Preview: Mafia II

We are visually entertained in an era that’s rife with unoriginality. Every other game announcement is the continuation of some franchise or another, with ever-ascending digits thrown on to the end of some renowned name. If it’s not a sequel then it’s a remake of some game that should, more likely than not, be left alone to be forever worshipped within the hallowed halls of retrospect. Personally, I’m tired of remakes, and with each passing year it seems that I’m less excited about potential sequels to beloved franchises.

So when I tell you that Mafia II is, and has been for a long time, one of my most anticipated franchise sequels of all time, please understand it is an exception to my aforementioned lamentations. About two years ago, when I was but a poor creative writing student at a not-so-prestigious university, I vowed to only invest my limited funds into buying games that I felt would have an impacting storyline. When I trace the genealogy of this justification for spending what little money I didn’t have, it stretches back to one game: the original Mafia.

Sure, I’d played other games with memorable storylines both before and after Mafia, but none of them had impacted me in the way that beautiful open-world third-person sandbox game had. To call it GTA in the 1930s is an insult that sells the legacy of the game short; sure, you stole cars, were part of a gang and it had the whole third-person sandbox thing… but Mafia had something that GTA didn’t: a whole lot of heart. The comparisons between GTA and Mafia are justifiable only on a genre level, but when it comes to storytelling and the overall connectedness I felt with the protagonist, Mafia wins hands down. If you’ve yet to play the original Mafia, do yourself a favour and get your hands on it ASAFP; if for nothing else, the game’s storyline is nothing short of awesome.

So it should come as little surprise to you that when 2K emailed me and told me they could send me preview code for Mafia II, my heart skipped a beat. After some initial teething problems that included having a special item shipped to me all the way from England, I was good to go. It’s at this point that I hesitated for the first time. I have every intention of putting as many spare hours as possible towards playing Mafia II from start to finish when it comes out; a commitment that I can say is true of few games (let alone sandbox titles). My initial hesitation was because I didn’t want the storyline ruined for me by playing the preview.

2K expertly anticipated this dilemma, presenting the preview in four different sections of the game, with spoilers thankfully towards the lighter end of the spectrum. In Mafia II you’ll take on the persona of Vito Scaletta who, after copping a bullet fighting the Nazis, is sent home on leave. Vito doesn’t want to go back to war, which is when his connected troublemaker best bud, Joe Barbaro, swings in to save the day. A single phone call later and Vito is able to convert his temporary leave into something a whole lot more permanent.

I was fortunate enough to play the preview code on PC—as some of you may be aware, my favourite platform of all time—which means that I was able to tweak the graphics on my ageing, but still rather hard, computer. Mafia II looks incredible. Everything from the weather effects and car models to the variety in fashion and building design reeks of impressive levels of attention to detail. And then there are the character models. During gameplay there’s a believable level of realism and during the engaging cutscenes I often had to collect my jaw from the top of my desk. Only the odd clipping issue and noticeable graphics pop while driving broke the immersive illusion from time to time.

I’m the type of gamer who treats cutscenes as commercials, ducking off to grab a drink or efficiently make use of the time for bathroom breaks. With Mafia II, I couldn’t drag myself away. From the four sections of the game I previewed I could tell that the crux of the narrative is the friendship between Joe and Vito; and I bought the friendship hook, line and sinker. Their interaction is the kind that you’d expect to see from two pals who’ve grown up together as they’d often steal moments to have some form of politically incorrect banter, ensuring they were having fun regardless of what was blowing up around them.

For those who watch our show, I’m sure you’re well aware of DLC’s stance on political correctness, and I have to confess that Mafia II had me giggling at many of its quips. Everything from excessive swearing (in a good way), politically incorrect terms for different groups of people and even good ol’ fashioned female flesh courtesy of collectible Playboy centrefolds that have been licensed from the men’s magazine were on offer. All of this adds a level of believability and authenticity to the fictional city of Empire Bay that, in turn, dragged me further and further into the game world.

In my time with Mafia II, I got to bust into fisticuffs, pick locks, steal cars, shoot a variety of weapons and wack a few fools for good measure. The city is 10-square miles in size, which is no small backyard to explore, and all of it is made more alive by the characters that populate it. You’ll experience bad drivers on the roads, while walking down the street you can overhear conversations with various NPCs going about their daily business.

Combat has been greatly improved with the addition of a Gears of War-esque cover system that even allows you to make seamless perpendicular movements around cover, which is great for flanking foes, all the while limiting the odds of attracting return fire. You’re really encouraged to pick your moments and go for headshots as return fire is accurate and aiming for the body can result in emptying whole clips without a kill.

And then there’s the glorious addition of NVIDIA’s PhysX technology. For those unaware, this adds an extra level of awesomeness to the graphical effects of any, cough, PC game that employs the technology. In Mafia II this translates to boner-worthy destructibility. Hit a car’s gas tank and watch the explosive results as sparks and fire bounce off and around other objects. Turn a wooden door into splinters with a shotgun or shoot out glass with a tommy gun. It takes a fun shootout and injects it with a level of bullshit-coolness that has you screaming ‘get fucked’ as you’re distracted by visual prettiness instead of dropping the dudes shooting holes in your cover. I could tell you more, but you should check out the PhysX trailer at the bottom of this preview to get a better idea.

The preview did a really good job of showcasing both the variety and progression of the types of missions you’ll be required to perform to make it from humble shit-kicker to Mafioso. What starts out as a car theft gone wrong, evolves to making a message-sending hit, and beyond to a stealthy rescue mission followed by a botched gang assassination attempt.

My personal favourite was the rescue mission. It started off with me having to tail a particular rat somebody to a slaughterhouse where he was holding some of my comrades. From here, I had to find a way to sneak inside… the local sewer beckoned. As if the smell of human waste wasn’t bad enough, I walked under a pipe at the wrong time and was covered in shit: literally. I then snuck past a dog and several armed mobsters before reaching the place my friends were being tortured. They smelt the shit before I could strike, which resulted in the shit hitting the fan and me having to kick the shit out of a brawler who was built like a brick shithouse. He eventually went down and it was time to cue the glorious shootout with the remaining thugs.

On the 10th of August you’ll be able to try your hand at Mafia II when the demo is released and we’ll all be able to tell if my high expectations for this game can be met (and hopefully surpassed) when the full game is released later in the month.

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  • PSIress

    I have the CE for this pre-orded. Can't wait.

  • popshott

    I need to sink my teeth into another stand box game. Also the AI in the vid looks stupid.

    P.S same here PSI, can't wait.

  • NachosJustice

    AI in the preview weren't stupid… not exactly the brightest mind you, but they liked cover, tried to flank and were pretty decent at aiming too.

  • Frozencry

    Currently playing review code for it. The preview build on PC was superb. Ran beautifully in Eyefinity too.