I rarely game on PC, so I must apologize to COE's Mafia fan base. I was chosen by Jarrod to meet with members of the Mafia II team at E3 2009 this year and see what the anticipated sequel is cooking up, but I know I won't do the game justice. Nonetheless, after seeing Vito, John and tear through waves of Fat Man henchmen, I'm convinced that fans of the first title won't have a problem enjoying everything that this one has to offer.
Before the team booted up the demo, one of the gentlemen whom I believe is a producer on the project emphasized some of the background. Vito is Mafia II's lead protagonist. Players will control him for a decade in game time, as he lives in fictional 1970's Empire Bay (based on New York) after he served time in a war overseas. Vito is now a nobody, chooses a life of organized crime to turn that around, and it's your job to help him do that. The producer was also passionate about the weather and seasonal system. The changes may not happen in real-time, but that's being purposefully done to control the emotion of the campaign. Instead of the game randomly producing cloudless sunshine or a torrential downpour, the team wants players to react to how they've tied Mother Nature to the plot. It'll be interesting to see how that pans out.
Most important was the mission at hand, however. The demo involves Vito having to confront the Fat Man, a lard ass that hasn't been keeping current on his protection money. Since the pudgy bastard refuses to pay up, your Italian persuasion comes into play. Prior to this whole ordeal starting though, media spectators were treated to the game's sandbox driving engine. It looked very similar to what we're used to seeing in other franchises like The Godfather, GTA and even The Getaway. I noticed that the steering appeared a little stiff, but I'm well-aware that the team is still finishing some of the gameplay mechanics and fine-tuning the engine. Either way, once our up-and-coming crime lord meets with Joe and Henry, it was time to let hell break loose.
Fat Man's defiance has [unbeknownst to him] sentenced his convoy to an always-exciting apartment building ambush. The producer was thrilled to show off Vito and his buddies setting up MG-42 emplacements in the building they holed up in, and it didn't take long for the unsuspecting guests to arrive. After a brief cutscene, the developer manning the 360 controller let his weapon rip through the Fat Man's lackeys, while also exploding the vehicles they were driving. The chaos was convincing, especially when the small, fiery mushroom clouds enveloped the cars. I anticipated more blood spatter, but what I would soon see made up for that.
Vito and Co. certainly didn't foresee Fat Man successfully retreating into a nearby building though. The mini-mafia wasn't having any of that, so the trio wasted no time pursuing their dodgy client. Once inside, Vito had plenty of cover to use while pointing a white dot to cap anyone that stood in the way of his group. At first the cover system looked automatic, but the producer told me otherwise. With the touch of one button, Vito can enter and leave cover, while also interacting with it in different ways depending on your manipulation of the movement stick. If you've played Gears of War/2 or GTA IV, you have the idea.
The shooting doesn't do anything we haven't seen before, but Mafia fans probably don't care. For everyone else, it'll feel identical to most other third person titles of similar nature. Either way, it was cool to watch Fat Man's people die, and how authentic the object destruction looked. Glass bottles shatter realistically, pyromaniacs will be pleased with the environmental burning, and all the characters involved look great making it happen. I was further impressed by how well the AI handled itself. Joe and Henry don't need your help, but on the flipside, they assist you well. There was a hitch or two here and there, but I can forgive them for now considering the team still has almost half a year to polish the package.
Once Vito and his posse tore through the pathetic mob, they finally cornered Fat Man. This triggers a cut scene that caught me by surprise with how morbid it plays out. Henry doesn't hesitate to stick his handgun into the mouth of Tubby Tubby, and I could really feel the raw emotion develop as the tension increased. I was concerned, wondering if the trigger would be pulled on a man begging so fervently for his life. Well after a few moments, you hear a gunshot. Yet it turns out not to be the one I expected. Somehow at some point, Fat Man pulled out a pocket revolver the size of which would fit in one of those ankle holsters, and he puts a round into Henry's side. This makes Vito and his buddy livid, and what immediately ensued is one of the bloodiest gun executions I've ever seen in a videogame. Not only do the two lay into the guy with their Tommy guns, but the camera pans up-close-and-personal to Fat Man, highlighting every second of the humiliating bloodbath.
A new problem plagues the squad; Henry is now bleeding to death and desperately needs medical attention. Getting it won't be easy though, considering the cops have been alerted to these goings-on, and they fully intend on taking down Vito and his crew. Worse yet, the building is now crumbling thanks to a blaze that was set earlier on. Not only do the guys have to escape a rapidly-spreading fire, but John can't move on his own strength. As a result, we witnessed an intense few minutes of carrying John on his shoulders while Vito led the way to the exit. Once outside and in the car, local law enforcement was hot on their tails. For the demo's remainder, we saw the pursuit, although it seemed relatively tame to me. The red and blue flashing vehicles were occasionally aggressive, but for the most part it looked pretty painless to avoid them. However, once the developer reached a bridge, another cutscene started, accentuating John's condition and how cornered they became. Cops resided on both sides of the connection, leaving the escapees with quite a conundrum. Then in very unsurprising fashion, the demo ended, keeping the question of what happens next in the back of our minds.
As I've already explained, it's no secret that the Mafia II group has more work to do. The producer even said they were still piecing together the HUD, which I hope will be minimal, and pointed out that all the little hiccups I noticed would be optimized. I believe them too, especially considering how well-received the first game was on PC. 2K Games obviously wishes to change how poorly the console port turned out, which is why Mafia II will see simultaneous life on 360, PS3 and PC either later this year or in early 2010. To the gentlemen on-site to show us the goods, I thank you, and hope my impressions are encouraging. I'm sure everyone who loved Mafia is looking forward to this long overdue sequel.