Mafia II • Page 2

Family reunion.

The game is capable of a full day-and-night cycle, and I experience most of it in the half-hour demonstration, but the time of day is set to follow events. It will be night-time when Vito torches a protection racket later on, because that's when Vito would torch a protection racket, but it's broad daylight right now for a chance encounter that leaves nothing to chance: some schmo rear-ends the hooker from earlier's car at the traffic lights down the road from Vito's apartment, and starts harassing her. Vito rolls up and intervenes. "Hey pal, knock it off." "And who the f*** are you?" "Someone who doesn't like hearing you talk to a lady like that." Before long his head's on the road with a car door-shaped dent in it, and you're being invited to the young lady's house later "for coffee". There are no loading screens between any of this - nor will there be anywhere, says 2K - and the transition between canned cut-scene events and gameplay is rendered moot by how quickly and easily the smart animation, smooth delivery of the dialogue and unhurried spectacle invest you in events.

A similar scene unfolds after Vito arrives at Giuseppe's workshop. As he's about to enter, a mafia associate is exiting, and the two exchange greetings. The latter, it turns out, has a job for Vito - one of his colleagues is having difficulty getting ahead in the protection racket. "Some asshole's been giving him competition, and that ain't good for business," drawls our new acquaintance. Vito pauses. "You want me to...?" "Nah, nothing like that. Not yet." Your goal, if you want, is to torch some cars in Millville under cover of darkness and without anyone winding up dead. You can accept or decline the side mission - the point of us being shown the scene is so that 2K Czech can emphasise the fact that it is a side mission, and that side missions will be no more surrendered to menus, stat screens and mechanical routine than anything else.

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Violence is necessary, but it's a means to an end.

Back to business, and inside the workshop Giuseppe strikes up a conversation. He's got some papers for Vito - they're a gift, for reasons to do with the story which aren't explained - but he also sells guns, ammo, Molotov cocktails, lockpicks and other useful items. Vito says goodbye to Giuseppe, but as he leaves he's accosted by a couple of muggers, who want all his "dough", inevitably. He pulls a gun. "Oh okay... wrong guy, wrong guy!" As they beat it though, a beat cop rolls up and threatens to arrest Vito unless he can produce a firearms licence. That's one option (assuming you have one), the others being to try and bribe the cop (which might work), or, for the purposes of the demo, to simply leg it.

2K Czech says the police system will be aggressive, but that the goal is really to enforce realistic behaviour; to get whoever's controlling Vito to act like a real wiseguy. By this stage the explanation's almost redundant. Vito races off down the street, pursued by the cop, who's by now hurling abuse and tooting on his police whistle, before leaping over a chain fence and ducking down behind a dumpster. The police, 2K points out, only have a physical description - one of the game's degrees of wanted rating - so getting clear of them is fairly easy, and then losing them completely is simply a matter of switching outfits at any store or apartment.

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2K Czech's game engine does a great job bringing the key players to life.

Vito needs a car to make his way across down to Millville, so he breaks into a nearby Kingfisher, one of more than 50 fictional vehicles inspired by period equivalents. Breaking a window is an option, but will attract attention, so since we're on a quiet street Vito spends a bit of time using his lockpick by way of a pop-up for shifting pins within the mechanism. As he pulls away, darkness is falling - or rather 2K Czech is drawing a veil of darkness purposefully across Empire Bay - and the streets are quieter, the lighting very different. Without driving the car it's tough to judge the handling, but when rain starts to fall later the back steps out more noticeably at speed, and although we don't see one, 2K says that car chases with bullets flying will smash individual windows, pepper the bodywork with bullet holes, deflate tyres and generally assault the player's composure.

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