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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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MISSIONARY
The missions will be structured similarly to the original game, in that they're rather less sandbox-y than Grand Theft Auto (a game Mafia was frequently and inaccurately measured against). You're free to go wherever you please in the city, and equally free to play about with the law - go way over the speed limit and the police will flag you down and give you a ticket, flaunt your new Colt M1911s and they'll put out a warrant for your arrest.

No all-seeing eye will register your crimes either - as with the original, your notoriety in Mafia II is determined by the ability of those who've witnessed your crimes to reach a phone or radio to report them.

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Once reported, police will be looking out for people matching your description, or the vehicle you were last seen in - so buying a new outfit or changing the number plates on your car acts as a solution in this case.

Prolonged criminal goings-on in one area of the city will prompt the mayor's office to increase the police density in that area, making life difficult for your mafioso upstart. In these cases, bribing the mayor will bring the police presence back down to more manageable levels.

A respect system is also in place, appearing on the HUD at all times. This was something 2K Czech weren't ready to talk about - could it hint at your standing with the two rival families?

Asking them about the potential for branching storylines and missions saw them shuffle their feet nervously, damning proof that there's more to the respect system than meets the eye. Something they were happy to mention was that massacring innocents has a negative impact on your respect - and that subsequently low respect levels could lead to you being 'whacked'.

VROOM
A further in-game cutscene shows Joe introducing Vito to Mikey the mechanic, who, as Ralphie did in the original Mafia, opens the gateway to automotive theft by asking you to nab cars for him. Unlike the original game, you'll be able to pick the lock of every car from the outset, either through a lockpicking minigame or by simply smashing the car's window.

The cars themselves have had a massive handling overhaul. Without getting any actual hands-on driving time myself, it's difficult to say whether they've nixed the authentic ricketiness of Mafia's fragile '30s motors in favour of a crowd-pleasing arcade approach, though what I've seen looks promising.

The cars appear more solid and fun to drive, with a new physics model allowing for some nifty skids. Traffic in general is denser and the range of vehicles more varied. The damage modelling has also been rethought, with the dynamically crumpling wrecks of the original being replaced by scripted, location-based damage.

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2K Czech are calling this 'Hollywood damage' - paint will scrape away, while bumpers will hang off and swing, scraping along the tarmac in a shower of sparks, while panels will deform and dent in a myriad of pre-determined ways - and the end result should make car chases that bit more thrilling.

SMALL CONCERNS
There are some things to worry over. The reticule system has an assisted-aiming feature designed for controllers, leading your shots towards enemies in a way that's unnatural - 2K would do well to let PC gamers turn it off. That isn't to say Mafia II will be a console-led title, as everything else at the presentation suggested heavily that the PC version will, yet again, be the definitive one.

While initially nervous about Mafia II (my cynical mind immediately assuming that none of the creative genius behind the original would be working on its sequel, whereas the opposite is true), what I've seen of it has strengthened my certainty that this game will be as special, and even more influential, than Mafia.

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