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2008 is shaping up to be the year of the free-roaming sequel. In the coming months, fans of open-world games can look forward to Grand Theft Auto IV, Saints Row 2, Mercenaries 2 and Just Cause 2, for starters. And assuming its still-unannounced release date happens later this year, one of the biggest will be Mafia II.
Forget what you might remember about the crappy PS2 and Xbox ports of the first Mafia; when it arrived on PCs in 2002, the game was a brilliant achievement in terms of art, storytelling and scope. One of the earliest Grand Theft Auto clones, it's remembered as one of the best, with a huge, detailed city, miles of explorable countryside, seamless building interiors and a nuanced story about a conflicted, Prohibition-era mobster named Thomas Angelo.
It was hampered only by a reportedly tight budget and slow 1930s cars, neither of which should be a problem for the sequel. Set in the 1940s and '50s, Mafia II's new era of crime promises faster rides, and the full backing of 2K Games means we can expect some stellar production values - as evidenced by the latest crop of screens. And considering that most of the original Mafia team is reportedly working on the sequel, fans of the first game can expect the same level of storytelling and attention to detail.
What they can't expect, however, is a continuation of the same story. While astute fans will be able to recognize a few references to the first game, Mafia II's move to a new time period also means a move to a new town, the New York-inspired Empire City. About twice as big as the first game's city and filled with recognizable landmarks, Empire City is ruled over by the Clemente, Vinci and Falconi crime families, each with its own rules and agenda, and each one vying with the others for control. Enter Vito Scaletta, a young hood who went off to World War II to dodge jail time after a botched robbery. Along with his buddies Joe Barbaro and Henry Tomasino - who will apparently stick with Vito and accompany him on missions throughout the story - Vito gets swept up in Empire City's criminal underworld and decides to make a run for the top, eventually going from small-time crook to made man.
Of course, it's going to take a lot of theft, gunplay and high-speed driving to get there. Like the original game, there's a heavy focus on cars this time around, although your relationship with them will be a little different. While Tommy Angelo had to actually learn to break into cars before he could steal them, "players can now steal any car… in a few ways," said writer/director Daniel Vavra.
"The gameplay mechanic of the player being taught to break into different cars in order to unlock that specific car model has been removed and replaced with a mechanic we feel is much more streamlined [and] doesn’t interrupt gameplay flow, while still adding to the actual gameplay," Vavra said.
According to Vavra, players will now be able to steal cars in several different ways, each of which carry a unique set of consequences. "We can also tell you, carjacking in Mafia II isn’t going to be as simple as kicking somebody out of their car and driving away, like in most other games," Vavra added.