It seems like almost a year ago that I first saw Mafia II. That's probably because it was almost a year ago that 2K Czech (formerly Illusion Softworks) demoed live gameplay from the title (which had been announced nearly a year and a half before that.) Today, it was time to finally get my hands dirty as a virtual wiseguy, but first I had to put some clothes on.

In all seriousness, protagonist (I guess he's that, right?) Vito Scaletta had just woken up after a pretty wild night (judging by the various undergarments strewn around his bachelor pad) when my demo kicked off, so I of course jogged around turning on faucets and flicking light switches before actually doing what the game was instructing me to do: Get dressed. Leaving Vito's apartment, I stepped out into a world as pitch-perfect in its depiction of the 1950s -- the cars, the clothing, the architecture, the music -- as I can imagine. So what if the car that I hopped into and the place I was driving around -- Empire City -- never existed in any real era?

I spent the first few minutes of the demo causing all sorts of mayhem. Heck, the very first thing I did was get into a fender bender (putting it mildly) from which I fled, only to learn that the punishment for a hit-and-run in the '50s was, evidently, only a few dollar fine. But my trouble with the fuzz didn't end there.
Nope. On my way to pick up Vito's partner in less-than-legal activities, Joe, I got caught speeding. Figuring that no self-respecting, up-and-coming mobster of the day would actually stop when ordered to, I led the police on a chase that would have made Mr. Toad proud, eventually ditching my car for another. Pity I had to smash its driver-side window to steal it. Or that a passer-by reported its license plate to the cops, meaning that I'd need another soon enough.

Having goofed off long enough, I got with the mission at hand: Meeting up with Joe and helping him (briefly) sell stolen cigarette cartons off the back of a truck. That plan was quickly derailed by a bunch of greasers who firebombed the stock, sped away and leaving me two grand in debt to the higher-ups.

By the game's logic, I'd have to really earn that $2k -- but I'd also get a chance to have my revenge on the greasers. First stop: Their crummy little hangout, a rundown bar located on a dirt road in a sad part of town. Along with a few made men, I sprayed the place down good with a Tommy gun and tossed a couple molotovs through its windows for good measure. then it was off to the train yard / foundry to complete the greasers' education in why one doesn't mess with the mob.

Here I got to experience the game's particular brand of gunfight. Truth be told, it was pretty basic stuff. Sort of like the aiming, cover system and A.I. had been built a couple of years back, but not improved upon since, making them feel ... dated. I was able to dash from cover to cover, but only manually; taking cover was a simple matter of tapping the A button, but leaving it required a second tap. The actual gunfight -- during which I used a Tommy gun and a revolver -- were straight-up shooting galleries. Still, the reward for icing all the greasers would make the bosses happy: A couple of tricked-out hot rods that Joe figured we could get a couple grand for each, easy.

While the action left me feeling like I was playing a third-person shooter from a few years ago, the graphics and atmosphere were decidedly cutting-edge stuff. Like I said earlier, the whole '50s vibe was nailed perfectly. The city was teeming with life, the crowds looked great, daylight looked like real daylight and Vito had a nice weight to his movements.

I'm really hoping that 2K Czech can make the combat even a little deeper before the game ships in a few months, and there's been no talk of whether rackets and other mob-like elements will factor into the gameplay. I sure hope they do -- Mafia II needs some meat on its admittedly lovely bones.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.

There is a new King of Kong