As someone who has neither been into the Grand Theft Auto series (I know it’s not the same developer or publisher) nor even laid eyes on the original Mafia, I went into the demonstration with no knowledge and low expectations. When I came out, the first question I asked the proctor was, “When is the release date?”
There’s something refreshing about a game that suddenly spikes one’s interest after a simple 15 minute demonstration. And whether much of that is credited to how well 2K games presented themselves this year or just the overall gameplay of the demo, they really did an excellent job of getting the public excited for its soon-to-be release. Lest it to say, it did have some minor flaws, but from my initial impressions, its fun factor is what counts and it definitely delivers.
Set in the 40s and 50s, players assume the role of Vito Scaletta, the son of Sicilian immigrants and a recent veteran from WWII. Upon returning home, he learns of his father’s death and an outstanding debt he left to his family. With no way to pay it off, Vito reunites with an old friend, Joe Barbaro, and together their intentions of scraping up some lose cash quickly turn into a life of organized crime.
Right from the beginning, you can tell its the developers intentions to blur the lines between film and video games. With gangster dialog and typical smart aleck remarks, the game is story driven and portrayed through a heavy amount of cinematic cut scenes. Likewise, the main character is constantly torn between a life of poverty and upholding family morals to a life of riches and crime. Constant feuds within one’s self, as well with the world, really make a strong connection to the players.
The demonstration opens up with Vito receiving a phone call from Joe telling him to be at an “apartment” across town. After the conversation, players get a chance to drive around in a 40′s era vehicle and a chance to check out the city a bit. I must admit, it’s a real treat to the eyes. Initially, I tried to drive according to standard law – stopping at red lights, waiting for pedestrians to pass, etc., but then I really wanted to see what the game was capable of, so I peeled out and smashed into a few bystanders and other vehicles. It really didn’t take much to alert the police to your presence and those pesky officers will do whatever possible to stop you, including shooting out of a moving vehicle.
Upon arrival to the apartment and a short cut scene, the action instantly picks up. Posted up in an apartment window with a MG-42 (a big effing gun), players start out by lighting the streets on fire. I didn’t know it before hand, but my crappy aim led me to put a ton of bullets into a car below, and I’ll be honest, the accidental discovery was better than penicillin. The car exploded into a fiery ball of death and instantly killed everyone within its blast radius.
By that explosion alone, you can really tell that the developers are utilizing the PhysX engine to its fullest potential. Between bullets flying and destructible environments, the game takes on a personality that really emphasizes realistic connections between the two. When you unleash a storm of bullets into a building, glass shatters, splinters and debris fly into the air, and dust lightly flickers off from a penetrating bullet. It’s the details like these that really add to the realism the game has to offer.
On the other hand, I was a bit disappointed with enemy animations when struck with a bullet. Yes, when they get hit and depending on the lethality of the wound, the enemy will go into an animation and either stumble around or die, but what holds the game back a bit, is that there’s little difference between where you shoot a guy. Of course, if you shoot a guy in the head, he’ll instantly die and fly onto his back, but if you shoot him in the leg or arm, he’ll stagger around for a bit.
To test it, I purposely shot a guy in the leg to see what he’ll do and then I shot another guy in the arm, it seemed as though the animations were identical. Likewise, I shot the former foe three more times in the leg and then he instantly died. It’s details like these that take a bit away from the experience, but it’s hardly a complaint I have, because you really have to be paying attention to it in the midst of all the chaos, and it’s easily overlooked with the environment exploding all around you.
Lastly, what really adds to the gameplay is the control you have over Vito. Specifically, the cover system works very well, and when you get a chance to see guys lining up against walls, busting down doors, and then raiding a room, it really brings the whole experience together. Mafia II comes out August 24 and the E3 demo is supposed to be released before then. Definitely check it out, you’ll be instantly sold.