Published as part of our sister-site GamesIndustry.biz's widely-read weekly newsletter, the GamesIndustry.biz Editorial, is a weekly dissection of an issue weighing on the minds of the people at the top of the games business. It appears on Eurogamer after it goes out to GI.biz newsletter subscribers.
Back in the old days, we'd fumble innocently for ways to describe titles like Mafia. Terms such as 'mission-based driving game' and 'sandbox action-adventure' were tossed around with all the grace of a goon in concrete shoes, but none of them really stuck. Playing Mafia's long-awaited sequel for the first time, it suddenly seems obvious: this is gaming's own take on period drama.
You can't get two more different approaches to open-world gaming than last week's Just Cause 2 and Mafia II. Both, it's true, descend in a straight line from the same revolutionary inspiration - Grand Theft Auto III - and in both, the world that's opened to you is the game's lead actor.
New York, meet New York. While Grand Theft Auto IV's Liberty City could not and would not claim to be a facsimile, it wears its influences proudly on the sheer glass sleeves of prominent landmarks, and in the architectural sweeps of its bridges, towers and districts. One imagines Mafia II's Empire Bay pursues the Big Apple with no more of a mind toward replication - even of the equivalent city from the 1950s, when the game is set - but developer 2K Czech does have a mind toward authenticity of another kind: it's out to recreate the life of a post-war gangster, from pin-striped trilby to designer shoes and every phone booth, Billy club and shakedown in-between. They may only be a couple of publishing labels and a few European borders away from one another, but 2K Czech's world of organised crime is another world away from Rockstar North's excellent Grand Theft Auto IV.
Remember Mafia? It was an open-world game set in the 1930s that let you buzz around in ancient cars, shoot serious men in hats, and its developers thought it was the best movie Martin Scorsese never made. Well, it's coming back: released later this year, Mafia II will let you buzz around in moderately less ancient cars, shoot yet more serious men in hats, and its developer presumably thinks it's the second best movie Martin Scorsese never made. That Martin Scorsese, eh? He should stop not making his best movies and make games instead. That would give the Mafia team something to stick in their pipes.