|a game by||2K Czech|
|Platforms:||XBox 360, PC, Playstation 3|
|User Rating:||8.1/10 - 20 votes|
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|See also:||Action Adventure Games, Mafia Series, Christmas Games, Games Like Red Dead Redemption, Games Like Far Cry, Games Like la Noire|
We Really Can't wait for Mafia II. It's going to be brillo-pads, seriously. What could possibly go wrong between now and the time it's released? Don't answer that, just in case. But yeah, it's going to be fantastic. Just look at these hottest of shots to see what we mean. The slicked-back hair, the insistence on wearing vests and braces out in public, the bespectacled 'straight' man who would never indulge in fisticuffs but who secretly loves a bit of violence - they'll all be there.
The game starts off in 1945 and will be completely open-ended. There won't be any bridges that just so happen to have been blocked off at the start, preventing you from getting across. You can go anywhere right from the beginning, although perhaps there might not be much point, other than sight-seeing.
You'll be playing young goon Vito Scaletta, who's ambition it is to become a made man, not a dead one. Spanning the course of 10 years, you'll get to see Vito mature from a fresh-faced youth to a grizzled veteran of the art of murder. Again, we can't wait.
1. Teach Him A Lesson
As you'd expect from a game about the world of organised crime, beatings are a necessary part of everyday life. The guy with the vest hasn't given in to the demands of the Family, but he'll change his mind after a sound drubbing.
2. In The Army
World War II-era firearms, like the MP40 and M3 Grease Gun, will be present, but Tommy guns will be our weapon of choice. It wouldn't be a mafia game without a Tommy gun.
3. The Fuzz
The police will still be around, ready to pounce on unsuspecting players. Thankfully, you can bribe them to turn a blind eye to your misdemeanours. Just don't let them find the dead body stuffed in the trunk or you'll be in trouble.
4. Banging Tunes
A wide selection of vintage music will be available to listen to as you drive around in the 50 or so authentic vehicles. Last time we had Django Reinhardt playing on our radios, so will we have Little Richard and Chuck Berry on in this one?
5. Authentic Apparel
The tone of the game will be gritty and dark compared to the original. A lot of work has gone into producing a quality realisation of the era, not the idealised version that the team went for in the first game.
6. Gear Change
Hopefully there won't be anything like the ludicrous difficult race from the first game. We assume 2K Czech has learned that lesson and will be slightly more forgiving if any racing needs to be done.
Download Mafia II
If You Missed our world exclusive first look at Mafia II last issue, then shame on your family - a horse's head is winging its way to you by registered post right now. The sequel to Mafia is being developed by the game's original designers from Illusion Softworks (now 2K Czech), and is looking every bit the Tommy Gun-sprayed crime action-adventure.
Set in the '50s, in a fictional USA city modelled on New York, Mafia II sees you playing a new character called Vito who is dragged into a violent war between two rival families after being released from prison. Peppered throughout with references to gangster movies, Mafia II looks to continue the reputation for well-written snappy dialogue, great voice acting and free-roaming gameplay built on a solid storyline and entertaining missions.
However, it's the living, breathing urban environment that will be the game's true star, and one that causes the most development headaches - especially with 'stiffness', according to the game's lead artist, Roman Hladik: "A city truly is a living, breathing organism. Cars have to drive around, ships have to sail on the river, people have to walk and perform their daily routines, birds have to fly in the sky. The environment itself has to live with grass and trees moving in the wind, swirling trash on the pavement, sewers steaming... Any 'stiffness' in the computer-generated art creates an unnatural feeling."
Mafia irs city feels alive, with thousands of different NPCs carrying on with daily routines, stopping to chat, doing the shopping, buying a hot dog, using a phone booth - and if you look up at the buildings at night you'll see the lights in rooms being turned on and off as people live their virtual lives.
"The whole city and all the interiors are full of prepared actions from which the NPCs choose as they walk the streets," continues lead designer Pavel Brzak. "If you take a look at the city, Lost Haven, in the original Mafia and then at Empire City in Mafia II, the mood of living city is just on a whole new level. "Now you can see someone walking into the phone booth in one place, while another pedestrian is hailing a taxi nearby, while the whole time the guy across the street is buying a hot dog. The NPCs are also separated into various groups, such as rich and poor, so that you will not see an expensively dressed guy picking through the garbage.
"Saying that, we have had the occasional Al glitch, such as a homeless guy getting stuck in a dustbin!". Clumsy bums aren't the only hazard when creating a city. 2K Czech have painstakingly researched the '50s America in which Mafia II is set (see Hotrods and Hot Dogs box) and have had to recreate realistic traffic Al.
"Unfortunately by the '50s, traffic was already almost as dense as today's, so we would have needed more memory and performance to accurately portray traffic patterns from that era, adds Brzak. "However, the good news is that this is a videogame first and foremost so weaving through very dense traffic wouldn't have been much fun anyway!
In terms of pathfinding, the cars in the game are actually choosing their way randomly, although some specific vehicles are being pulled out of their normal random routines for specific tasks, like a taxi cab pausing by the walkway for a customer or a delivery truck stopping by a shop to allow workers to unload its cargo."
Mafia was unfairly (but inevitably) compared to Grand Theft Auto on its release - on the surface it appears to be a sandbox game, but is in fact more of a linear, story-driven experience in numerous locations that happen to be in a freeform city.
"We're not competing with GTA in terms of size or quantity of things to do," says writer/director Daniel Vavra. Instead we're trying to concentrate on delivering maximum quality on every single aspect our game. Which does not mean to say that the city is boring or that there will not be enough things to do. We've actually added a lot more side quests, events and locations, so if you want to go nuts, you definitely can.
Vavra believes that a balance of complete player freedom and narrative direction is the future for games such as Mafia II. "Linear narrative definitely gives you more absorbing experience but less freedom and smaller replay value, whereas sandbox gives you more freedom and toys for experimenting, but could get repetitive with time. We're trying to be somewhere in the middle. Enough freedom and replay value, but with a very strong movie experience in all the right places. "With that said, Mafia II is less linear than the original game and we've designed missions that allow the player more freedom to complete them."
Mafia II is due out early next year - we'll wear concrete boots and matching overcoats if 2K Czech fail to deliver a sophisticated Cosa Nostra classic set in a living city..
Faced With One the developers of the original Mafia, there's only one question any fan really wants to ask. So I asked it. Why was that bloody racing mission so stupidly difficult?
Daniel Vavra, lead designer at 2K Czech (formerly the far less bleak sounding Illusion Softworks) laughed and assured me that it was originally intended to be harder, and that only the endless nagging of his superiors prevented it becoming the most impossible-to-beat level in gaming history. Putting old grudges to bed, we set aside the only blotch on Mafia's tenure as the PC's greatest, most well-i written free-roaming shooter, and move on to the matter at hand - its sequel.
First, 2K Czech are keen to quash rumours - Mafia 2 is not a continuation of the previous game's story, nor is the main character related to the original protagonist in any way. Mafia 2 starts with a clean slate, and with that fact firmly stated, it's deemed appropriate to show off an early version of the game's introductory cutscene.
In it a locomotive pulls into a Grand Central-esque station. Out of this locomotive steps a neatly dressed soldier on leave - this is Vito, your character, who chose to enlist rather than serve time in prison having been arrested for a petty crime. He's home for a month following a spell in hospital, though the war is coming to an end anyway. As he leaves the station Vito is met by a husky gentleman in a trench coat and trilby - this is Vito's childhood friend and criminal counterpart, Joe.
Vito asks how Joe knew he'd be arriving, to which Joe replies, "I've got my contacts". If the game's title didn't tip you off, Joe's dubious nature certainly will - this is a game about bad men, questionable morality and having contacts. As they leave the station, two policemen eye them with presumably warranted suspicion.
Already it's apparent that, from its cinematic camera work to its superb voice acting, this is unmistakeably Mafia - infused, as ever, with Goodfellas and Godfather references. You've got Vito, the clever one, and Joe, the ruthless one - your typical aspiring gangsters destined to become embroiled in a war between two rival families. There's loads of swearing, which is both funny and clever, complementing a tight script written by Vavra. He wrote the original game's script too, so you know it'll be good. Flitting about 2K Czech's office like an inquisitive fact-moth, I happen upon the game's city designer, Pavel Cizek, who tells me about Mafia 2s game world. Girth fans will be pleased to hear that it's twice as big as Mafia's Lost Heaven, with two and a half square miles in which to roam. Loosely modelled on Manhattan, Mafia ITs city contains memorable landmarks such as a version of the Empire State Building, which, as it's visible throughout the city, acts as a useful navigation aid.
The camera dives into the city and rolls gently along sun-drenched tenements, as Cizek demonstrates the density of the roadside furniture. Fences, bins, back-streets, burnt out cars, individually modelled windows, lootable shop fronts, meticulously realised fire escapes - there's a hell of a lot of detail on offer, and most of it can lie mown down and destroyed.
Cizek flips the cityscape from day to night, to show how windows are randomly illuminated from the inside as imaginary folk move from room to room switching lights on and off. This might sound like the most ridiculous little thing, these glowing lights, but it's there to cement over any telling cracks in the game world's realism. The goal here is to create a city which supplements and supports the strong story aspects of the game. Through small details like these, 2K Czech plan to create the most believable living, breathing city we've ever seen.
To this often-touted end Mafia Il's pedestrians have had a disproportionate amount of thought put into them. As unbelievable as it sounds, any member of the populace will have an observable routine, such as leaving their home, hopping on a bus, getting off at a clothes shop, trying on and then paying for a suit, before finally returning home by bus again. Oblivion started it and some city-builders have similar systems, but Mafia II is going to new extremes. If a driver collides with another car (which occurs at random), both parties will exit their vehicles and exchange insurance details in an amicable fashion. Police will chase criminals if they spot a random crime in progress. The homeless will sleep rough and rummage in bins. Meanwhile, the previous game's strict speed limits are less enforced so police officers will turn a blind eye to somebody coasting at five miles per hour above the limit. In fact, other drivers will likely be doing the same.
What we're being promised is the next generation of urban environments in gaming (as awful a phrase as that sounds), and if 2K Czech can pull it off it's destined to be a wonderful thing just to sit back and observe - believable in its subtlety and surprising in its complexity. Whether it be in the gentle rocking of individual train carriages as they clatter along the rails, the understated build-up of grit and muck on your car as you hurtle recklessly along a dirt track (and the ability to wash it off), or simply the clothes and cars chosen to flawlessly recreate the '40s period - Mafia II will be a beautifully detailed game.
If my slack-jawed enthusiasm for the game's environments have confounded you - let me remind you that Mafia II is still a shooter, in which you're expected to kill many people. Rest assured that the liberal care that 2K Czech have massaged into the game's city has made it as far as the action sections. And as if to prove this, I am shown a shootout in a brewery.
As with the original game, everything will take place from a third-person standpoint, but Mafia II takes affairs slightly more over the shoulder. Vito (or at least the 2K Czech developer in control of him) begins outside a door with a pair of comrades, before kicking the door down and alerting the occupants to the intrusion. Brandishing a Tommy gun and firing from the hip, Vito manages to head shoot one of the goons, in the process reducing a cement column to a state of utter disrepair.
As bullets fly, so do chunks of the surrounding interior - including tables, crates of bottles, railings and barrels. Mercifully, Mafia II will allow you to take cover behind objects with the tap of a button - Vito does so behind a sturdy looking piece of scenery, and as if to demonstrate the capabilities and advantages of a man under cover, fires off some shots above his encampment, shuffles along a bit, and then fires off some shots around the side. Wonderful.
As retaliatory fire ricochets and pings off every surface, Vito's mates desperately try to avoid having their faces shot off, while available cover peels away with every round fired. Heightened by the deafening noise and scattering debris, the stand-off becomes increasingly tense, with Vito and his cohorts working their way up two floors to leave the final enemy a slumped ragdoll, casually flung over a bench. The man controlling Vito runs him through some physics-enabled cardboard boxes, by means of celebration, causing them to fly across the room.
While it wasn't shown at the presentation, we're told hand-to-hand combat will also feature in Mafia II. When guns fail, objects like bottles can be used to attack your foes - initially as a means to bludgeon them and, once smashed, to give them a glassy stab.
Keen to prove that such actions at least exist at this early stage of development, a bottle is swiftly smashed over the head of an innocent, cowering warehouse employee, who'd been hiding in a corner.
The missions will be structured similarly to the original game, in that they're rather less sandbox-y than Grand Theft Auto (a game Mafia was frequently and inaccurately measured against). You're free to go wherever you please in the city, and equally free to play about with the law - go way over the speed limit and the police will flag you down and give you a ticket, flaunt your new Colt M1911s and they'll put out a warrant for your arrest.
No all-seeing eye will register your crimes either - as with the original, your notoriety in Mafia II is determined by the ability of those who've witnessed your crimes to reach a phone or radio to report them. Once reported, police will be looking out for people matching your description, or the vehicle you were last seen in - so buying a new outfit or changing the number plates on your car acts as a solution in this case.
Prolonged criminal goings-on in one area of the city will prompt the mayor's office to increase the police density in that area, making life difficult for your mafioso upstart. In these cases, bribing the mayor will bring the police presence back down to more manageable levels. A respect system is also in place, appearing on the HUD at all times. This was something 2K Czech weren't ready to talk about - could it hint at your landing with the two rival families?
Asking them about the potential for branching storylines and missions saw them shuffle their feet nervously, limning proof that there's more to the respect system than meets the eye. Something they were happy to mention was that massacring innocents has a negative impact on your respect - and that subsequently low respect levels could lead to yon being 'whacked'.
A further in-game cutscene shows Joe introducing Vito to Mikey the mechanic, who, as Ralphie did in the original Mafia, opens the gateway to automotive theft by asking you to nab cars for him. Unlike the original game, you'll be able to pick the lock of every car from the outset, either through a lockpicking minigame or by simply smashing the car's window.
The cars themselves have had a massive handling overhaul. Without getting any actual hands-on driving time myself, it's difficult to say whether they've nixed the authentic ricketiness of Mafia's fragile '30s motors in favour of a crowd-pleasing arcade approach, though what I've seen looks promising.
The cars appear more solid and fun to drive, with a new physics model allowing for some nifty skids. Traffic in general is denser and the range of vehicles more varied. The damage modelling has also been rethought, with the dynamically crumpling wrecks of the original being replaced by scripted, location-based damage.
2K Czech are calling this 'Hollywood damage' - paint will scrape away, while bumpers will hang off and swing, scraping along the tarmac in a shower of sparks, while panels will deform and dent in a myriad of pre-determined ways - and the end result should make car chases that bit more thrilling.
There are some things to worry over. The reticule system has an assisted-aiming feature designed for controllers, leading your shots towards enemies in a way that's unnatural - 2K would do well to let PC gamers turn it off. That isn't to say Mafia II will be a console-led title, as everything else at the presentation suggested heavily that the PC version will, yet again, be the definitive one. While initially nervous about Mafia II (my cynical mind immediately assuming that none of the creative genius behind the original would be working on its sequel, whereas the opposite is true), what I've seen of it has strengthened my certainty that this game will be as special, and even more influential, than Mafia.
What was amazing about that first game was how all of these separate features came together to form a cohesive, believable world, in which the story could unfold with all the finesse of Martin Scorsese's best. Strongly defined characters, an enigmatic and cinematic environment that permeated the game so naturally, an extremely well told story and some wickedly unpredictable missions: it all combined to create a game which remains a PC favourite. Whether such perfection can be mustered once again remains unknown, but just knowing that the original game's scriptwriter is leading the project is the most glowing assurance Illusion (sorry, 2K Czech) could have given us.