Earlier today I got a chance to play Mafia II at a special behind the scenes showing by 2K Games and it was quickly made clear to me that this is definitely a game to look out for and that it's so much more than Grand Theft Auto set in the 1940s - it's a true mafia simulator.
The E3 build revolves around a mission where Vito (that's you) and his mob friends have to go to a distillery and put a hit out on someone who seems to have overstepped his boundaries with the local don. During the course of this demo I was introduced to all the major gameplay elements; the driving, the city navigation and the combat. When behind the wheel of a car the game is pretty much what you would expect it to be; get in car, drive off, hit bystander, speed off, repeat. But when you are in the city (which is 100% unlocked from the start of the game) you are free to explore to your heart's content, and when this exploration starts to lead you down more criminally inclined paths you can always bribe the police so they might let you go.
When it comes to the combat sections the game features a clever cover system that allows you to easily pop in and out of cover waiting for your chance to strike. It's the gun combat that seems to need a little refinement, as moving, aiming and shooting all seem slow and clunky and the inability to quickly look over to who was popping me full of lead resulted in Vito having to sleep with the fishes (or maybe I was just bad at the game?).
Where Mafia II truly shines is in the art and graphics departments. The setting, a mish-mash of major American cities, has been painstakingly recreated to give off a near perfect 1940s feel. The cars are all authentic, the music is what was played back in the day, and people talk like this see. It all comes together so well to make the player feel as if they are playing an interactive novel instead of a normal video game.
The graphics are also gorgeous, everything is lush, detailed, colorful and realistic. Shoot a wall? It will crumble away into thousands of little pieces. Crash into a fence? Small scratches will begin to appear on your car and the fence is realistically obliterated.
Once my 30 minute demo had run it's time, I was a little disappointed that I couldn't keep on playing for a little while longer. The story had me hooked - I wanted to know what happened next, I wanted to explore all the nooks and crannies that Empire Bay had to offer. But like all of us, I'll have to wait for the August 24th 2010 launch date to get my gangster on.