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Tuesday March 23, 2010 9:14 pm

Mafia II: Hands-on impressions

Mafia II

Poor Mafia. When the first game released in 2002, it drew plenty of criticism for being too much in the vein of Grand Theft Auto. The game actually had a flair of its own and a distinct cinematic style, with plenty of interesting moments and glowing reviews. Some moments in particular (notably the one involving crashing a funeral) were altogether more memorable than anything in other open-world games.

Nearly a decade later, 2K Games has decided to bring the series to current-gen consoles with Mafia II. We got a hands-on sneak peak at the game at the GDC. Do your best Marlon Brando impersonation (note: please do not do your best Marlon Brando impersonation) and hit the jump to see how it stacks up to its namesake.

What is it?
The current-gen sequel to Mafia, now featuring plenty of mechanics and influences from current games and a slick coat of shiny, mucousy next-gen goodness.

Why should I care?
Because the first Mafia was a gem of a title that didn’t get the credit it deserved, and now you get a taste of the aesthetics without sacrificing graphical quality.

What did you play?
We got to play a demo of the game after a brief introduction of some of the main characters in the game. Along with a driving and exploration section, we got to test out the new cover mechanics and gunplay.

What was cool?
There are a couple of things that Mafia II has going for it. First off, the city - a fictionalized amalgamation of cities such as New York and Chicago - has a lot of personality crammed into its 10 square playable miles. That may not seem like much, but from the time we had with the game, it seems like there’ll be plenty to explore. It even has different seasons and styles depending on the point in the game, which stretches over 10 years.

It was also very, very pretty. Graphics aside, there are a few things that set Mafia II apart from the obvious GTA4 comparisons. The camera and narrative aesthetics are highly reminiscent of over-the-shoulder games like Arkham Asylum without ripping off their style wholesale. The story is pretty par-for-the-course Italian mob fare (you play as a WWII veteran named Vito who joins the mob with his brother, Joe, for material motivations), but the missions in the demo - such as destroying a greaser hideout - hinted at the presence of destructible environments. There was certainly a presence of theme over the course of the demo, with period italian music and commercials playing in the cars, and 40’s style illustrations and architecture displayed prominently in the cityscape. The checkpoint system was fairly consistent throughout, which was a major problem with GTA4.

The last - and strangest - new element of the game is a partnership with Playboy. There are 50 hidden playboy magazines in the game, and finding one will result in a large, uncensored nudie pic being displayed on your screen. I didn’t think that it could get more awkward than my experience with Silent Hill at the last E3, but suddenly interrupting combat to have a huge pair of tits splashed across your 45-inch plasma screen in a room full of other journalists is up there.

What sucked?
There are a couple of concerning things we encountered in the demo, though we were assured that most were due to the pre-alpha status of the final release.

The main problem so far would have to be the gunplay and combat sections. It’s cover-based, and does that to a degree better than GTA4, but it’s very easy to make dumb moves accidentally when rounding corners, and there is no way to easily transfer from point to point, a la Gears of War. The gunplay itself was a little stodgy and unsatisfying because of how some of the aiming controls and stock guns handled, though this seemed largely due to glitches in the demo - again, a pre-alpha release.

Some of the most unique mechanics may also be a hindrance to the gameplay. For instance, cars all use gasoline as a resource, and you need to refill them from time to time if you don’t want to outright steal other cars. There will also apparently be an option to use a racing wheel for the driving sections, but it has yet to be seen how this will translate in practice, or when you need to switch between control schemes.

When will I be able to play it?
Sometime between August and October, on the PS3, Xbox 360, and PC.

You’ll probably like it if you liked…
GTA4, True Crime, or the last Mafia game. Come to think of it, if they can knock out some of the kinks before release, any fan of open-world games might like this.

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