Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Mafia II

I've been trying out the Mafia II demo, and I'm considering buying the game. In the last decade or so a strange inversion happened: It used to be that shooter games were just about, well, shooting, while if you wanted a story you needed to play adventure and roleplaying games. But then roleplaying games went multiplayer, and their storytelling part withered away. Today shooter games like Bioshock or Mafia II have significantly more and better storytelling than roleplaying games like World of Warcraft, Warhammer Online, EVE Online, or Everquest 2. On the other hand Mafia II also shows that telling a strong story has its price: Compared to a GTA, Mafia II has more story, but a less open world.

One particular interest Mafia II had for me is that it supports APEX PhysX from NVidia graphics cards, the perfect opportunity to test out my new Geforce 460. That turned out to require some fiddling. When I simply turned APEX PhysX from "off" to "high", my framerate in the Mafia II benchmark dropped from 60 to 25. Ouch! But the culprit is a particular sub-module, APEX clothing, which for some curious reason appears to be running on the CPU instead of the GPU. The solution I found on the internet was to go to the APEX/Cloth directory of the game, and delete either all the files, or all files except those for the main character, Vito. That way I could enjoy all the nice physics effects of the destructible environment, plus have Vito's trenchcoat still flowing, and the framerate dropped only to 45.

Not being good at shooter games, I died several times in the demo, which doesn't have a variable difficulty level, but still managed to "win" the mission. As far as I could find out the real game has three difficulty levels, from easy to hard, and I assume the demo was on "medium". My main difficulty was camera controls, which either don't exist, or are so well hidden that I couldn't find them. The actual shooting wasn't so hard, once you realized that you should always remain in cover and only shoot while leaning from cover, not run guns blazing into a group of enemies.

Mafia II sure is violent, but in the way a Godfather movie is violent: The violence somehow makes sense in the context of the story, and characters aren't void of humanity. Even the enemies have a good reason to shoot at you, which makes a change from the typical aliens or zombies you shoot at in so many other games. But as the shooting is part of the story, there is somewhat less of it than in some other shooter games. That is something I have no problem with.

The main reason I haven't bought Mafia II yet is that I don't know yet when I will have the time to play it. One thing I learned after buying games on Steam for a while is that you shouldn't buy games before you actually want to play them, as the price can drop any day. If this weekend or so I feel a sudden urge to play Mafia II, I can buy it full price, but if I'm busy with other games, I can wait until I can get it for half price in a Steam sale or the typical price reduction you get for buying last year's games.

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