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Mafia Review

publisher: Take 2 Interactive
developer: Illusion Softworks
genre: Action

PIII 600, 128MB RAM, 16MB Video Card, 500MB HD
ESRB rating: M

release date: Aug 28, 02
» All About Mafia on ActionTrip

The greatest film in the history of the world, in my humble opinion, is The Godfather. The movie is a glorious cinematic foray into the world of the Corleone family, and their domination of organized crime through diplomacy, manipulation, and ruthless violence. It depicted a time when might was right, when who you knew was more important than what you did, and nice guys always finished last. Often imitated, never duplicated, it stands as one of the best movies of all time. 2Lions disagrees with me, (for some reason, he has an unhealthy fascination with the Care Bears Movie) so he is, by definition, a tool (listen, you - ed).

Obviously, some folks at GOD, the developers of Mafia agree with me, as much of the atmosphere of the movie went into the creation of the game. The Roaring Twenties leading into the depression-laced Thirties, the big band music, the feuding Italian crime families, even a shop is named in honor of the Corleones. All of this together makes for a city ripe for the plucking in their latest offering - Mafia.

The game takes place in 1930 in the fictional metropolis of Lost Heaven, where Tommy Angelo, a hard-working mild-mannered taxi driver gets caught in a web of intrigue when two mobsters hijack his cab to escape a rival organization. From there, events lead Tommy into the employ of the Salieri family, headed by Don Salieri who speaks softly, but carries a big proverbial stick. Tommy must perform missions for the Don and his consigliore to advance in the standings of the family, driving period cars around the huge area that is Lost Heaven.

How does he get these cars?

He steals them. Sound familiar? It should.

This game is basically a period re-tooling of Grand Theft Auto 3, only much cleaner, and far more cinematic. Both games have the same feel - the third-person view when on foot and the variable camera angles when driving are identical in both games. The games have similar available weaponry - fists, baseball bats, pistols, shotguns, Molotov cocktails...although the only real automatic weapon you can use is the Tommy gun. But the two games run on very similar premises - Find the start mission point, drive (or steal a car) and perform whatever action is required by your Don...collecting protection money, making life miserable for the other families, making things explode, and showing the world that crime can indeed pay. In this respect, gameplay is almost identical to GTA3, for all the good and the bad.

However, while it may play like GTA3 on the surface, if you take a closer look there are very distinct differences. Most notably, the open-ended feel that GTA3 possesses, where the player can strike out on his own to do whatever he damn well pleases is noticeably absent in Mafia. The missions are on rails, and the ability to do whatever you want in this game is gone. You do what you're told, or you end up in a pine box. Also, in GTA3, the player can steal any damn car he wants, any time he wants, and nobody bats an eyelash. Not so here. The locking mechanisms must have been much more complicated back in this day and age - because you can only steal certain models of cars that you've been trained to steal. Kind of a bummer, but truly folks - when I started the game, every single one of those cars looked alike to me. The more I played it, the more they started to take on subtle nuances that allowed me to differentiate them - rumble seats, bumper configurations, engine bonnets, etc. But for all the differences, the cars are remarkably the same at the game's beginning. As the game progresses, you can learn to steal more and more varieties of car models, after which they can be available in further missions. Plus, there is a neutral garage where another character can teach you to steal higher-end model luxury cars, so it's worth seeking out. Lastly, the police have much sharper teeth in this game - break the law and they come down on you. Hard. That includes speeding. In GTA3, the cops would give a halfhearted chase for a while, then that'd be the end of it - John Law would take a donut break. And even then it would take a serious act of lawlessness to even arouse their ire, but in Mafia, if you go 41 in a 40 zone, your ass is grass, and they will not hesitate to mow you down. In order to prevent that, the game offers an auto-speed cap, that, when activated, will cut the acceleration of any vehicle once it reaches the speed limit of any given area. It's nice to have when you're just driving as any law-abiding citizen. Because unlike GTA3 where you merely get a slap on the wrist and sent on your way, if the fuzz grabs you in Lost Heaven, kiss your rear end goodbye - its Game Over, and time to load a saved game. Mercifully, the game auto-saves after every checkpoint, so unless you're at the beginning of a mission, you can hop right back in the saddle.

The game may play like GTA 3, but it certainly looks a whole hell of a lot better. After all, this is a bona fide PC title and not a PS2 port. The developers rendered the world using the LS3D engine, which provides some nice texture effects to both the cars and the main characters in the world. Driving through the tunnel shows off the nice shadow and lighting effects that permeate the driving experience. The explosion and fire effects could do with a bit of work, and the human models look a bit blocky, but given the scope of the world they created here, I'd say they did a fine job. The models aren't all that high-poly, so they have that stilted look to them, but the textures are very nicely done. Not perfect, but since we're comparing, GTA3 looks like dog poo compared to the slick lines of Mafia.

The cut scenes are extremely well done, with the texturing of the main characters looking surprisingly clean, given the lower poly count. Many of the characters within the game resemble either mobsters from the movies, or suspected mafiosos of today - for example, Don Salieri, the head of the protagonist crime family bears a striking resemblance to John Gotti, the Teflon Don, and his arch-nemesis Morello might be a lost relative of Bobby DeNiro. The player character, Tommy Angelo, looks very much like a young Anthony LaPaglia. Paulie, one of the Salieri foot soldiers, looks like a beefy Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, while Don Salieri's consiglieri Frank looks much like a grizzled Joe Pantoliano, The family's weapons master Vincenzo looks as though he is The Godfather's Clemenza's long lost twin...only a bit trimmer around the waistline. Half the fun of this game is picking out the mainstream mafia references during the cut scenes. But from a video standpoint, the cut scenes resemble any of the major mafia flicks or episodes of The Sopranos out there. Well done. (If only they sounded on.)

The sounds are done nicely, as well. Everywhere you go, you hear the songs of the 30's playing on the radios of cars everywhere. It can get a bit annoying, but it serves its purpose well - to draw the player into the time and mindset of the game - a bustling Depression Era city, when the Charleston was king, and Elvis was but a twinklin' in his daddy's eye. When driving, any passengers will engage you in occasional conversation (usually relevant to the mission), which is brief and ultimately forgettable. The one problem I have with the sounds is during the cut scenes. Who the hell did they hire to voice these characters? I mean, *I* sound more Italian than these yahoos. It sounds like everyone is doing a really bad Joe Pesci imitation for the entirety of the cut scenes, save the main character. It's not the greatest. It serves its purpose, though, and is bearable to listen to.

Since much of the game focuses on driving, let me touch on that for a second. They look and feel very much like the popular cars of the time period. And in the day and age of driving games like Gran Turismo and....GTA3, that ain't necessarily a good thing. They're blocky, loud, smoky, and slower than molasses running uphill in January. They handle like crap, and are extremely difficult to maneuver. The top speed of 80% of these cars is somewhere in the 60mph range, and it takes at least 4 or 5 full missions to get a car that does a decent rate of speed. Yay. You do have the option of driving in both manual and automatic transmission mode (a minor anachronism, but we'll let it go), but if ever there was a reason to suspend the realism of the era, it'd be for the cars. You'll hear Ralph, the family mechanic, say that one of the cars has a mind-boggling 80 horsepower - and he's not kidding. Don't try to take a hill at a slow speed - there is a noticeable loss of power on any uphill climb. Coupled with a burst of speed on the downhills, this makes for very realistic vehicle physics...but this is the first (and quite possibly only) time I will say that here, realism is a baaaad thing.

Okay, so what have we learned here today?

1) The Godfather is a kick-ass movie, if you haven't seen it, you're missing out.
2) This game looks and feels like GTA3, only better looking and not as funny and 'open-ended.'
3) 2Lions is a tool. Wait, we knew that already....scratch that. (I'll have your ass, Six - 2Lions)

Put it all together with a swanky 3D engine and you sum Mafia up in the following equation:

Godfather + Grand Theft Auto 3 - the brilliant illusion of an open-ended game world = Mafia.


7.9   Good

Nice graphics make Lost Heaven a great place to raise a little hell; plot is suspenseful and keeps the player interested. Excellent physics model;

Gameplay is railed and dated; Slow cars; Voice acting needs work; 2Lions is still a tool.



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