The main focus of this game, at least from a hardware perspective, has to be its implementation of Nvidia PhysX. Playing through a few levels of Mafia II while enabling and disabling PhysX we found that the effects visually improve some select scenes, making them more realistic, but for the most part they do little to enhance the game itself. Although I am a sucker for eye candy, it is hard not to feel like you are not getting enough of it based on the performance hit.
The high-end GeForce GTX 480 is more than capable of playing this game in all of its glory at resolutions as high as 2560x1600 with PhysX enabled, so it is not the $500+ graphics cards we are concerned with. Even the more affordable GeForce GTX 460 can handle PhysX at resolutions such as 1680x1050 or lower when coupled with a fast enough processor.
As mentioned earlier, the built-in benchmark represents a worst case scenario so you can expect to add a few more frames per second on a regular playing scenario. Also, for those wondering why we didn't test PhysX set to medium rather than just high, it was because there was almost no performance difference between the two, so we decided to stick with high.
Sadly for those with AMD graphics cards playing Mafia II with PhysX enabled is not going to run very well, unless you have a Nvidia graphics card handling the PhysX workload. Even with our Core i7 920 processor clocked at 3.70GHz, the Radeon HD 5970 and 5870 cards were limited to 22fps at 1680x1050. With a dedicated Nvidia PhysX card even the old Radeon HD 4890 can provide playable performance at 1680x1050, however factoring in the cost of the additional graphics card this path makes little sense. The best option for AMD users is to disable PhysX and forget it even exists. We suspect most will get over the missing rubble.
While we would not normally recommend disabling anti-aliasing in games that support it, we must admit this feature made little difference in Mafia II. Owners of speedy GPUs won't feel the need to turn it off, but to give you tangible examples, the Radeon HD 4850 was an incredible 78% faster with anti-aliasing disabled while the GeForce 9800 GT was also 52% faster.
With anti-aliasing disabled along with PhysX, low-end cards such as the GeForce 9600 GT and Radeon HD 5670 were able to deliver playable performance, while Radeon HD 4000 and GeForce 9 series mid-range cards had no problems at all. In that respect Mafia II plays very well on older PC hardware using the high quality visual setting.
It impressed us that Mafia II was able to fully utilize quad-core processors. Those with mid-range/low-end graphics cards are certainly going to want a quad-core processor for this game. When turning on PhysX we could clearly see that the faster the CPU, the better, simple as that. The more we overclocked the CPU, the more performance a GeForce GTX 480 was able to deliver, so it would appear that Mafia II requires a perfect balance of CPU and GPU power.
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