Game Reviews: 'Grand Theft Auto' knockoffs busted for unoriginality - pressofAtlanticCity.com: Technology Gaming

Game Reviews: 'Grand Theft Auto' knockoffs busted for unoriginality - pressofAtlanticCity.com: Technology Gaming

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Game Reviews: 'Grand Theft Auto' knockoffs busted for unoriginality

'Mafia II,' 'Dog Days' barely scrounge up unique idea between them

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Posted: Sunday, August 29, 2010 12:00 am

Ever since Rockstar Games' "Grand Theft Auto III" became a cultural phenomenon in 2001, rival studios have been trying to compete with crime epics of their own.

Some, such as "Saints Row," were slavish imitations. Some moved the action abroad, perhaps to England ("The Getaway") or Japan ("Yakuza"). And some took the stories that inspired "GTA," such as "The Godfather," "Scarface" and "The Sopranos," and tried to pound them into the "GTA" template.

None of them caught fire the way "GTA" did, but that hasn't stopped developers from trying - or, in some cases, going back for seconds. Indeed, this month has brought us sequels to two lackluster crime games from the previous decade.

"Mafia II" tells the story of Vito Scaletta, a handsome young dimwit who stumbles into crime after returning to America from a stint in World War II. He starts off with low-level jobs such as boosting cars and knocking over jewelry stores, but the plot eventually escalates into a tangle of twisted loyalties, betrayal and conflict between family and The Family. Every beat you'd expect from the genre is here, some unabashedly appropriated from "The Godfather" and "GoodFellas."

The best part of "Mafia II" is its evocation of mid-20th century New York, here called Empire Bay. Developer 2K Czech has lovingly recreated the architecture, cars and clothing of the era, and the soundtrack glides from 1940s swing to '50s rock 'n' roll. From the cramped streets of Little Italy to the leafy suburbs across the river, the Empire Bay metropolitan area feels vibrant and fully lived-in.

"Mafia II" is not an open-world game like "GTA," however, and there's little reason to venture beyond the main story line and explore the town. Unfortunately, the 15 missions at the heart of the game are disappointing as well. There are a couple of exciting shootouts, but you're required to spend far too much time watching cut scenes or driving. Not racing, mind you, or trying to escape from the cops, but simply ... driving.

Add in such mundane chores as selling bootleg cigarettes and cleaning urinals (seriously), and you'll wonder when the fun starts. It does, eventually, but by then the game's almost over.

The stars of the "Kane & Lynch" franchise are a pair of aging, paunchy mercenaries trying to pull off one last score in contemporary Shanghai. But after a simple collection job goes wrong, they find themselves on the run from every cop and hoodlum in town.

While the escape at the heart of "Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days" only takes about six hours, it gets repetitive quickly. Again and again, you're beset by crowds of indistinguishable enemies; you can only move on once you've slaughtered everyone. There's no variety, no opportunity to explore Shanghai - just one scene of unremitting ugliness after another.

"Dog Days" does have a distinctive look, imitating the shaky-cam appearance of a YouTube video. It succeeds in making the action look like documentary footage, although I suspect many players will be made nauseous by the constant jiggling. Even without this gimmick, though, the content is sickening enough - particularly Kane and Lynch themselves, two of the most revolting characters ever to disgrace a game console.

'Mafia II'

Rated M, $59.99 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3

(2K Games)

'Kane & Lynch 2:

Dog Days'

Rated M, $59.99 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3

(Square Enix)

0 stars

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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