There is no shortage of games that follow the stylistic lead of the classic Grand Theft Auto series, taking an urban crime action/adventure and setting it in a free-roaming sandbox city. One of the variations on this theme we've been most excited about is the 1940s-1950s-set Mafia II -- itself a sequel to an earlier cult favorite. After seeing the game demoed a few times over the past year, we finally got a chance to sit down and play it ourselves.
All the hallmarks of the genre are there, from stealing cars to period music playing on a variety of in-game radio stations. The level of detail on the sets and environments is impressive, and there are plenty of in-game items to interact with, from clothes you can buy in a shop to drinks you can buy in a bar (although consuming a few whiskey shots didn't seem to affect our driving, which was one of the more interesting details of Grand Theft Auto IV).
Put together by the same Czech developers who created the original Mafia game back in 2002 (now called 2K Czech, and owned by major publisher Take Two), the atmosphere is less one of mid-century authenticity than an idealized view of Cold-War-era American crime through the prism of Eastern Europe. Fetishism for classic Americana abounds, from interactive hot dog carts to licensed vintage copies of Playboy magazine lying around waiting to be collected.
The game looks and plays as well as any GTA-style clone, and certainly does the Godfather vibe much better than the pair of actual Godfather-branded games did. Pushed back from a spring release to sometime in the fall of 2010, it's not as high-profile as God of War or Call of Duty, but we'd consider it a possible dark horse candidate for a holiday hit.