E3 2009: Mafia II

Hitting the very definition of a cult hit square on the head, few gamers have heard of the 2002 game Mafia, developed by a small group of Czech programmers and originally released on the Xbox and for PC -- but those that do recall it regularly sing its pr

2K Games

Hitting the very definition of a cult hit square on the head, few gamers have heard of the 2002 game Mafia, developed by a small group of Czech programmers and originally released on the Xbox and for PC -- but those that do recall it regularly sing its praises as a superior open-world action/adventure.

Built on essentially the same model as Grand Theft Auto, the game transported its crime family story back to the 1930s, and evoked the Maio Puzo Godfather vibe much better than the stodgy, by the numbers, officially licensed Godfather games did later.

For this long-in-the-making sequel, Mafia II, 2K Games has brought the original developers in-house, calling the new studio 2K Czech. What we saw from them was another carefully constructed, engaging virtual crime world, this time updated to the 1940s and 1950s (perhaps not coincidentally mirroring the timeframe of the second Godfather film).

There's not a heck of a lot that's actually new or unexpected in Mafia II, if you've played GTA, The Godfather, Saints Row, or any of a dozen other sandbox-style games. But the city feels thriving and colorful, and the missions we've seen involve just enough variety (such as riding a window-washing rig down the side of building to take out a rival mobster in a conference room meeting) to keep it from being another generic car-based crime thriller.

Most interesting perhaps is the clearly Eastern European take on 1950s America. Looking at the era of Mad Men, Eisenhower, and Hyman Roth filtered through the cold war cultural memory of a former iron curtain country reveals an interesting subtext about how our mid-century lifestyle translated overseas. There's a clear love for bulbous classic '50s cars, fedoras, and retro-chic diners -- which in hindsight seems like a pretty likely picture of what Czechoslovakian game programmers would imagine 1950s America to look like.

About the author

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of laptops, desktops, and Windows tablets, while also writing about games, gadgets, and other topics. A former radio DJ and member of Mensa, he's written about music and technology for more than 15 years, appearing in publications including Spin, Blender, and Men's Journal.

 

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