Video Game Preview – Mafia II
The Skinny: "Mafia," a critically acclaimed open-world 1930s mobster game from Czech-based Illusion Softworks, has remained in obscurity next to "Grand Theft Auto." Could that change with this year's "Mafia II"? Here's why you should be paying attention.
1. It's not uncommon for stories in movies or books to jump days, months or years from their starting point, but the technique isn't often used in games. In order to cover the 1940s and '50s, however, "Mafia II" will. How? Logic! It always struck me as odd that, after committing a public crime in "GTA," you could walk the streets without repercussions. Shouldn't you have disappeared for a while? After a major mission, don't be surprised if you wake up a few years in the future.
2. The music in "Mafia II" is dynamic. You don't choose stations and songs as in other open-world games. Frank Sinatra might play while you're on a casual drive, but the radio could move to a rock 'n' roll track during a firefight to reflect the mood. This could go either way: If you replay a mission, you may have to listen to the same music; on the flipside, the prospect of developer-steered music that isn't the same old orchestral mix sounds fantastic.
3. You can't play through "Mafia II" without killing someone, but some missions include the option to complete objectives nonviolently. You might, for example, be given stealth paths. But we didn't see those in our demo. Instead, the developers showed us lots of guns. Stealth wouldn't have made for an exciting demo, but it may have given us a more interesting one.
4. As tired as I am of games set in the space-age future, I'm nearly as exhausted with games recreating the present. The world existed before the 1980s, but you wouldn't know that from most games. Will "Mafia II" make you want to stick around in the past? While "GTA IV's" story started out strong, it didn't manage to stay compelling by the end. If people's nostalgia for "Mafia" is any indication, "Mafia II" should not have that problem.
5. While "Mafia II" might not actually be the next "BioShock," it was encouraging when "Mafia II's" developers said they're channeling "BioShock." Such comparisons yield lofty expectations -- ones I don't think my hands-off demo necessarily backed up.
The Crispy Forecast: I haven't played the original "Mafia," but 2K Games and Illusion Softworks already has me interested with the setting alone. The gunplay shown in our demo looked rough -- but "Mafia II" is still some ways off, which is why we couldn't touch it yet. Whether it's worth playing, however, isn't just about guns; it will largely rest on if the story and gameplay live up to their promise.
This preview is based on a hands-off demo with the game in San Francisco.