Mafia II Tweak Guide

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General System Optimization

Mafia II Tweak Guide by Koroush Ghazi

So you've watched movies like The Godfather, Goodfellas, Casino and Donnie Brasco, and you think you're ready for life in the mob? There's a safe and perfectly legal way to find out: play Mafia 2. The long-awaited sequel to one of the finest games ever to grace the PC (Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven), Mafia 2 lets you live 'the life' as Vito Scaletta, experiencing all the highs and lows of being a gangster in mid-century America. With over 120 songs from the 1940s-60s, over 30 classic vehicles from that era, and a large and fully detailed city, Mafia 2 will have you hooked from the moment you step into Vito's shoes.

The game's official minimum requirements are shown below:

  • Processor: Pentium D 3Ghz or AMD Athlon 64 X2 3600+ (Dual core)
  • Memory: 1.5 GB
  • Hard Drive: At least 8 GB of free space
  • Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce 8600 (or equivalent) or higher
  • Sound Card: DirectX 9.0c compatible
  • Peripherals: Keyboard & mouse or Windows compatible gamepad
  • OS: Windows XP SP2 / Vista / 7

This means that virtually any gaming PC can play Mafia 2. However the game has an added PC-exclusive feature in the form of NVIDIA PhysX enhancements. To utilize these enhanced features at playable framerates the following is recommended as a minimum:

  • Processor: 2.4 GHz Quad Core
  • Memory: 2 GB
  • Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 260
  • GPU driver: 197.13 or newer
  • NVIDIA PhysX driver: 9.10.0513 or newer

We'll take a more detailed look at the PhysX/APEX enhancements later in this guide.

What follows are full descriptions for all of Mafia 2's in-game settings, including screenshot comparisons to highlight the impact on image quality of changing the various settings. Performance information is also provided for every setting, although bear in mind that the precise impact on your particular system depends on your specific hardware combination and your other game and system-wide settings. The aim here is to give you enough information so that you can make an informed choice as to the settings you enable or disable to obtain the precise balance of visual quality and performance which is acceptable to you.

General System Optimization

Almost as important as any in-game setting is the way your Windows installation is configured. A great many problems and performance issues can be traced directly to sub-optimal settings in Windows and out-of-date or badly configured drivers. For this reason it is recommended that you download the relevant version of the TweakGuides Tweaking Companion (TGTC) and take the time to optimize your Windows installation correctly. At the very least make sure to update your graphics drivers to the latest available version.

Performance Measurement

To successfully conduct any tweaking in Mafia 2, you will need some way of objectively measuring your performance in Frames Per Second (FPS). Fortunately, Mafia 2 comes with a built-in benchmark which provides a consistent measure of performance across all systems. To access the benchmark, launch Mafia 2, click Extras on the main menu, then select the Benchmark option. The benchmark will run through a set sequence of events using your current game settings, arriving at an average FPS figure for your system. While the Mafia 2 benchmark is very useful for objective performance measurement, in practice it provides a worst-case scenario, in that during actual gameplay, even at the highest settings, your FPS will rarely be as low as those shown in the benchmark sequence. Importantly, you should also run the benchmark at least twice, because during the first run frequent loading pauses may reduce your FPS, whereas the second run should be relatively free of these pauses and will give you a more accurate result.

To observe your FPS at any point in the game, use the free FRAPS utility. Download, install and launch FRAPS before starting up Mafia 2 You will now see a yellow FPS counter displayed in the corner of your screen. Pay attention to the FPS figure, particularly during graphically intense scenes, such as during explosions and in crowded areas - if it dips into the low double or single digits for example, this is a good indication that you need to adjust various settings until your minimum FPS is consistently above 20-25.

General Settings

To access the in-game settings, launch Mafia 2 and click Options on the main screen. The settings you can alter here are covered in detail below. Any changes you make are saved and will be applied immediately, unless you are prompted otherwise.

Controls

These settings allow you to alter the way your character and vehicles are controlled in the game. None of these settings has any impact on performance.

Mouse Look: This option controls the way your mouse movements affect your viewpoint. If set to Normal, pushing your mouse forward will result in the viewpoint going upward, while pulling the mouse back will move the view downward. Selecting Inverted reverses this arrangement.

Mouse Sensitivity: This option determines how responsive the mouse is to your movements. There are five available options: Very Low, Low, Medium, High and Very High - the higher the setting, the more responsive your mouse will feel. However it is important to keep in mind that if you change this setting but still have a 'laggy' feel to mouse movements, it is likely due to low overall performance. Check your framerate with FRAPS when your mouse feels laggy, and if it's below around 20-25 FPS, you will need to adjust your settings to improve FPS and hence keep your mouse feeling suitably responsive at all times. Disabling VSync also helps prevent mouse lag - see the Vertical Synchronization setting later in this guide.

Aim Assist: This option is only available if using a gaming peripheral such as a gamepad. Enabling it will automatically move your aiming cursor onto the nearest enemy, as long as your cursor is already very close to that enemy. Set to Off if you want a greater challenge.

Vibration: This option is only available if using a controller with suitable capabilities. If enabled, it turns on the vibration feature of certain gamepads.

Customize Keyboard/Customize Controller: This option here allows you to remap the controls to better suit your playing style.

Game Settings

These settings affect gameplay but have no impact on performance.

Hint Text: If set to On, the game will provide hints such as blue informational text at the top left of the screen. This setting does not affect the action prompts which appear, such as '[E] Open the door', nor does it relate to objective markers - those types of prompts will always be displayed. Enabling the Hint Text option is mainly useful for letting you know if you've forgotten something during a mission which prevents its completion, or to provide more detail about your current situation in case you don't completely understand the on-screen icons.

Unit System: The available options here are Metric or Imperial. As an example, the Metric system uses Kilograms instead of Pounds, and Kilometres instead of Miles. However in practice it appears that altering this setting does not actually affect relevant game aspects such as the speedometers in cars, and speed limit signs, which remain in Imperial regardless.

Driving Mode: The available options here are Normal and Simulation. In Normal mode, driving a vehicle is much easier because the handling characteristics of the cars are less realistic. In Simulation mode the vehicles actually handle more like real 1940's and 50's cars, which is to say generally very poorly, particularly when going fast, and especially on slippery surfaces. Therefore switching to Simulation mode makes several of the missions much harder to complete, and makes things like outrunning the Police much more challenging. Note that while Mafia 2 does not officially support steering wheel peripherals, you can try using this tutorial to play the game with a wheel.

Subtitles: This option determines whether text subtitles are displayed during dialog (On) or not (Off).

Audio

SFX, Voices, Music, Radio: These options allow you to set the volume level for particular aspects of Mafia 2's audio environment. SFX controls special effects and general game world (ambient) volume; Voices controls the volume for spoken dialog; Music controls the level of the background music in the game menu as well as the overall volume in cut scenes; while Radio adjusts the volume level of any radio in the game. These have no impact on performance so set to suit your tastes.

Quality: The available options here are Normal and High. In practice there appears to be no significant performance difference between Normal and High, so for most people High should be selected.

Graphics

The video settings have the greatest impact on game performance. In the following section, we'll go through each of these and see how they affect performance and image quality.

In the performance graphs shown, for each setting we start with a "baseline" where all options are set to their maximum, along with Antialiasing On, 16x Anisotropic Filtering, and APEX PhysX at Medium. From this baseline, we vary individual settings to measure their effect on performance and image quality. To see how various combinations of settings work for other NVIDIA GPUs, check out the Optimal Playable Settings section of the site.

Full System Configuration:

  • GeForce GTX 460 1GB
  • Intel Core i7 940
  • 3GB RAM
  • Win7 64-bit
  • NVIDIA 266.58 Drivers

Resolution & VSync

Global Settings: This setting allows you to choose a preset video configuration level which automatically adjusts all the other settings in this section accordingly. This is not the optimal way to configure your video settings; you should adjust each of the individual settings below to suit your specific image quality and performance needs - in which case this setting will show 'Custom'.

Video Mode: This setting determines the Resolution of the game image, measured by the number of pixels horizontally and vertically (e.g. 1920 pixels x 1200 pixels). The number of resolutions available here is limited by the capabilities of both your graphics card and monitor. The higher the resolution you choose, the more detailed the image will be, with noticeably less blurriness and jaggedness. However higher resolutions also generate an increased load on your system, particularly your graphics card, and hence will reduce your overall performance. The performance impact can be quite substantial, so if adjusting the other settings fails to sufficiently improve your performance, reduce your resolution. For the sharpest image on an LCD monitor, you should select the maximum available resolution here, which is also referred to as your Native Resolution.

An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

As can be seen, progressively higher resolutions take their toll on FPS, though up to 1920x1200 the drop is not necessarily as much as would normally be expected.

Fullscreen: If you want to run Mafia 2 in a window on your Desktop, as opposed to taking up the entire screen, then select Off here. Running Mafia 2 in windowed mode can be useful if you want to reduce the game resolution but still maintain a crisp image. However to prevent problems with memory management and hence overall stability, I recommend setting this option to On.

Vertical Synchronization: Also known as VSync, Vertical Synchronization is the synchronization of your graphics card and monitor's abilities to redraw an image on the screen a number of times each second, measured in Hz. This is not the same as FPS, but when VSync is On your maximum FPS will be capped to your monitor's Refresh Rate which for most people is 60Hz (60FPS). When VSync is Off, you may experience a phenomenon known as 'tearing' - portions of the image temporarily appear to be out of alignment. This does no harm to your system, however it can be annoying. Enabling VSync removes tearing but can also reduce your FPS by up to 50% or more, and can also introduce mouse lag. To benefit from VSync without taking the performance hit, enable Triple Buffering. For the highest framerates however, and to prevent mouse lag, the quickest and easiest solution is to simply set VSync to Off.

Brightness: This option allows you to control the overall brightness of the game image. Changing this setting has no impact on performance, it is simply there to ensure that the image is not overly bright and washed out, and not so dark that all detail is lost in dark areas.

Antialiasing

Antialiasing: A technique used to reduce the jaggedness of lines in computer graphics, Antialiasing (AA) is available in Mafia 2. When turned on, the engine will apply 2x supersample antialiasing along the width of the image. This form of Antialiasing is more costly on framerate. A screenshot comparison of the image quality between On and Off for the Antialiasing setting is provided below. The most noticeable difference is that when set to On, the wires on the bridge in the distance become less jagged and better defined as straight lines. The edges on the panelling in the guard rails on the far right also become softer and more uniform. But aside from a reduction in the jaggedness on the hinges of the doors on the red car, most of the remaining lines on the cars and background scenery remain noticeably jagged even with Antialiasing On.

Click to enlarge

Unless you are running a high-end graphics card, I recommend setting Antialiasing to Off to provide a significant improvement in performance without a major drop in image quality.

An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

The graph demonstrates that with Mafia 2's built-in Antialiasing enabled, there is a noticeable drop in FPS, especially at higher resolutions.

For Advanced Users

Despite the in-game limitation, there is a method which can be used to force MSAA Antialiasing in Mafia 2, based on modifying the NVIDIA Control Panel application profile for Mafia 2 as detailed here. This method will allow you to forcibly apply MSAA and other forms of Antialiasing, but is not officially supported by the game developer.

Anisotropic Filtering

Anisotropic Filtering: This setting controls Anisotropic Filtering (AF), covered in more detail here. It is a filtering technique designed to improve the clarity of textures that are displayed at an angle to the screen, such as those covering the ground or walls when looking down a street. The available options are 1x, 2x, 4x, 8x and 16x - the higher the sample rate chosen, the sharper receding textures will appear in return for a relatively minor reduction in performance on modern graphics cards. Below is a screenshot comparison of the image quality between 1x, 8x and 16x Anisotropic Filtering. The most noticeable difference between 1x and 8x AF is that the paving on the road becomes much more distinct, as does the texture of the sidewalk to the left. The garage doors on the distant left also become somewhat sharper. The difference between 8x and 16x AF is less noticeable, mainly confined to the textures in the far distance, such as the white line on the road becoming less blurry at 16x AF.

Click to enlarge

An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

The graph shows clearly that progressively higher amounts of AF reduce performance, though the reduction is quite minor in terms of overall FPS. Therefore at least 8x AF is recommended on most systems for a noticeable improvement in image quality with minimal performance hit.

Shadow Quality

Shadow Quality: This setting determines the number and quality of shadows cast in the game. The available options are Low, Medium, and High. A screenshot comparison of the image quality at these different levels is provided below. The most noticeable difference is that as this setting is raised, progressively more shadows are displayed on the buildings in the background, especially around the windows. They go from being a few indistinct blobs behind the fire escape, to a detailed and more realistic set of shadows which add depth to the building. Less noticeable is the fact that as this setting is raised, the shadows on the bus and on the red cab of the truck also become more pronounced, along with a range of other subtle changes. In general raising shadow quality has a relatively minor impact on performance compared with the noticeable improvement in realism it provides, so at least Medium is recommended for most systems.

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An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

As discussed above, the graph shows that the reduction in FPS from raising shadow quality is not significant on a modern GPU.

Ambient Occlusion

Ambient Occlusion: Enabling Ambient Occlusion (AO) subtly enhances realism in the way ambient light generates shadows. Basically it makes most shadows darker, but more importantly, it adds darkness in such a way that it makes the shadowing around objects more realistic. A screenshot comparison of the image quality between On and Off for this setting is provided below. The most noticeable difference is that the shadowing under the car is richer and more realistic with AO set to On, adding greater presence to the vehicle. You may also notice that all other shadows are slightly darker, especially the shadows cast on the grass in the background. However Ambient Occlusion can also bring with it a noticeable performance penalty, so unless you have a high-end graphics card and plenty of FPS to spare, it is best left Off for optimal performance.

Click to enlarge

An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

The graph shows minimal FPS loss from enabling Ambient Occlusion on a GTX 460, but in practice the impact can be more substantial on GPUs using older architectures.

Geometry Detail

Geometry Detail: This setting controls the level of detail for game world objects. The available options are Low, Medium, and High. The screenshot comparison below shows the image quality difference between the three levels for this setting. The most noticeable difference is that the bushes near the observatory doors are fuller and more detailed at progressively higher levels of this setting, and so is the car wheel just above Vito's shoulder. In most scenes the differences between the three levels of this setting will be almost impossible to notice - the most obvious impact will be the thinning out or removal of shrubbery and trees in the distance if this setting is lowered. As such, given the performance benefits of reducing this setting are not significant, it should be left at High unless you're really struggling for performance.

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An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

The relatively low performance impact of this setting is confirmed by the graph.

APEX PhysX

One of the highlights of Mafia 2 is that it comes with a range of NVIDIA PhysX enhancements designed specifically to take advantage of the processing power only available on modern PCs. NVIDIA's APEX framework allows game designers and artists to easily incorporate realistic PhysX physics-based effects into a game, including destruction, clothing, vegetation and turbulence effects as desired. In Mafia 2, when the APEX PhysX setting is at Medium or High, the game will utilize both your CPU and a suitable NVIDIA GPU to the fullest to allow greater immersion through more realistic simulation of clothing, debris and other particle-based effects.

The screenshot comparisons provided in this section indicate just some of the ways in which APEX PhysX enhances Mafia 2, though it is hard to demonstrate such effects properly in static screenshots. See this Mafia 2 PhysX Video for a better indication of PhysX in action.

In the first set of screenshots below, you can see that the factory explosions cause minimal physical destruction to the environment when APEX PhysX is Off, however at Medium some minor glass and broken crate debris is visible, and at High, substantial damage and resulting debris can be seen:

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In the second set of screenshots below, the difference in particle count is shown when a car does a sustained burnout. At Off there is smoke from the burnout; but at Medium it noticeably thickens and billows around the car, and is thicker still and spreads throughout the scene at High:

Click to enlarge

The third set of screenshots below compares the clothing effects at Off and High - Medium is identical to High in this respect. You can see that when APEX PhysX is Off, Vito's suit jacket remains flat even though he is running; at High his jacket realistically flaps around:

Click to enlarge

The final set of screenshots below again highlight the level of detail in explosions, this time from an exploding car. At Off, explosions are more generic and result in little debris; certainly not much debris will be left scattered on the ground in the aftermath of the explosion. At Medium the explosion itself is more detailed, with mangled pieces of debris scattering realistically. At High the effect is more detailed still, with more debris and distortion emitted from the explosion, and the street will be littered with debris from the car as a result:

Click to enlarge

In general the primary difference between Medium and High for APEX PhysX is that at Medium, particle effects are reduced, which can improve performance slightly. On a system with a single PhysX-capable NVIDIA GPU as the primary graphics card, the particle and debris effects will run on the GPU rather than the CPU, resulting in greatly improved performance when such effects are visible. In the absence of an NVIDIA GPU, it will all be processed on the CPU, which will limit performance noticeably.

The most substantial performance impact comes from the APEX clothing effects, particularly in scenes with multiple people, because these clothing effects will always run on the CPU unless you have a second PhysX-capable NVIDIA GPU dedicated solely to PhysX. If you don't have a second dedicated PhysX-capable GPU then your primary GPU will need to be a high-end PhysX-capable NVIDIA card combined with a high-end quad core CPU to maintain playable framerates.

Ultimately, if your hardware is not suitable for running Mafia 2 with APEX PhysX, then turn it Off. Keep in mind though that when APEX PhysX is set to Off, PhysX-based physics effects are still employed, but at a reduced level of detail and realism. This is why Mafia 2 automatically installs the required PhysX drivers for all systems. So regardless of whether you enable APEX PhysX or not, any system can benefit from bug fixes and improved performance by updating to the most recent PhysX drivers, available as part of the latest NVIDIA Graphics Drivers.

An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

The graph makes it quite clear: PhysX can be very demanding, even at Medium. The difference between High and Medium is minimal as it mostly involves only a minor reduction in particle effects.

For advanced users

There is a way of selectively crippling full APEX PhysX functionality, specifically by disabling either the APEX Clothing or Particle effects individually, as detailed here. This will allow noticeably improved performance when APEX PhysX is at Medium or High, particularly if the APEX Clothing effects are scaled back, as they are the most strenuous aspect of the game. Obviously this is a compromise measure, at it will also reduce the realism of PhysX in Mafia 2.

Conclusion

Having read through this guide, you've now proven yourself worthy of joining the family. Before you head out into the world of Mafia 2 to take care of some business for the boss, don't forget that you can drop into the Official Mafia 2 Forums to discuss the game or get technical support, and also pay a visit to the Mafia 2 Wiki if you get stuck completing a mission or need help finding a particular collectible. Until next time, take care!

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