Mafia II is a third-person action shooter that combines Grand Theft Auto-like gameplay mechanics with a world heavily inspired by the classic films Godfather and Goodfellas. Not coincidentally the protagonist is a soon to be made-man called Vito. The game is a direct sequel to Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven released in 2002 having received mostly positive reactions from critics and gamers alike.

Developed by the same team as the original (2K Czech, formerly Illusion Softworks), Mafia II was released for the Windows platform last August 24th. The game also received simultaneous launches for the PS3 and Xbox 360, but in spite of this the visual quality of the PC version does not suffer from the "crappy console port" syndrome. Rather Mafia II looks to be one of the best games of 2010 to show off the capabilities of current generation high-end GPUs.

We will tell you upfront we are somewhat skeptical about seeing a fair fight between ATI and Nvidia GPUs when testing this game. Nvidia took a close interest in Mafia II and as a result exclusive features such as PhysX, 3D Vision and Surround gaming have been worked into the game. While not a bad thing at all, it means the game is likely optimized to perform at its best with Nvidia GPUs.

Out of those three Nvidia exclusive features we are most interested in PhysX, which is meant to add a new layer of realism to action sequences (check out the video below). Mafia II features Nvidia’s APEX which is a scalable dynamics framework that provides artists with easy to use authoring tools to take advantage of PhysX. APEX supports a number of modules that include destruction, vegetation, particles, clothing and turbulence. As far as we can tell Mafia II only uses the clothing and particles modules.

To date very few games have adopted PhysX and we believe APEX is Nvidia’s attempt to help increase the number of titles that take advantage of it.

Interestingly, Mafia II only includes support for DirectX 9. Despite all the talk behind DirectX 11, 2K Czech has played it safe and stuck with the tried and true DX9 rendering mode to push this game's impressive visuals. The Illusion engine was specifically written for Mafia II, with some saying it rivals the CryEngine 2 game engine (Crysis Warhead). That said, even the most meticulous of gamers have a hard time spotting a difference between Crysis running in the DX9 and DX10 modes.

So with a new full version copy of Mafia II loaded onto our test system and two dozen graphics cards lined up ready to test, we set about to deliver another GPU & CPU performance article. Not only have we tested a huge range of graphics cards, but we will also look at the impact PhysX has on performance with and without a dedicated card. As usual, we'll also take a quick look at CPU scaling performance for those concerned if they have the necessary guts on that front as well.