Assuming it comes out sometime this year, Mafia II might be entering a field thick with Grand Theft Auto wannabes and also-rans - but it promises to be much more than just another in a long line of knockoffs. And if our full preview doesn't convince you, consider the following: The original - 2002's Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven - remains one of the best crime games we've ever played in terms of storytelling, and most of the team behind it is coming back for the sequel, including writer/director Daniel Vavra.
Granted, Mafia II will be set in a new era, a new city and will have few connections with its brilliant prequel. But if you'd like to get a feel for where a series is going to go, it's always best to look at where it's been. And while the best way to do that is to actually, you know, play the game, we realize you're busy. So for those who never played the original Mafia (or who played it six years ago and would like a quick recap), we've put together a near-complete retelling of the story.
If it's not obvious by now, major spoilers lurk below. Proceed at your own risk.
Mafia opens in 1938, as gangster Thomas Angelo arrives at a little diner to meet with an Irish cop named Detective Norman. Tommy's come to Norman to ask for police protection for himself and his family, but Norman - abrasive and impatient - scoffs at the idea. Tommy insists that he doesn't expect something for nothing, and that what he knows can help bring down a notorious mob boss named Salieri. Norman, still skeptical, demands to hear the whole story before he'll promise anything - so Tommy obliges.
As Tommy's story begins, he's nothing more than a young cab driver, trying to make a living during the Great Depression in the New York/Chicago-inspired city of Lost Heaven. His luck changes late one night, when a couple of mobsters named Sam and Paulie accidentally cross his path. Wounded and fleeing a bunch of rival gangsters from the Morello family, the two crash their car, hold Tommy at gunpoint and order him to drive them to safety. Following a tense, gunfire-filled car chase, Tommy takes his kidnappers to Little Italy, where he learns that they work for the Salieri crime family.
Tommy's then rewarded for his service and offered more work, which he says he'll think about. Really, though, Tommy has no intention of ever accepting - "better to be poor and alive than rich and dead, right?" he asks Norman in his narration.
The next day, it seems like Tommy's going to follow through on his vow of poverty, but fate has other ideas. After taking a few fares to their destinations, he stops for a coffee break in Little Italy - only to be immediately assaulted by a couple of the Morello mobsters from the previous night, who remembered his cab. Fleeing on foot, Tommy decides to call in the favor he's owed by the Salieris, and leads the thugs on a chase to Salieri's bar, where they're gunned down and disposed of.
Following the incident, Tommy accepts the protection offered by Don Salieri and is hired on as a driver. To test his mettle and give him a chance to get back at Morello's thugs, Salieri sends him - along with Paulie, the Joe Pesci-looking goon from the other night - to wreck a few cars outside of Morello's bar. The vandalism goes well enough that Tommy is then entrusted with driving Paulie and Sam around as they extort protection money from businesses around Lost Heaven - but when they pull up to Clark's Motel, a crummy little rest stop miles outside of town, things go to shit.
Sam and Paulie walk into the hotel while Tommy waits with the car, and no sooner has Tommy lit a cigarette than a couple of gunshots go off and Paulie stumbles out, wounded again. The Morellos have decided to muscle in on the motel, and they order Paulie and Tommy to beat it. Sam, meanwhile, has been taken hostage so they can squeeze him for information. Obviously, Tommy can't let that situation stand, and so he continues what will be a long cycle of saving Paulie and Sam's asses after they've been kidnapped and/or wounded. Putting on his best badass face, he draws a pistol, finds a rear entrance and proceeds to perforate every living thing inside the motel.
After turning the place into shooting gallery, Tommy rescues Sam and is confronted by one last Morello mobster, who escapes with the protection money. Giving chase, Tommy gets a nice tour of the bucolic backroads around Lost Heaven as he chases the bastard down and kills him.