Though Hot As eyebrowraising as having a jet-packing T-rex crash through the wall, Mafia II plays about with a few curious anachronisms. As our hero Vito Scaletta attaches a bomb to the underside of a table he hums the Mission: Impossible theme tune, a TV show which wouldn't have existed until a decade later. I can't tell if this is a deliberate inclusion or an oversight. "We've a few Easter eggs like that," laughs Jarek Kolar, senior gameplay producer on Mafia II, "references to other movies and games..."
Regardless, it fits. The tone of the game is that of almost every gangster movie you could mention:-gallows humour from impassioned larger-than-life characters, cut with a weighty '40s and '50s atmosphere achieved through the careful design choices of 2K Czech. The boxy, putt-putt toy cars of the first game have been replaced with sleek, fashionable new motors. Fashion itself has evolved, as evidenced by a pile of yellowing editions of mid-century Sears catalogues scattered about the studio.
The game engine allows for 70 unique, high-poly characters to be rendered on screen at the same time, transforming the streets of Empire Bay City into a catwalk through time. When you brawl with an unruly gent in the street, their suit jackets flap and sway. As you slam a thug into the hood of your automobile, your tie swings about. The thunk of the bonnet as it buckles under pressure 2K Czech gleefully announce that their engine can play some big number of sounds at the same time, and that's important) and the scuffling of feet on gravel (2K Czech are also proud that no feet in the game will ever slide along the ground, a testament to their detailed animation system) conspire to convince you that you're there, and absolutely submerged in this gorgeous world and this evocative era.
In the year since we last saw Mafia 2 it's approaching visual maturity. Just let your eyes wander about these pages and you'll notice how polished the game looks: car traffic is denser, and the elaborate pathing systems that prevent embarrassing Al pile-ups are in place.
The soundtrack (Mafia II boasts the most licensed tunes of any 2K game to date) is threaded into a cinematic audio system that gauges the situation and plays appropriate music through your car's radio. It looks at where you are, what time it is, and what you've just done or are about to do. Rolling home in the black of night after a bloody gunfight? You'll want something sombre and contemplative. Cruising in the summer sun with your buddies? Get Rhythm by Johnny Cash will fit nicely. The dynamic playlist will be punctuated by era-specific advertising, as well as news stories relating your misdeeds and the big events of the time. 2K Czech also took the time to show us the seasons in which Mafia II takes place. Coming home from the war in 1947, Vito will be faced with an Empire Bay City in the grip of winter, where post-war depression looms over the city. As the plot moves forward we're shown the city baking in the summer sun, while the closing scenes in the late '50s are in a spectacular, golden autumn.
The weather isn't dynamic. Nor does the time of day change as you play. Drawing parallels with games like Grand Theft Auto IV here is all too easy, but it's an entirely misleading comparison. Empire Bay City only partly falls under the tired adage of a "living, breathing city" - it's more an elaborate backdrop to the game's plot, than a featurecrammed open-world playground.
The first Mafia was much the same: you could walk around Lost Heaven for as long as you pleased, but you quickly discovered that it's not a place infested with Kill Frenzy bonuses, hidden comedy sub-quests, secret bazookas and remote-controlled helicopters. Empire Bay City is a setting, the plate on which the meaty plotline rests. That works well here - Mafia Il's got a stronger narrative than any open-world game you could care to mention, and Empire Bay City's the perfect vehicle for it.
We're shown a mission in full - Room Service - from roughly halfway through the game. It's the summer of 1951, and having just become made men, buddies Vito and Joe are tasked with carrying out a hit on a rival mob boss by planting dynamite in a conference room on the upper floors of the Empire Arms Hotel.
The mission opens with Vito standing with his back to a cathedral, above him a train thunders past, around him pedestrians chatter, a man lights a cigarette and mumbles to himself, cries of "Extra! Extra!" come from a paperboy on the corner, and birds sing chirpy nonsense from the church grounds. The cathedral bells ring out the hour. It's a setpiece, an in-game establishing shot, but that makes the detail shown here no less astounding. After meeting with Joe and Marty, your getaway driver, the three men exchange banter en route to the hotel.
Kolar, meanwhile, explains how branching side-missions work. "As we're pushing the player towards his goal,'' says he, "in many missions we'll place activities along the way, some situations that arise from the city life and draw the player's attention. He can explore these side activities if he pleases."
"There are ways to earn money in the city," claims Denby Grace, product manager at 2K, "and there are ways to spend your money too. But the actual side missions are fully integrated into the fiction, we never want to stop the player feeling like Vito Scaletta."
"I've got a good example," he adds: "Say you're on this mission here, your way to the hotel. As you're about to cross the street there might be a car crash, and an old lady gets knocked down. So she .screams 'Argh, help me' - and now you can either say 'Well, I'm an asshole' and just walk away, or you can go arid help her by chasing down the guy who's just hit her. The game throws a moral question at you."
Vito and chums negotiate their way through Empire Bay City, arriving at the hotel's underground car park. Joe meets his man on the inside, who leaves you with the keys to the laundry room and access to some cleaner's overalls. With your disguise sorted, you both make your way to the lofty mobster's suite on the 18th floor.
"What you're seeing here," notes Grace, "is an edited cut of the full mission. When you get to play it, you'll see that Joe's informant doesn't show up and you're forced to find another route into the laundry room. The actual mission will take upwards of 45 minutes to complete."
Exiting the elevator, you're quickly ushered into the conference room to clean up a mess before the big mob meet (apparently "somebody err, spilled somethin' in there."). The floor is packed with folks admiring the sky-high view and drinking at an expensive wine bar. Snippets of conversation can be heard as you're led through the relaxed lounge area to the conference room. "One of the guys in here earlier tripped and hit his head," explains your wiseguy guide, "about five or six times. Poor guy." Once in the conference room, Vito and Joe get to work planting bombs and humming incongruities, ignoring the conspicuous dark red stain on the carpet. The bomb needs to be wired up to a trigger, so the window is prepared to have the wire threaded through it. "The trap is set," explains Grace,..
"so what the guys are going to do now is go upstairs to the roof, then use a window washing platform they'll come down outside the window, rig the bomb and detonate it - there were no remote devices back in the '50s. Well that's the plan anyway."
All Gone Wrong
Joe hands Vito a 1911 Colt, "Just in case something goes wrong". And of course it does, the rooftop turns out to be a shooting gallery of men in long coats and homburgs. The eventual detonation of the bomb leaves the rival mob boss utterly unharmed (he was in the toilet at the time), and the resulting chase through the hotel sees Vito and Joe taking cover behind bars, shooting through satisfyingly smashable plate I glass windows, and working their way back down to street level.
"We wanted to make a basic combat system," claims Kolar, "with just a few I buttons. But with our animation . technology the game can recognise what the situation is by using the timing f and the distances in the environment, and then play out the appropriate I animation. For the player it'll be really r varied and rewarding."Vito smashes a man's head into a wall to prove the point, before the missions ends in a car chase. "In the first Mafia the cars were pretty much a simulation," admits Grace, "we've taken a few more liberties this time, and made the cars that bit more exciting. There's still a realism factor to it, as you screech round a corner a hubcap might fly off, or the bumper will come away slightly. We want it to feel dramatic, we want it to feel exciting.
"You can buy cars, store cars and customise cars too," he adds, "we really want the player to get attached to their vehicle." Auto shops in Empire Bay City allow you to upgrade your cars with hot rod engines, side pipes and flaming paint jobs straight out of The California Kid. It's an expensive hobby, so you'll be able to carry out some basic repairs on your car should it be riddled with bullet holes mid-mission, or at least enough of a repair job to get it back to your garage in one piece.
The car chase fades before our eyes are irreparably scarred by free-flying spoilers, and the mission demonstration comes to a close. Mafia II is shaping up to be something very great, and at the very least a worthy successor to the original game. The demonstration does shed light on a few concerns, namely the regularity with which the game tugs the controls rudely out of your hands to roll out a cutscene, however well directed, shot and voiced they may be. And before we can get our hands on the controls we can only guess how changes to the car handling will affect things.
The style and detail, and the changing of the artistry and design of Empire Bay City across two decades is, nonetheless spectacular - even the invention of TV is incorporated into your rags to riches story, with Joe's apartment becoming increasingly well-furnished as the plot progresses. New cars are introduced, improved weapons become available, and new music can be heard on the radio - the city and the world transform before your eyes as the game continues and years tick by. A minefield of potential anachronisms that may be, but it's a minefield we'll all too readily explore.
Tap A Busied Mafia II developer on the shoulder and ask them what they're currently working on, and they'll give some surprising answers. Newspapers with actual news from the late '40s? A fully functioning virtual carwash? Customisable license plates for your favourite vehicle?
2K Czech are adding a relentless amount of detail to their story-drived Mafia shooter, while modestly proclaiming that, unlike Grand Theft Auto IV, the seemingly living city won't be the crowning achievement of Mafia II's. That accolade instead goes to the game's acting and script, with Empire City being the incredibly intricate backdrop to a Mafioso storyline worthy of Martin Scorsese.
Understandably, fans of the original are pleased. Scriptwriters from the first game are returning, and after our trip to 2K's Brno offices we can assure you that already, Mafia II's looking sharp.
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode