by Robert Zak
previewed on X360
It is difficult to understand why we have had to wait eight long years for 2K Czech to release a sequel to its excellent sandbox crime tale, Mafia. It was in its own quiet way one of the best games of its time and made huge advances in terms of combining the freedom of roaming an authentic depression-era city with some rock-solid 3rd-person shooting mechanics. It made Grand Theft Auto III the granddaddy of sandbox games released barely a year earlier look dated.
Instead of having a booming soundtrack and comically referencing every crime film under the sun, Mafia gave a more realistic portrayal of the criminal underworld that seemed influence not only by films, but by what you would discover in books or documentaries about the mafia. You could say it was The Godfather downbeat, epic, personal to Grand Theft Auto III's Scarface campy, colourful, excessive. 2K Czech seems to have taken a similar approach with Mafia II, aiming not only to uphold the authentic feel of the original, but use it to create a crime saga that will stick out in the overpopulated sandbox genre.
Mafia II puts you in the shoes of Vito Scaletta, who returns home from WWII with hardly a cent to his name. He is in desperate need of work any work. Upon his return, Vito reunites with his friend Joe Barbaro, who it turns out was his bank-robbing partner before the War. The two soon begin helping out a local car mechanic who is willing to provide good money for car parts no matter how they are acquired. Naturally, in these hard times word gets around fast of dauntless men willing to do anything for the right price, and it is not long before the two bump into Henry Tomasino, an associate of the Clemente crime family.
So begins Mafia II, a crime saga charting 10 years in Vito's life as he rises through the ranks of the brutal underworld. It is unknown whether there is any cross-over between this plot and that of the original Mafia, but considering it was released the best part of a decade ago it is safe to say that 2K Czech are making a fresh start with this game.
As well as having an independent storyline, Mafia II also takes place in a new setting. The fictional city of Empire Bay a sort of cross between San Francisco and New York has 10 square miles of city (over twice the size of the original), within which there are 20 districts. Each of these districts has its own distinct character, so while Little Italy is be largely populated with working-class Italian immigrants with few cars on the roads, the suburban district of Greenfield has middle-class white Americans driving around in their posh-mobiles. There will also be over 100 indoor areas that you can access; restaurants, shops and car body garages are just some of the interactive environments that will be accessible to the gamer, helping bring this fictional city to life.
While these details will no doubt contribute positively to the gaming experience, it can't be denied that Grand Theft Auto IV has already set these benchmarks. 2K Czech however have gone a step further in creating a sense of true-to-life authenticity by having Empire Bay change over the 10-year period in which the plot is set.