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Previews

Mafia 2

Preview: Steve Hogarty opens a violin case to find the sequel to the PC's finest free-roaming shooter

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The goal here is to create a city which supplements and supports the strong story aspects of the game. Through small details like these, 2K Czech plan to create the most believable living, breathing city we've ever seen.

PEDIGREE
To this often-touted end Mafia II's pedestrians have had a disproportionate amount of thought put into them. As unbelievable as it sounds, any member of the populace will have an observable routine, such as leaving their home, hopping on a bus, getting off at a clothes shop, trying on and then paying for a suit, before finally returning home by bus again.

Oblivion started it and some city-builders have similar systems, but Mafia II is going to new extremes.

If a driver collides with another car (which occurs at random), both parties will exit their vehicles and exchange insurance details in an amicable fashion. Police will chase criminals if they spot a random crime in progress.

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The homeless will sleep rough and rummage in bins. Meanwhile, the previous game's strict speed limits are less enforced so police officers will turn a blind eye to somebody coasting at five miles per hour above the limit. In fact, other drivers will likely be doing the same.

What we're being promised is the next generation of urban environments in gaming (as awful a phrase as that sounds), and if 2K Czech can pull it off it's destined to be a wonderful thing just to sit back and observe - believable in its subtlety and surprising in its complexity.

Whether it be in the gentle rocking of individual train carriages as they clatter along the rails, the understated build-up of grit and muck on your car as you hurtle recklessly along a dirt track (and the ability to wash it off), or simply the clothes and cars chosen to flawlessly recreate the '40s period - Mafia II will be a beautifully detailed game.

GUNPLAY
If my slack-jawed enthusiasm for the game's environments have confounded you - let me remind you that Mafia II is still a shooter, in which you're expected to kill many people. Rest assured that the liberal care that 2K Czech have massaged into the game's city has made it as far as the action sections. And as if to prove this, I am shown a shootout in a brewery.

As with the original game, everything will take place from a third-person standpoint, but Mafia II takes affairs slightly more over the shoulder. Vito (or at least the 2K Czech developer in control of him) begins outside a door with a pair of comrades, before kicking the door down and alerting the occupants to the intrusion.

Brandishing a Tommy gun and firing from the hip, Vito manages to head shoot one of the goons, in the process reducing a cement column to a state of utter disrepair.

As bullets fly, so do chunks of the surrounding interior - including tables, crates of bottles, railings and barrels. Mercifully, Mafia II will allow you to take cover behind objects with the tap of a button - Vito does so behind a sturdy looking piece of scenery, and as if to demonstrate the capabilities and advantages of a man under cover, fires off some shots above his encampment, shuffles along a bit, and then fires off some shots around the side. Wonderful.

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As retaliatory fire ricochets and pings off every surface, Vito's mates desperately try to avoid having their faces shot off, while available cover peels away with every round fired.

Heightened by the deafening noise and scattering debris, the stand-off becomes increasingly tense, with Vito and his cohorts working their way up two floors to leave the final enemy a slumped ragdoll, casually flung over a bench. The man controlling Vito runs him through some physics-enabled cardboard boxes, by means of celebration, causing them to fly across the room.

While it wasn't shown at the presentation, we're told hand-to-hand combat will also feature in Mafia II. When guns fail, objects like bottles can be used to attack your foes - initially as a means to bludgeon them and, once smashed, to give them a glassy stab.
Keen to prove that such actions at least exist at this early stage of development, a bottle is swiftly smashed over the head of an innocent, cowering warehouse employee, who'd been hiding in a corner.

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