2K Games' Mafia II will be the sequel to the cult classic Mafia, a third-person action game that was sadly mislabeled as nothing more than a 1920's-era Grand Theft Auto. The truth was that the original PC version of Mafia, released in 2002, was a state-of-the-art action game with great voice acting, an intriguing story, and an authentic atmosphere that made you feel like were a big-city mobster back in the Roaring Twenties. Just when you thought you were out, 2K Games is looking to pull you back in with a sequel that takes place in the 1940s and 1950s. It will also support some of the most high-end 3D effects available on the PC, and we recently had a chance to take an exclusive look.
For Mafia II, 2K Games has partnered with computer hardware manufacturer Nvidia to be the first PC game to integrate APEX, a new graphical framework that incorporates the company's PhysX physics modeling engine to create realistic-looking object movement and interactions in-game. (To clarify, both the PC and console versions of the game will be supported by PhysX, but only the PC version will have APEX.) Specifically, the PC version of Mafia II will take advantage of two different aspects of APEX technology. The first, the "clothing module," will realistically model flowing clothes on what are designated as "primary characters." In the case of Mafia II, this means Vito (the protagonist) and any other characters that happen to be up close to him will benefit from this module. The APEX clothing module realistically makes trench coats flap in the wind and sway while characters walk or run.
The second APEX module, the "destruction module," models realistic damage and deformation on exploding objects, as well as the concussive force of a powerful explosion with an "invisible force field" that realistically sends any sufficiently light objects (or characters) flying. We watched a demonstration of this in action with an exploding car, which smashed nearby crates to bits and sent their splinters--and a nearby mobster--hurtling through the air.
It also offers Mafia II an enhanced particle system that creates discrete and unique, procedurally generated debris when you or other characters destroy any of the game's deformable objects. The demonstration we watched was from the Wild Ones level we've covered previously--specifically, the part where Vito and his gangster buddies use tommy guns and Molotov cocktails to tear a rickety wooden diner to shreds. The scraps of wood and shards of glass realistically went flying with each explosion, and we're told that no two play-throughs should produce the exact same scraps and shards.
After watching specific demonstrations of APEX in action, we then sat down to play an updated version of the Wild Ones. Like before, it culminated in a terse, team-based gun battle against a gang of heavily armed greasers but with some backup from Vito's computer-controlled buddies. The actual train yard level in which the shootout took place looked a bit cleaner and new gameplay features had been added since our last play-through. Vito can now use the jump key to mantle over low obstacles (and can hop into empty boxcars) and also dynamically take cover by running into the vicinity of the nearest cover area and hitting the cover key. This will make him take a running slide along the ground and smoothly transition to cover.
While this challenging shootout looked pretty good, it looked even better with 3D Vision goggles--a hardware accessory that Nvidia has supported with recent, big-name games like Batman: Arkham Asylum and Resident Evil 5. With the goggles on and the 3D depth-of-field effects activated, the on-foot shootout was subtly enhanced by emphasizing the differences in distance between Vito's current position and the wrecked sidecar in front of him that his buddy Joe was using for cover. The effect also enhances the appearance of whatever weapons you're holding--using a weapon with a scope feels much more like you're looking down the barrel of the gun. The mission ended with Vito and Joe stealing a couple of pricey hot rods to sell off. 3D Vision is a lot more apparent when driving because you can adjust the effect to "push" your car "further into" the screen, which subtly makes the environments around you jut outward from the screen as you pass each landmark.
Mafia II looks sharper and plays better than the last time we got our hands on the game, and the PC version of the game will look especially sharp if you happen to own some Nvidia 3D goggles. The game is scheduled to ship later this year.