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Preview: Mafia II

Russ Pitts | 20 Jul 2010 09:00
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I'm not thinking about the Ronettes in my preview, though. I'm not thinking about the music at all, for a while. I found a stealthy way into the place where the prisoners are being kept - a meat packing plant - and it wasn't at all pleasant. After slogging through knee-deep sewage - ruining my wise guy suit - I've successfully stealthed my way to the room where the prisoners are kept, but for some reason I've blown the rescue. Pointing a gun at several armed men should have been on my "not to do list," but maybe this mafia goon I'm playing is just dumb.

If so, the mafia goons I'm up against are even dumber. Instead of shooting me, they direct the beefiest of them - the guy who had been moments ago wailing on the prisoners with a blunt instrument - to fight me hand-to-hand.

I now get my first taste of Mafia II's fisticuff combat. It's not pretty. It's sort of a minigame in which you have to learn your opponent's rhythms and moves in real time. If you suck at boxing games as badly as I do, you can expect to have to redo this a lot. I did.

After several re-tries I finally figured it out and the guy went down. Then there was some shooting after the guys with guns came to their senses. Gun combat is prettier. The guns handle well and it's entirely satisfying to use them on enemies. Console gamers not used to aiming for themselves will be in for a surprise though, as the game assumes (demands) you have some proficiency with shooters.

After the combat is where the money was for me. One of the freed prisoners decided to go medieval on the ass of the rival boss and - although you were instructed to kill him personally - you nod sagely and watch as he's pulled into the shadows. It helps you're in a meat-packing plant. You know he'll be well taken care of. And then you spot his car outside.

This boss drives the best car I'd seen yet and I couldn't resist boosting it for the drive back home. I switched it on and the radio blared loud, tuned already to Delta Radio, playing Muddy Waters' epic blues anthem "Mannish boy." Buy it from iTunes if you don't know it. It's worth the $0.99.

I'm a man.
I'm a full-grown man
I'm a man.
I'm a natural-born lover's man.
I'm a man.
I'm a rolling stone.
I'm a man.
I'm a hoochie coochie man.

It's a song about coming of age. About being a badass motherf*cker in a town where being a badass motherf*cker is the best you can hope to be. It's the song every blues man tried to sing before and after Muddy Waters nailed it. It was, in short, the perfect song at the perfect moment, and according to Grace, that's exactly how he planned it.

Grace and his team of Czech coders spent three years perfecting the tech to customize what was supposed to be a randomized soundtrack. This means that at a handful of very precise moments in the game, you will get in a car, walk by a radio or walk into your house and a very specific piece of music will be playing - chosen specifically for how it makes you feel based on what you just did or are about to do.

"As far as I know, nobody has ever done this," says Grace, and he may be right.

What I know for sure is that it works. After I boosted that car, that fantastic black convertible roadster, I spent the next five minutes and twenty seconds doing exactly what I loved most about Mafia, driving around, listening to music, feeling like a badass. Feeling like a man. Like a made man, in fact. And in the very next level, I became one.

Russ Pitts is a rolling stone. Also the Editor-in-Chief of The Escapist.

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