GDC 2010: Mafia II Hands-On Impression

After an entertaining visit to 2K’s off-site event for a look at Civilization V I was eager to go back to see what they had in store for their other game Mafia II.  I was sat down and told that before I got my hands on the game they wanted to give me a little background on their location and characters.  The montage kicked off with the main character, Vito, getting off of a train in Empyre Bay in the early 1940s.  Empyre Bay is the fictional setting the team has chosen for Mafia II and spans 10 square miles.  Vito narrated the past events as the scene progressed.  He was shot by a Nazi and sent home on leave for a month.  His old childhood pal Joe was waiting by the front doors and seemed eager to leave since there were two cops talking nearby.

The two buddies left to a bar to talk about Vito’s involvement in the war and how he wished he could stay home.  One quick call later and Joe had the newspaper saying that Vito’s injuries were “more severe than originally thought” and that he would be unable to return to the war.  From here Vito and Joe start their journey on becoming made men starting with petty crimes such as stealing vehicles to work their way up the criminal ladder.  Vito also learns that his father’s death is related to $2,000 that a loan shark gave him and he was unable to pay back.  The death of Vito’s father further deepens his involvement and commitment to the life of a Mafia member.

I had a piece of the story in mind now and was sent off to a station to try out the game myself.  When it started up Vito found a note from Joe telling him where to meet him.  My character was not dressed so my first objective was to go to the dresser and put on some clothes.  I had three options available to me: a jacket, trench coat, and overalls.  I put on the simple jacket outfit and left the apartment to meet Joe.  The devs were nice enough to put some guns in my inventory to try out and a few cars in the garage to test drive.  Although I am sure the cars in the garage were nicer than anything I would find on the streets I decided to hijack the first car I saw.  Obviously this action caught the attention of the police so I got out of the car to confront them.  As they arrived next to my character he slowly lowered himself on to his knees and put his hands up.  I was presented with two options: bribe or resist arrest.  I did not want to start off with a firefight right away so I chose bribe and Vito reached into his pocket and handed the cop a stack of cash.  After a fitting remark the officers dispersed.  I entered the car once again and drove to the meeting point.  Upon arrival Joe told me to hop into the back of a truck and toss him the corresponding cigarette cartons.  A mini game started and I was instructed to toss him red or blue cigarette boxes depending on the demand of the customer.

Not long after starting this mini game a rival gang drove up and demanded that we pack up our cigs and leave or share the profit since it was their territory.  Seeing that we were not budging the leader had some of his men throw molotovs into the back of our truck which destroyed our form of income.  After a few insults Joe sent a message to the gang that he was done playing games by pulling out a pistol and putting a bullet between their leader’s eyes.  The gang drove off quickly and so started our car chase.  Halfway across the highway I lost the car and was told to find the nearest telephone to make a call.  I found a phone booth to make the call and gain information on a common hangout spot for the gang members.  Before taking off to my next location I decided to start a fight with a passing by stranger.  The melee combat is satisfying.  The camera zooms in to give the brawl a more cinematic feel.  Heavy and light punches were at my disposal along with a dodge button so that I could counter.  Once my opponent was softened up enough two buttons popped up at the bottom of the screen.  I pressed them and was then prompted to press another combination of buttons.  This led to a brutal finisher that ended with the man’s face meeting my knee.  Enough messing around.  It was time to get back on track with my mission.  Joe and Vito drove down to the gang’s hideout and met up with some other friends.  We all started shooting the wooden bar up and it splintered apart with pieces of the sign falling off compliments of the PhysX engine.  Then I went to the back of the car to grab some molotovs.  The bar was burning up in a matter of seconds.

Now it was off to pay the gang members a visit to really drive our point home.  We all arrived with bats in hand ready to bash some heads in.  No one was expecting the gang to be packing heat.  It quickly turned lethal and everyone ran for cover.  The cover system in Mafia II is going to be familiar to anyone who has played a game like Gears of War.  A specific button throws your character into cover and you can detach or switch cover the same way.  Cover is crucial.  This is not like GTA where there is a cover system available, but you can complete the entire game without ever really using the mechanic.  Mafia II feels like a more tactical 3rd person open world shooter.  Health can be taken down extremely fast so cover is a necessity and you will become familiar with it in no time.  The mission moved along at a solid pace as I chose when to peak out, shoot, and move up to gain ground. I then came across a crate with the M1 Garand and a burger on top.  The burger is one form players can choose to restore health much like hotdogs were used in Grand Theft Auto IV.

The M1 Garand fit into one of the four weapon types.  Up, down, left, and right all lead to different categories of weapons such as pistols, rifles, explosives, etc.  Also, by tapping one of the directions multiple times you can access different weapons in that same category.  For example, clicking right equipped a Colt 1911 pistol, a second click pulled out a powerful revolver, and a third click brought out a small snub nose.  Almost halfway through the enemy compound and I found a Playboy magazine.  2K Games signed a license agreement with Playboy to add authenticity for the era displayed in the game which will “use more than 50 of their vintage covers and centerfolds.”  Upon completion I found a second Playboy that one of the devs overlooking my session did not even know existed in the demo and stated that no one else had located it yet.

As a feeling of success washed over me I proceeded to complete the level which faded into another montage.  My time was not up yet so I was encouraged to play through the demo again. They did not have to tell me twice!  I loaded it up again and tested out some other features.  I found a nearby parked car and broke into it using the “smash window” option.  Unlike the first Mafia players do not need to learn how to break into high end vehicles.  all vehicles can be taken at any time.  I noticed there was a speed limiter which would obviously limit the car’s speed to the speed limit so that I would not attract the cop’s attention.  Speeding is one of the smaller violations in the game and it will not result in police trying to kill you.  I was not about to play it safe though.  I sped down the street and took a corner a little too fast and slammed into an occupied vehicle.  Hitting objects at high speeds hurts your character inside the car so hitting this car head on left my guy a little injured.  A present cop car witnessed this event and I took off which gave me the hit and run violation.  They kept pace with me fairly well so I decided to pull over to see what they would do.  I exited the car and the cop came up to me and wrote me a $50 ticket.

This level of detail is impressive.  As we know other free roam games do not take it to this level and because of that similar hit and run incidents usually end up with the cops unloading lead into your character for a minor offense.  I was told by one of the devs to find this jump and take it between 60 and 80 mph.  I did and was awarded with the achievement “Auto-Pilot” and took the jump for a second spin.  Unfortunately, my second attempt did not end so well.  The car slammed straight into a wall and the engine smoked black leaving it inoperable.  This led to the discovery of the ability to go to the hood of the vehicle and fix it so that it was in drivable condition again.  So ended my time with the game and I left wanting more.  The game looks very promising already.  Fans of the first Mafia or free roam games in general should definitely keep an eye on this game as it progresses.  You can expect to see it between August and October of this year on the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and PC.