Civilization V wasn't the only game lighting up the 2K booth at PAX East this year. A few lucky people with the patience to stand on line and/or the foresight to flash a media badge and make an appointment were able to spend some time with a Mafia II Demo. As an accomplished line-stander and the proud owner of a yellow tag with my name on it, how could I resist?
My demo began with our hero… okay, perhaps hero doesn't quite fit in this game… It began with our protagonist, Vito, meeting up with another Mob heavy to hand out cigarettes. I know what you are thinking. Real time cigarette handing out simulation? Finally! Don't worry, though. I'd only handed out my second carton of smokes when I was interrupted by a Molotov cocktail being lobbed at my head. That's the first thing that strikes you about this game. Not flaming bottles of gasoline, its authenticity. Time is taken to show you the day to day grunt work associated with being a gangster before they throw you into the action. It really sets the mood of the game, which is somewhere between the setting of Godfather and the attitude of Goodfellas. From the wardrobe to the cars on the street, everything about this game screams 1950's. The characters, on the other hand, mostly scream profanities. The tone is decidedly mature, but well executed. The four letter words and baseball bats to the skull aren't just there for shock value, they are there because this wouldn't be a mob game without them.
Graphically the game is what you'd expect from a current gen title. Environments are highly detailed, almost to a fault. After I drove off an over pass and had to restart in my apartment, more on that later, I was astonished by the amount of work put into it. In fact, the place was so well furnished and filled with miscellaneous debris that it took me a while to figure out where I was supposed to find my clothes. Can't go busting heads in your boxer shorts, can you? The audio is excellent too, particularly the weapon sound effects. Gunfire is startlingly visceral, with even the pistol packing a satisfying thump. The voice work is above average as well, though in the version I played the lip sync wasn't quite right. Regardless, the game engine, created specifically for Mafia II, has got what it takes to deliver the game well.
On the gameplay side, there is a heaping helping of realism. This isn't Saint's Row. If you pull out a gun on the street, people WILL freak out and the cops WILL fire on you. If you ram head on into another car, you won't sprint out of the smoking wreck to steal the next nearest vehicle, you will die. And trust me, there will be head on collisions. The 1950's weren't known for their agile sports coups. The first car you climb into is a sprawling ocean-liner of a beast, and it handles accordingly. I beat mine up pretty bad after losing control in a tunnel, and while I was marveling at the realistic damage, I took the aforementioned fatal tumble from the overpass. Drive safe, folks, or there will be a lot of reloading at checkpoints in your future. Fortunately the good people at the 2K booth took pity on my sloth-like reflexes and jumped me to the climax, a shootout with rival thugs. The gunplay feels right. There is heavy use of cover and regenerating health, a little like Gears of War with Tommy guns.
Overall, if you are willing to cope with a fairly sharp difficulty curve, Mafia II looks like it is shaping up to be a fun title. The feel is decidedly cinematic. More than once I felt the unmistakable influence of Scorsese, and the preview videos seemed to contain multiple direct homages to his films. Though the taste I had at PAX didn't have time to feature much in the way of story, it did feature a lot in the way of shooting people in the face with vintage weaponry, and what else do you want from a mob game?
Mafia II comes out on Aug. 24th for the PC, PS3, and 360. Learn more at http://www.mafia2game.com