A couple of weeks ago I would have told you that Red Dead Redemption was the game of 2010 (So far!). It’s beautifully crafted environments and characters had me so totally sold that since it arrived in the shops in May it’s been the only game I’ve kept putting back in my PS3 on a regular basis… so much so that in Multiplayer I am the proud owner of three golden guns. But then this week I got my hands on a copy of Mafia 2 and all memories of daring to venture into Tall Trees amongst the bears and cougars or starting a fight in the saloon at Armadillo seem to have become a distant memory.
Red Dead Redemption is a truly engaging game and it’s a real favourite of ours here at Seenit, the sheer number of things you can do in Red Dead can keep you busy for months (and it has!) After feeling somewhat disappointed with GTAIV Red Dead is the ideal tonic and even though is developed by a different in-house studio to GTA it does offer me some hope that Rockstar could possibly make a game as great as Vice City/Vice City Stories or San Andreas again. GTAIV took itself way too seriously and in the process stopped being fun – the last thing you want in any game. Red Dead has a dark serious streak but manages to keep you entertained and playing, it’s true it does feel a bit incongruous that while on a quest to save your family you have time to play poker, hunt animals, both suppress and aid a Mexican revolution and collect flowers… but somehow the game gets away with it and none of the side games are anyway nearly as irritating as being your cousins private chauffeur in GTAIV. Running alongside a strong storyline these games add more depth to a world that is full of peripheral characters that fight, drink, rob, murder or simply take a rest in the sun and catch up on all the gossip in the wild west.
Mafia 2, breaking all the rules
Mafia 2 on the other hand breaks all the sandbox rules… there is only one side mission, you can’t catch the trains or the cabs, no one is going to run up to you in the street asking you to rescue a cat from a tree or to murder their wife’s lover. Nor can you take your impossibly annoying virtual girlfriend to the bowling alley only to end up shooting her because she’s too hard to please and you can’t really see the point in it in the first place! Empire City is a huge place… but other than the main story there is nothing to do!
And yet that doesn’t stop it being brilliant, so much so that it makes me reconsider what a sandbox game should be all about: do minigames make a sandbox or is it the environments and AI? The city genuinely feels alive, it’s inhabitants go about their business, they really do travel from A to B rather than vanishing around the next corner, they chat, slip over in the ice, report you to the police, startled alley cats snarl at you as you approach them and shop keepers welcome you and offer you idle chit-chat. On returning from a short trip to europe I had to walk my character back through his old neighbourhood and I was totally sold. The music, the cars, the city and it’s people worked their charm on me.
You soon begin to realise that you don’t need side missions to appreciate a virtual environment or to believe the story and it’s people. And yes while there is some screen tear from time to time on the PS3 the game is so beautifully rendered that it’s an easy flaw to forgive.
The question is should I resent the lack of side missions once I’ve completed the game? Well there is some DLC already out for the PS3 and more is coming for both Xbox & PS3 on September 7th. But did I feel annoyed with Heavy Rain once I had completed that? It could be argued that Mafia 2 is a linear story in a sandbox world… but I take that as a positive not a negative, because the open world “exists” it feels less linear and you get a real sense of the period and world the characters inhabit.
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