Vito Scaletta is a man at leisure. He lounges around his mate's pad, wearing little more than his slacks and a vest. Opera music blares from a radio somewhere. He helps himself to a beer, and banters with a hooker who's also unwinding having finished her work for the afternoon. "How can girls so loose be so uptight?" he muses. Vito is allowed to make such jokes because he's a gangster; if someone takes offense to one of his jibes, the matter can be easily resolved by shooting the insulted party in the face. Badda-bing!
There's a reason why we're seeing Vito in this relaxed state: after several presentations that have focused on the action and drama of Mafia II's main missions, 2K Czech are finally ready to unveil what you can get up to between the story's big scenes. It's an important moment, because up until this point the developer has been placing a great emphasis on the value of its central storyline. Nobody's expecting a Saint's Row-style festival of diversions, but on the basis of what we've seen so far, some people might not be expecting anything at all in the way of side-missions and activities.
As it turns out there will be plenty of things to see and do, but in keeping with the rest of the game many of these features will be heavily linked to Mafia II's focus on narrative and role play. Take the flat belonging to Vito's friend Joe. It's an important location, one that you'll revisit throughout the course of the game, but much of the interactions that take place there are intended to draw you into Vito's world. If you do grab a beer, for example, it won't directly affect anything - it's just a cool little detail that makes the world feel alive. If you wander into the bathroom, you can chat to Joe's own hooker as she takes a shower: she'll ask you to scrub her back, and you'll politely decline. If you step outside into the hallway, you can eavesdrop on a man as he begs and pleads with his angry girlfriend who's just shut him out. It's all done very well, adding splashes of colour to the gameworld.
The demo really kicks off when Joe's telephone rings. It turns out that an associate named Giuseppe has some paperwork ready for Vito, and it's time to go collect. The 2K demonstrator walks Vito over to a wardrobe and scrolls through a selection of sharp-looking suits, eventually settling on a classic black number. A moment later, after a short trip downstairs to the garage, it's time to choose a car. The game's producer explains that 2K Czech want the cars in Mafia II to have value. The GTA series started a trend for disposable vehicles, but here you'll be encouraged to look after your wheels. You can still steal cars as you see fit, but the idea is that you hang on to the ones you like, spending money on tuning their performance and adding new features or changing their paintjob. Car theft itself can be carried out in two different ways. If you quietly approach a vehicle while there are no cops close by, you'll be able to sneakily force open the lock. This takes time, however - so if you're in a hurry you may have to just smash a window to let yourself in. Needless to say, you'll attract police attention if you take the less subtle approach.
I'll cover Mafia II's boys in blue later in this article, but for the time being the police aren't an issue for Vito. However, as he drives across down to meet Giuseppe something unexpected happens: he witnesses a car crash involving a member of the public and one of the prostitutes from earlier in the demo. The driver of the damaged car starts throwing a right old strop, and the lady-for-hire is clearly distressed by his violent temper. This is what 2K describes as an "instant subquest". If you're in a hurry you can just ignore the whole incident, but if you like you can intervene in the resulting argument. What with this being a presentation and all, our demonstrator decides to get involved.
"And who the f*ck are you?" demands the irate driver, as Vito walks over. "Somebody who doesn't like hearing you talk to a lady like that. So why don't you shut the f*ck up and leave while I'm still in a good mood, huh?" Unfortunately our new friend doesn't take the hint, and a fist fight breaks out. Melee combat in Mafia II is conducted via a three-button system that allows players to dish out light and heavy attacks while evading incoming blows. It seems pretty straightforward, but the punches sound solid and heavy as the two men lay into each other. Vito's moves are context sensitive, so he'll frequently make use of the scenery around him. In today's demo, he winds up smacking his victim's head into the car he's been protecting. "I'm going to break your f*ckin' skull!" growls Vito, in a voice that suggests he means it.
Wanton violence seems to do the trick in this situation, but it won't always be the best course of action to take. At a later point in the demo Vito found himself on the receiving end of an attempted mugging from two dim-witted thugs. In response our gangster pulled out his piece, causing the two numskulls to run for the hills. Unfortunately the whole episode was witnessed by a cop, leading to a choice of action for the player: produce a valid firearms license, bribe the officer, or simply run away. The 2K developer opted for the latter and ran away as fast as he could - not a brave choice, but one that at least enabled us to see how the police system works.