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Mafia II

Build A Mafia Empire In 2K Games' Anticipated Sequel
by Matt Bertz on Sep 29, 2009 at 10:15 AM
Platform PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
Publisher 2K Games
Developer 2K Czech
Rating Mature

Critics showered accolades upon Mafia for its intricately detailed missions, but the sparse open world failed to captivate gamers in the same way as other sandbox games like Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row. For the sequel, 2K Games and its Eastern Europe-based developer 2K Czech (formerly Illusion Softworks) are focused on crafting a more engaging world. The 1940s era metropolis Empire Bay eschews the barren city streets of its predecessor in favor of a more active populace, dynamic police patrols, and several side missions that branch from the overarching narrative of Vito’s rise from petty criminal to made man. Like AMC’s hit drama Mad Men, Mafia II transports you back to another era, with authentic cars, clothing, and music that change with the years as the story progresses into the 1950s.

Running From the Fuzz

Any two-bit thug can pull a heist or commit a crime in broad daylight. The tricky part is evading the inevitable police pursuit. In Mafia II, 2K Czech tapped a unique resource when designing the police intelligence — common sense.

Unlike other open world games that require you to evade police Pac-Man style or take down the squad cars on your tail, Mafia II employs a philosophy that adheres much closer to reality. If the cops don’t see you commit the crime and there are no witnesses, the men in blue are less likely to begin a citywide manhunt. If they do begin pursuit after a bigger crime, it’s much easier to lose them by skillfully evading the cars and diving into a darkened alley before they have the chance to turn the corner on you.

“Mafia II is set in the 1940s and ‘50s, so we want the police to be period-authentic,” says 2K Games producer Alex Cox. “Police back then didn’t have the same tools as modern cops. So, if you dive unseen down a back alley you’ll quickly lose the heat…unless the cops noted your license plate, of course.”

Just because you’ve evaded the cherries in your rearview mirror doesn’t mean everything is back to normal. Police will dispatch a warning to all nearby cars detailing your make, model, and car color. The only way to lose the heat on that car is to ditch it for another or get one of your associates to change the plates or repaint your vehicle. Cops also take note of Vito’s outfit if he commits a crime on the streets, which necessitates a change of clothes so you don’t match the description being sent across the wire.

Put Up Your Dukes

While Vito gets in his share of gunfights, he’s also not averse to throwing the occasional punch.

“The melee combat is very much inspired by street fighting,” says 2K Games producer Alex Cox. “The guys we are dealing with are street thugs, not kung-fu masters.”

Rather than develop a complicated combat system with myriad combinations, 2K chose to focus on the visceral experience. The control layout sticks to the basic two attack buttons and a dodge button, but 2K created a pool of over 200 individual animations to choose from during battles to keep the combat interesting. Players can string together combinations with the two buttons, or enlist the help of the environment. Characters throw each other into tables, lean on objects while falling, and grab dynamic objects to use as weapons for ultraviolent finishing moves.

“It’s pretty awesome to drag an enemy out of his car then beat him unconscious against the front grill,” says Cox. “Actions like this have a great mobster feel to them.”

Expanding the Narrative

Vito’s journey from small-time thug to Mafioso features twists and turns on par with classic mobster flicks, but developer 2K Czech knows a strong narrative isn’t enough to carry an open world game. In between missions, Vito will come across optional side quests. Secondary missions branch from the main storyline to reveal more information about key characters and lead you to less-frequented corners of the city. “The best way of thinking about how the subquests work is like an extended cut of a movie – bonus enjoyment for people that want to delve deeper, but it won’t spoil the main game if you choose not to do them,” says 2K Games producer Alex Cox.

To give an example, 2K shares a scene that starts with a lady of ill repute putting her clothes on in Vito’s apartment after an assumed romp in the sack. Vito and the girl both leave the apartment, but as she drives off he witnesses her car get rear-ended. The situation quickly escalates, and the angry driver starts getting rough with her. It’s up to you to step in and save the lady of the night or neglect the situation altogether.

Vito can also do favors for mobsters, which reward him with extra money to spend on new cars, clothes, and weapons.

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Mafia II

PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
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