It's hard to avoid mention of a certain Rockstar game when talking about Mafia II. After all, what else but Grand Theft Auto springs to mind upon mention of an urban open world where you drive cars and commit crime?
The open world sandbox is a genre of its own now. Yet it remains synonymous with GTA. Remarkably, the original Mafia was released within a year of GTA III and focused on period authenticity and a linear, story-driven approach to immerse you in its world of 1930s gangsters.
In the years since, Rockstar has given us Vice City, San Andreas, GTA IV and its Episodes from Liberty City, pushing the GTA template into silly, epic, serious and adventurous directions at each turn. So what's 2K Czech, formerly Illusion Softworks, done with a Mafia sequel over that same period of time?
Not much. By which I mean they've once again given us an open world game that's more cinematic than sandbox, that delivers character instead of chaos. Mafia II is to GTA IV what GTA IV was to Saints Row. If you like your open world gaming to favour focus over freedom and to keep its tongue well away from its cheek, you'd do well to check it out.
Is Mafia II an offer you think you'll be able to refuse?
UPDATE: Added Elemental: War of Magic, Worms Reloaded, Shank and the XBLA release of Scott Pilgrim.
New releases for the w/c August 23:
Elemental: War of Magic (PC) What Is It? Fantasy strategy game from the makers of Sins of a Solar Empire and Demigod, available today for download via Stardock's Impulse store. Should You Care? Something to tide you over until Civ V hits next month.
Legend of Kay (DS) What Is It? Incredibly late DS post of an old PS2 action/adventure starring a sword-wielding cat. Should You Care? The five-year-old original was decent enough and this looks... decent enough, too.
Mafia II (360, PS3, PC) What Is It? Narrative-heavy crime and cars caper set in post-World War II America. Should You Care? For those who want more story and less silly in their sandbox gaming.
Reel Fishing: Angler's Dream (Wii) What Is It? Yep, it's another fishing game for the Wii. This one's from Harvest Moon devs Natsume. Should You Care? No, this is not the best fishing game on Wii. Sega Bass Fishing is. Just.
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (XBLA) What Is It? Comic-based brawler that harks back to the days of Double Dragon and River City Ransom while winking at every game in between. Now on XBLA! Should You Care? A must if you love the comic and worthwhile if you dig a sense of humour with your punching.
Shank (PSN, XBLA) What Is It? Super stylish 2D brawler-slash-beat 'em up that's all about chaining together increasingly brutal combo attacks. Should You Care? Not as cute as Scott Pilgrim, but considerably more violent.
Wordjong (DS) What Is It? Puzzler that's less Mahjongg with letters and more like a word jumble on a Mahjongg board. Should You Care? I'm pretty sure these things cost two bucks on iPhone.
Worms Reloaded (PC) What Is It? It's a brand new Worms, the 2D, team- and turn-based game of invertebrate destruction. Should You Care? They're promising a substantial singleplayer campaign, but the real draw is the online multiplayer.