be fairly responsive, unlike GTAIV's ice road trucking and I was able to comfortably weave in and out of traffic in both a third person and hood first person view. Graphically, the world of Empire Bay is quite stunning, with trees full of leaves, sun glints off the cars and what seemed like a true living city. People were milling about on the sidewalks, traffic flowed without cars running on the wrong side of the road. There's a very nice attention to detail as well in regards to the different neighborhoods in Empire Bay. There are about twenty distinct neighborhoods in Mafia II, so, for example, when you drive through its version of Chinatown, more and more shops have Chinese writing on their awnings.
After running some errands and learning how to use my weapons, I finally made it to the end game of the mission where I needed to wipe out some greaser punks. It was here that I got my first taste of the revised cover system Mafia II has incorporated. Much like Gears of War, players simply tap A and their character will take cover against a nearby object. In the current build of Mafia II, this was critical as the other thugs were lethal shots. The combat came to me as if it was second nature, and I was able to run and gun, hide where necessary and flush out bad guys so my allied friends could show them who's boss. I even let loose some gunfire on the gas tank of a car to have it explode taking out nearby goons. Using the D-pad to toggle between different weapons, like a machine gun, an M1 Garand and shotgun, I found the combat to be pretty straightforward. My fellow paisan, Andrew Pfister, who also gave this sequence a run, found the shooting to be less than satisfying, where his shots seemed to have little visceral impact or any kind of feedback to it. It's an important point and one of those aspects that could use some improvement.
And considering we're still months away from release, it's all too possible that these niggling problems can be resolved before its release later this year. And I hope they are as what I've played shows a lot of promise. After all, an open world game with a quality shooter mechanic that doubles as an epic crime drama sounds like a great way to wile away some game time. Heck, if I could, I would easily have driven around aimlessly exploring the city, soaking in the local flavor for a few hours. Oh no, just when I thought I was out... it's pulling me back in!
Mafia II is coming to PlayStation 3, PC and Xbox 360 between August and October.