Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven (2002 PC version) remains one of my fondest gaming experiences of all time. It spoke to me in the same language that made Vice City a fan-favorite in the GTA canon: they're both period-pieces with fantastic settings and atmosphere, epic stories and memorable characters. Mafia II's story spans the late 1940's and early 1950's, and while looks aren't everything, they sure don't hurt in this case.
In the sequel, Sicilian-born Vito and his best friend Joe try to become "made men" in the 10-square-mile city of Empire Bay. Gunplay, car-chases, and street pugilism all return in the sequel, though unlike a certain other open-world crime simulator, I'm pretty confident that Joe won't ask you to go bowling every five minutes.
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God of War 3
Only a few short months are left until SCE Santa Monica's God of War III March release on the PS3, and unless you've somehow managed to miss out on the first two parts of the series, it's pretty easy to understand all of the hype.
After recently checking out the E3 demo again from the comfort of my couch (Thanks, District 9 Blu-Ray!), I can confidently predict that playing God of War III will be like slipping into an incredibly comfortable pair of your favorite blood-soaked shoes.
The action is still the visceral combo-laden smorgasbord fans are used to with some significant technological improvements. These include an increased number of on-screen enemies and dynamic lighting. The addition of "Zipper Tech" allows character models to be split open and "Gut Tech" enables fully modeled giblets and entrails. If you've played the demo, disemboweling the centaur is a great example of these improvements in action.
Kratos the angry Spartan continues his rampage on the PS3 in March, and I'll be there with bells on.
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Splinter Cell: Conviction
Sam Fisher returns on the PC and Xbox 360 in February when Splinter Cell: Conviction finally sneaks onto the scene. I've enjoyed each of the games in the long-running series from start to finish (a rarity for me), but still haven't completely quenched my thirst for super-spy badassery.
The gameplay seems a lot more fluid and action-oriented this time around, and the presentation has been beefed up a couple of notches. As a fan of the series, Conviction has been on my radar for a while, but seeing the new game in action at E3 kind of blew me away. The hand-to-hand combat now seems brutal, quick, and satisfying, and cool presentational touches like having mission objectives projected onto the environment are most welcome.
Take the single player experience (revenge stories are always engaging), combine it with a wealth of great looking co-op modes, add the dulcet tones of Michael Ironside, kick those stuffy Third Echelon NSA types to the curb, and it looks like the folks at Ubisoft could have another hit on their hands.