by Ben Lelievre, reviewed on
Italian-American writer Mario Puzo published his novel "The Godfather" in 1969. For the first time, America had a glimpse inside the tightly knit circle of organized crime. Who they discovered weren't the quintessential bad guys that they were made out to be in popular culture. They rather found proud men that lived their lives in accordance to their own code of values. Rebellious and tortured souls that have abandonned the main highway to forge their true path.
The game Mafia: The City Of Lost Heaven, made by Czech Developer Illusion Softworks was one of the first successful stabs video games took at the complex universe of La Cosa Nostra. The game was a critical and commerical success, having been compared favorably to other sandbox blockbusters like Grand Theft Auto III. Eight years after, Illusion Softworks and 2K Games are teaming up one more time to give the video gaming industry, the much desired sequel.
History is written in blood...
The sandbox genre for video games had its fair share of critics in the last few years. Dislocated feeling to the action, pointless roaming and repetition have been called out by many gamers as a possible downfall for the genre. Recent titles like Grand Theft Auto: Episodes From Liberty City are reaffirming the pertinence of sandbox. How have they done that? A game with endless possibilities has to be kept together by tight and compelling writing. Storyline, characters, atmosphere, everything has to be solid in order for the player to keep focus. In hat sense, Mafia II is most likely to deliver the goods.
The story is about World War II veteran Vito Scaletta, who comes back home after witnessing the horrors of armed conflict. Vito reunites with his old friend Joe Barbaro and embarks into a life of crime that quickly grants him success and the privilege to be a made man. The game will be crafted in such a way that the gamer will feel a sense of social evolution throughout Mafia II. Vito is going to climb the ladder of the organization and will make the looks of the bystanders change around him. He will battle many different families – the Falcone, the Vinci and the Clemente, who all want a part of the cake in Empire Bay, the fictional city in which the game is setted.
There are 700 pages of script to the game, according to writer Daniel Vàvra and it is going in a new direction. A more darker, grittier drama is to be expected. There is also place for family and for friendship though. As we could see in the trailers, Vito and his friends are backing up each other and keeping high spirits in order to survive in the underworlds. One of the trailers shows Vito's mother and the importance that he gives to her. Like in any story where things aren't black or white, the characters of Mafia II all have values despite living a life of crime.
Men of honor? Men of Action...
What we have seen of Illusions Softworks' latest baby looks to be very promising. They didn't let the mafiosos do all the work, they have been working hard themselves to create a believable reality and most important, an atmosphere that players won't soon forget. A lot of the open world urban crime games have fell into this trap. The repetitive gun and run mission structure. The first Godfather game had been plagued with this issue and turned a lot of gamers away. Somehow, Mafia II, without versing into a San Andreas level of diversity seems to have found its own way to step around the problem.
In a mission called "Room Service," there is a quite unique tension building element. Instead of concentrating around the core gameplay immediately, the player will have to make his way through a room full of gangsters in order to get to his target. He needs to lay low and accept vulnerability so that he can get through the heavy guard of Don Clemente. A few games have used similar strategies before, but none in such a unique, well paced way. The game has a cover system and no visible signs of a burdensome auto-aim like in Grand Theft Auto IV.
It all suggest a rather high level of diversity in missions and originality in the point of view. When Vito is seen riding shotgun (literally!) during a mission where the goal is to chase and eliminate a target. The point of view isn't top-down from the car as usual, but over-the-shoulder, like in Resident Evil 4. Have you ever seen such a camera view when the character is inside the car? I didn't and I'm curious as all hell to play it.
There seem to be particular attention given to the graphics during the cut-scenes and the important parts of gameplay. Some would call the looks a little dated, but I would beg to disagree. There is a graphic novel feeling to Mafia II, a unique visual style that doesn't seem to care about the "realistic" brown, grey, black filters that are plaguing video games nowadays. There is color to Mafia II, a distinctive style.
Ben, should I buy this game?
Oh hell yeah! Illusion Softworks have been playing it low profile with the game, preferring to concentrate on polishing instead of making bold claims to the media. The first Mafia game was amazing eight years ago and count on this one to send a much needed shockwave through the world of open-world video games. Nothing against Rockstar Games, but a healthy dose of competition is doing wonders to stir up the imagination of video game designers.