Review by Shadowruler
"A masterpiece. Capisce?"
If there's one lifestyle that has piqued most people's curiosity in American history, it'd have to be that of the gangster. C'mon, who doesn't like gangsters? More importantly, who wouldn't want to actually play as one in a videogame? Surprisingly, there haven't been that many games based on this subject over the years. But Mafia, released in late 2002, is among the few that have been released. And thankfully, it's probably the best game of it's kind ever made, even 5 years later. So what sets it apart as a standout game?
Most "open world" games, such as the Grand Theft Auto series, have a pretty decent storyline that basically gives you a reason to go wherever you want and do whatever you want. Mafia however, while not completely an open world game like GTA, has an absolutely terrific storyline. It's not only a story you'll want to learn about as a bonus, often times you will keep playing the game into the wee hours of the morning just to see that next cutscene where the plot continues to unfold. Yes folks, the story is that good. The fact that a story like this has been so well written for a videogame, is an astounding feat. But enough praise, what is the story about?
You play as a man named Tommy Angelo, who starts the game as a lowly cab driver in the fictional 1930's city called Lost Heaven. Soon enough, he becomes unvoluntarily involved with the infamous mob group of the city, the Salieri family. From there, he starts performing small jobs, and eventually works his way up the ladder to incredibly important jobs for the Salieri family.
The game's story is told in flashbacks, 7-8 years later with Tommy discussing his gangster activity with a police officer in a local cafe. You play all the missions and jobs he succeeded in, up to that point in the game.It's not an entiirely new way to play a game, but it works extraordinarily well in this case.
Overall, the writing and presentation of the story in Mafia is superbly done, and one of the game's best assets.
As mentioned above, Mafia is now a 5 year old game. Most games released that many years back look quite dated by today's standards. Mafia, is not one of those games.
The level of detail of nearly everything you will see in this game, is stunning. Whether it be the authentic 60, yes 60, 30's era car models driving throughout the city, or the buildings, trolleys, trains, and of course pedestrians walking around. The city is fictional, but the developers created 12 square miles of city, all from scratch. And it looks fantastic.
Driving a car in many games consists of maybe an onscreen speedometer, and the car you are driving at most. Mafia one ups this category, as it has an onscreen compass, radar showing vehicle traffic, a speedometer, a fuel gauge, an rpm gauge, and an odometer. Yes, I think it's safe to say that this is one of the only games ever made to include a working odometer for it's cars. These little inclusions really make you feel as if you are driving the car, even if it is from a 3rd person perspective, and in this case, it's a wonderful thing.
The character models are also very well done, but clearly not as detailed as the cars and city itself. Facial details and animations do look a bit dated by today's standards, but for the time in which the game came out, they were groundbreaking.
Of course, since this is a PC game, the way the game looks is dependent on your particular PC rig. If you have been playing the latest games over the past few years, than you will get to see Mafia at it's best. Conversely, if you don't have a great PC, you can still enjoy the game, but the details and graphical polish will be absent.
Still though, the package as a whole is a very impressive sight to see, and that's what counts.
Sound in most games is often an overlooked aspect, and seems tacked on a lot of the time. Again, Mafia does not fit this description either.
When you are playing a game, especially one set many years ago, you want to be immersed in the game and feel as if you are really there. That fact is demonstrated beautifully in Mafia.The sounds of motors, the squealing of tires while making a sharp turn, collisions, windows shattering, tires going flat, guns firing and reloading, the list goes on. All of these sounds are very realistic sounding, and serve as one more thing to further immerse you in the game.
Another aspect of sound in a lot of games that's usually hit or miss, is voice acting. Games are certainly playable with bad voice acting, but it's a rarity to have a game with great sound effects and voicework. The voice acting is Mafia fits in the latter category. Nearly every major character in the game is voiced to perfection, and it's obvious that the actors chosen for the roles actually cared
about making their performances believable.
Atmosphere is also another area that great sound can enhance, and in Mafia, enhance it does. There are different sound effects for driving and walking on different terrain, creaking floorboards, echoing hallways, hard concrete, it's all here. Special mention must be given to the weather effects in the game as well. While the weather is not dynamic in Mafia, certain missions are set in different weather conditions. One mission in particular that takes place on a farm in the countryside during a thunderstorm displays this fact perfectly. Outside the rain splashes down on the ground and different surfaces, with different sounds. Even when you walk into a barn with a tin roof, you can hear the rain clanking over your head. Touches like this are a rare treat in games and definitely positives.
Last but not least, is the music. True to the 30's era, the music library isn't very vast, but the tunes you will hear while driving around Lost Heaven sound like they ought to. Big band, swing, and jazz music is generally what the music is comprised of, and sadly since there aren't many tracks to listen to, it does get repetitive after awhile. However, in the plentiful gunfights and action sequences in the game, there are fabulous orchestral scores that really bring our the tension in the situations you get into. Awesome.
So overall, the sound as a whole is fantastic, marred only by the repetitive music heard while driving. But giving the sound a score lower than 10 would be unfair, as the superb sound effects, voice acting, atmosphere and orchestral numbers far outweigh the standard driving repertoire.
Of course, what good is a game with an amazing story, great sound and graphics if the gameplay is not well done? Thankfully for the most part, the gameplay in Mafia is outstanding.
To start, there are 3 different modes to play in the game, 1 of which is unlocked after completing the story mode, which I'll talk about later. There's the standard campaign mode which will take you anywhere from 15-30 hours to complete, depending on your skill level. The story mode is definitely the main attraction here, but we'll get into that in a bit.
Aside from the story mode, there's a mode called Free Ride, which is basically the closest to GTA: Lost Heaven you can get. You can drive wherever you want, go on shooting sprees, steal cars, flee from the cops, and all of those scenarios made famous by the GTA series. There is a caveat to this though, and that is the cops will not just pull you over for killing someone. You must generally abide by standard traffic laws if you don't want to attract the police. This applies to Free Ride and the story mode as well. This means when a cop is nearby, don't speed, don't run red lights, and don't crash into other cars. There is a handy control option in the game to turn on a speed limiter for any car you drive, which will keep the car going steady at the speed limit, so that's very helpful for obeying the law. If you do speed or run a red light or something, there will be a picture of a ticket at the top of your screen. At this point if you stop, the police will issue you a ticket, which you pay and can then be on your way. Alternatively, and probably the more popular route, is to simply flee from the cops when this happens. The ticket icon will change to a handcuff icon, which means as soon as you are successfully pulled over, you go straight to jail and fail your current mission, or restart Free Ride mode entirely. Generally in story mode, you will have enough to deal with already without the cops on your tail, so you'll quickly learn to obey the law when driving around. In Free Ride though, it's entirely up to you.
So let's talk about the story mode, the meat of the game. The story mode in Mafia takes you through 20 multi-staged missions as Tommy, from the early 1930's, all the way to 1938. You start out the game as a standard taxi driver, and this first part of the game is pretty boring. Thankfully, just when you are about to fall asleep from boredom, the game picks up. Alot. After being forced at gunpoint to drive two of Salieri's men back to their headquarters, Tommy soon after gets involved with the Salieri family and joins them, thankfully.
From here on out, Salieri's Bar is your home base. You will meet the Don and other members of the family, 2 of which are your go-to guys for weapons and vehicles for the remainder of the game. Thereafter, you will either drive solo to your job destination, or accompanied by your partners in crime.
The game's story mode breaks down into 2 main parts: the driving missions and the on-foot missions. For the first half of the game, all the driving will be to and from missions, and not the main objective of your jobs. This can be a bit tedious at times, since you have to obey the traffic laws and drive the speed limit without attracting the police. But if you appreciate the level of detail in the cars around you, and the city environment, it's not so bad.
The on-foot missions are where Mafia shines the most. The gun combat system is incredibly well done, taking into account recoil and range of the selected weapon. You can wield a number of different pistols, shotguns, rifles, and even a Thompson "Tommy Gun", which is the 30's equivalent of a machine gun. Mission specific weapons like molotov cocktails and carbombs are also present.
Ducking behind cover and rolling sideways to avoid enemy fire is essential to win in this game. Strategy is the most important aspect of the gun fights. If you think about your surrounding and use it well for cover, you will ultimately succeed. If you go in guns blazing, trying to be Rambo, you will be shot down immediately. It needs to be said that this game can be downright hard at some points. Tommy can only withstand around 7-8 shots of a pistol before he goes down, and can even be killed instantly if an enemy unloads a tommy gun clip or shotgun round into him at close range. Like I said, strategy is key. But challenge is in this case mostly a good thing, and when you do die multiple times trying to get past a certain part, you'll most likely always keep trying until you do.
The variety in the games 20 missions is awesome. You'll start out doing small things like driving people to locations, blowing up rival gang member's cars, and driving a racecar to a mechanic to downgrade it's performance so Salieri's family can bet on another driver to win the race. These missions basically act as warmups for some of the more intense and longer missions later in the game. Later on, you'll assassinate multiple targets, stealth around a guarded villa to get inside and steal important documents from a safe, participate in massive gunfights in restaurants, parking garages and boat docks, pull a bank heist, and even shoot a plane out of the sky.
Every so often, while driving back from one of said missions, you'll be given an option to visit a mechanic for sidequests. Usually you'll help out the mechanic in some way and he'll teach you how to steal a certain type of car, and then tell you where one is parked around the city. Here is another change to the GTA formula of being able to open the door of any car you see and take it. In Mafia, you must learn from either this special mechanic or the family's mechanic how to pick locks for certain cars before you can effectively steal them. Ideally, you would want to know how to steal most every car you see in Lost Heaven, and while progressing through the story mode, you will automatically learn how to steal a ton of different vehicles. But only if you complete all of the special mechanic's side missions, will you be able to steal some of the more high class, luxury vehicles available. There's a certain freedom given in this regard: you can choose whether or not you want to do the side missions, but ultimately it depends on if you prefer nicer looking cars, since most of the time you'll have to drive the speed limit in any car you drive. Still though, it's a nice added touch.
I mentioned above the challenge of the game, and this is pretty much the only area that is reason to subtract from the gameplay score. The game's objective system sometimes unnecessarily makes the challenge of the game a lot more difficult than it should be. Most of the time the objectives are pretty thorough, but sometimes the objective will be so broad or unclear, that it's frustrating, and if not that, sometimes no objective at all!
This is really sad to see, because as a result of this decision, there will be a lot of driving/running around certain missions wondering what the hell you're supposed to do next. Oftentimes the reason for this is a small detail in a cutscene that you may have missed, which makes you completely clueless as to what to do next. And the only way to fix this, is to reload the last save point and watch the cutscene closely sometimes.
Speaking of save points, Mafia uses an auto-save function. There is no "save anywhere" in the game, all the saves are predetermined and usually well spread out over the course of the missions. But there are some occassions where the saves are few and far between, especially when driving all the way across town to a mission and then failing to win a gunfight when arriving which means driving all the way back and trying again. Luckily, there aren't too many instances of this, but it's another area that's a definite drawback.
The last downfall to the gameplay, are a few frustrating trial and error parts. I mentioned before that Tommy really can't take alot of bullets before dying, and because of this you have to be pretty precise and accurate during most of the gunfights in the game. If you aren't, you'll be shot down fast, and forced to restart from the last save. This really isn't a bad thing, this just adds to the challenge. The pure trial and error parts, such as losing a tail while driving back to your base and not smashing into any cars or crashing into poles the whole way there, are definitely annoying at times. Generally, you should be able to get past these hurdles with a handful of tries, though.
Overall, the gameplay of Mafia is a joy to experience. The many action sequences in the game, car chases, and large gun fights while challenging, are always rewarding to get through and always very tense, which is a good thing considering this is a gangster game. The driving portion is solid if a little tedious at times, but it really helps to make you feel like you are this character you are playing as, since you will be driving alot to and from missions. It never takes you out of the experience. It's a relatively long story mode too, and all of the missions are fun in their own way, save for the missions that have unclear objectives that is.
The trial and error sections and poor objective system at times are really the only drawbacks, but the game is indefinitely a blast to play the whole way through as a whole.
Replay Value: 7/10
Mafia's story mode is pretty long, and probably the only people that would replay it are the diehard fans of the game, who want to see everything it has to offer. But there are no standout things to do after beating the story mode, which significantly increase the time you spend with the game.
I mentioned earlier the Free Ride mode, which depending on your tastes, could lengthen your game experience by alot, or not really at all. However, once you complete the main story mode, there is a new mode unlocked call Free Ride Extreme. It's just like the standard Free Ride except all cops are absent, meaning you are free to shoot as many innocents as you want, speed, crash into people, and what have you. It also has 20 special driving challenges to complete, which unlock different cars for the standard Free Ride mode. Again, if Free Ride sounds like the best thing ever to you, than this could definitely increase your playtime, so change the replay value score accordingly.
Mafia is one slick package overall that has just about everything you could ask for in a game based on the 30's gangster era: authentic cars, realistic weapons, and a sprawling city to explore. The graphics are a sight to behold, the sound, music and voice acting are all superbly done, the story is fantastic, and the balance of driving and shooting is perfect in the game's missions.
Most games being released nowadays could be completed 2-3 times over in the time it takes to play through the story mode in Mafia once, which is awesome. The game can be found for about 10 bucks now anyway since it's 5 years old, and I'd even say paying a full 50 dollars for the game would be justified just to experience the story mode for yourself. The Free Ride and Free Ride Extreme modes are nice additions that could potentially have you playing long after you beat the story mode, too.
If you are at all intrigued by the gangster era, or just great action games with excellent stories, you owe it to yourself to pick Mafia up for your PC. It's an offer you can't refuse.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 01/16/07
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