Since the original game released on last-gen platforms and PC in 2002, 2K bought its Czech developer, Illusion Softworks, renaming it ... 2K Czech. The studio has not only been working on the technology behind Mafia II, the Illusion Engine, since then, but also one of the first game's standout elements -- the script. Our demo was a single mission out of about two dozen planned for the final game; a game that may seem like a 1950s era Grand Theft Auto at first blush, but actually tries to be very good at a few things, rather than pretty good at everything.
After a very "Behold! Yes, it really looks as good in motion as in screens" unveil, we were introduced to the lead character, Vito, as he walked down the sidewalk in Empire City. Much like the first time we dropped into GTA IV's Liberty City, we were immediately floored by how "alive" it looked. If anything, though, Mafia II's world seems to have less populating it -- people, cars, etc. -- but what's there is already more convincing than what we'd seen in Rockstar's game.
Vito met up with his buddies and the crew cruised through Empire on their way to a hit at the Empire Arms hotel. Every element of the world seemed to nail the era's aesthetic, from clothing to vehicles and architecture. Even the fictional advertising was convincing.
At the hotel, Vito and his partner disguised themselves as maintenance men and made their way to the offices someone who'd obviously done something to get on their bad side in a big way. As our demo's "driver" took the characters through the offices, we noticed people going about their business, some working, some standing to the side chatting. None of them knowing a bomb was about to be planted under the boardroom table.
The actual planting of the explosives was done during a cut-scene; 2K Czech explained that it wants to wrap players up in the overall story, not gameplay minutia.
Hopping onto a window washer's lift, the pair detonated the explosive -- only to realize after reentering the scene that their intended target was still alive (but not for long). Here's where things got Hollywood big. They met heavy resistance on their way back through the offices, but were thankfully well-armed.
Vito fired away with his Tommy gun, showing off the game's micro-level destruction. In what seemed like a nod to Metal Gear Solid 2, the demo-er took out the entire bar, bottles bursting, falling and spinning realistically. The fancy wall of glass bricks we'd seen coming in also had to go, and looked great doing so.
The firefight was also a chance to see the cover system in action. To be honest, it was basic "stick to cover, lean out, shoot" but the overall impressiveness of the characters' animation -- "good" guys and bad -- made the scenes more visceral than in many other games.
We got a brief taste of a car chase after that before being fed a standard line by the developer: that it didn't want to give too much away.
What we saw was enough to get us excited about another mob game, one where there's a strong narrative and very much a right and a wrong way to do things. Overall, it reminded us -- from the perspective of an open-world game with very "directed" action -- of a much better looking (and seemingly playing) American mafia version of Sony's The Getaway. It has a great first game to build off of, though, and a whole lot of personality to spare.