Review by Croco

"One of the Top Games of 2002"

Take one look at Mafia’s free-roaming, gangster-style gameplay and you’ll immediately draw up similarities to Rockstar’s smash hit Grand Theft Auto 3. And doing so wouldn’t be completely uncalled for, as both games do share quite a bit in common. These common qualities are part of what make Mafia so appealing to GTA fans, but Mafia also takes the experience in a slightly different direction. Mafia can best be described as Grand Theft Auto 3 with a deeper story and more complex missions.

The setting is the American city of Lost Heaven throughout the 1930’s. Lost Heaven is located on the mouth of a river, composed of three main sections: the western shore, the central island, and the eastern shore. To the north are rolling hills and farmland, while to the south the sea. The city is divided into many sections, such as Downtown, Little Italy, Chinatown, the Works Quarter, New Ark, and more. There are notable landmarks, such the airport and a lighthouse. Each of these sections has their own look and feel.

You’ll explore the nooks and crannies of the city while playing as Tommy Angelo, a common taxi driver who haphazardly finds his way into the ranks of the Mafia. The game will take you through some of the missions Tommy has done during his career.

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GRAPHICS AND TECHNICAL ASPECTS: 7.0

Graphical Appearance: 6.7

Like GTA3, when a game offers a sprawling city complete with pedestrians, cars, buildings, and other things that you can interact with, all without a spot of loading, I feel like I should take it easy on it when it comes to graphics. It’s obvious that the game world wouldn’t be able to be so large and easily accessible if the graphics were top-notch.

That being said, Mafia’s visual appeal is still pretty good. Cars and objects tend to look nice. Character models, on the other hand, seem to vary. While the main characters like Tommy or Salieri are well done, the basic persons you find on the street are not nearly as detailed.

Most of the environment is composed of rows of buildings. The textures on these buildings are admittedly pretty poor. You won’t really notice the poor quality just driving by in a car, but walk up to them and they’re blurry and far from being realistic looking. Store windows, doors, etc. are all part of one big flat texture, instead of them actually being constructed individually. Most of the open environments are pretty plain, with expanses of flat, boring ground featuring relatively few objects.

Mission-specific environments (which are not accessible normally) tend to be pretty detailed. For example, a visit to the old prison will show tons of debris, broken walls, rusty pipes, and more. Other things like spent ammo falling to the ground and messy pools of blood are nice, too.

Unfortunately, certain aspects of the environment are made blurry and less detailed only a short distance away. If you look at the yellow line that separates the street lanes just a little ways down the road, you’ll notice that’s it’s almost not even there due to how much it’s blurred. Thankfully, this isn’t the case for most objects you see. Draw distance in general is acceptable.

Also noticeable is the polygon tearing. Sometimes a character walking up a ramp will have his feet sticking into the ground, and a look at a woman sitting down on the train show her hands going through her dress.

Animation and Physics: 8.2
There are a surprisingly large number of animations for the characters in the game. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw people at a restaurant cutting their food and then bringing their forks to their mouths. You’ll also see people smoking, washing glasses, taking a drink, writing things on paper, and more. Some of these look kind of stiff up close, though, due to the lack of finger movement.

The general movements of the characters are very good. Walking, running, jumping, rolling – nothing was noticeably awkward-looking.

The physics in the game are a mixed bag. In general, objects react to the environment as they should. Cars tend to handle like they should and are not overly prone to flipping. Other things are questionable. For example, if you drop a box you’re carrying, sometimes instead of tumbling to the ground and landing on one of its six faces, it falls and stands up on one of the edges.

Technical Issues: 6.3
The most important of the technical problems is the freezing and crashes. The game has frozen up on me a couple times, and the blue screen of death has also popped up. As for in-game bugs, there’s not a whole lot, but pedestrians sometimes freeze up in their movement and magically float in the air. Fortunately, none of this is very frequent.

Framerate can at times be an issue. Even with just a couple cars chasing you, you may very likely experience significant slowdown. Most of the time, however, especially while on foot, the framerate will stay pretty consistent.

Each of the subparts of a mission will require some loading before you can proceed. It takes a little while, but is never exceedingly long (it can be quite short if you’re reselecting the same mission). Otherwise, loading is nonexistent, and you can roam about Lost Heaven without any sort of waiting.

Artificial Intelligence: 7.6
Enemy forces can be quite crafty. When you’re being chased, the enemy will try to hit your car in a spot that’ll force you off the road or to spin out. If you’re engaged in a firefight, they’ll roll, duck, and move appropriately. Cause a ruckus and they’ll be sure to notice.

Your friends aren’t too dumb, either, and they’ll prove useful for when you’re fighting together. Regular pedestrians will jump out of the way of your vehicle, but generally have poorer intelligence than enemies or friendlies. None of the non-player characters in the game do anything shockingly intelligent, but the artificial intelligence is still good.

Camera: 8.4
While walking around or driving, the camera will stick behind your character or vehicles at all times. This seems to work pretty well, especially since you can look freely in any direction by clicking the left mouse button (which will also aim your weapon). The only real troubles I’ve experienced with the camera are when you back up in a car. The camera will flip over your car and give you a look behind it. While it’s good that you can see what’s behind you, a rear-view mirror key would have probably worked better, since there’s no option to look back in front of you quickly and the camera slowly adjusts back to it.

An interesting feature is how the camera switches to first-person when you’re near a wall or are in a tight area. It does this automatically and prevents the camera from going through the wall or getting too close to your character.

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CONTROL: 8.7

Response/Ease of Use: 9.0

PC gamers familiar with the W-A-S-D movement setup may find it different that this game utilizes the directional arrow keys as the default method of moving around. Nearby keys like Ctrl and the NumPad control main functions like ducking and jumping. Primarily, though, you’ll only need to move and fire your weapon, which is done with the mouse (aim by moving it, fire by clicking it). Other, less important functions are mapped to specific letter keys; reloading your weapon is done by hitting L, and hiding the weapon is set on H.

Like most PC action games, control is completely configurable, so if you’d rather have the W-A-S-D setup or the reload key closer to your movement keys, it’s not a problem.

The only real problem with the control is that vehicles are harder to control with keyboard keys than with a controller joystick. This isn’t really the game’s fault, but rather the keyboard’s. Otherwise, control is responsive, moving and aiming at the same time is simple, and both third and first-person perspectives work well.

Control Innovation: 6.4
There’s a button for just about everything you’ll need to do. If you need to keep your weapon concealed from the cops, you can hide it, and if you don’t have any room to hide it, you can drop it. There are some handy features that can be really helpful, too. You can toggle on running or walking as your standard movement style, or quickly switch to one for a moment in time by hitting the Shift key (default). Also, you can limit the speed of your car, which is particularly handy since the police will pull you over if they see you speeding.

A few useful features besides, the control is pretty standard for an action game, with firing, jumping, crouching, and all that other good stuff.

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SOUND: 9.0

Music: 8.5

Each of Lost Heaven’s city sections has its own music – drive from Little Italy to Chinatown and you’ll hear the music change. This music isn’t a radio like in the GTA games, as it will continue to play even when you’re out of a car. The music itself is very fitting for the 1930’s, sounding like genuine music you’d hear back then. Of course, that doesn’t make it good music, and I must say that none of it is particularly catchy or excellent. Times change, and so do tastes.

In certain situations, the music will change to more dramatic, movie-style performances. This music is done very well and sets the tone superbly. When you see a character walking around minding his own business with some suspenseful music in the background, you know something’s going to happen, and it keeps you on your toes. Very well done.

Sound Effects: 9.8
You can really tell that the developers went all out with the sound. Even the tiniest action in the game is presented with a corresponding, lifelike sound. Everything has its own unique sound. I knew I was in for an aural treat when early on I heard bottles of Molotov cocktails clinking around in a box when they were picked up and set down. These subtle sounds immerse you into the game.

Voice: 9.5
Mafia’s acting is top-notch. During the cutscenes, it really feels like you’re watching a movie. They do a great job of showing emotion, and each voice fits the character perfectly. They seem to do a good job of pronouncing Italian names and words, too, so it sounds like they fit as members of the Mafia.

I only have two minor complaints – one, if you talk to a black guy, it sounds like a white guy that’s trying to do a deep voice, and two, they can’t seem to decide on a way to pronounce Lucas Berteone’s first name (they go back and forth pronouncing it loo-kiss and loo-kuh).

Sound Technical Issues: 8.7
On several occasions the speech has gone all screwy during cutscenes for me. It has skipped over parts of what’s being said, leaving me in the dark as to what’s going on. I’ve also heard of other problems that other people have had with the sound in this game, such as characters talking much more quickly than usual. For me, the problems were infrequent, but still quite irritating when they happened.

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STORY: 9.4

Overall Story: 9.5

If anyone asks what Mafia has over the GTA games, this is it right here. The story in Mafia is incredibly deep. Instead of just running off on random missions with little to no background information, Mafia sets everything up for you. You know exactly why you’re on a mission and why you need to do it.

The story progresses nicely throughout the game. The game stars Tommy Angelo, who starts out as a lowly taxi cab driver, shuttling people around Lost Heaven. Certain events lead to him getting involved with the mafia, and eventually a full-fledged criminal.

The interesting thing is, the entire game is set up as a look into the past on all the missions Tommy went through during his days with the mafia. Tommy’s not just nostalgically reminiscing, though; he’s spilling the beans to the cops. While you play through the game, you’ll learn what led Tommy down this path.

The storytelling effects of this game are great. The wide range of animations for the characters and the dramatic music combine together to create a feeling like you’re watching a movie – or something close to it. I know, every third game that comes out nowadays is hailed as being just like a movie, but it’s actually true with Mafia. Tommy’s narration, which provides insightful comments on the events, and the good dialogue further this feeling.

The storyline is full of interesting twists and turns, though nothing too unexpected will happen. It will evoke some deep emotional feeling from you, too. I won’t reveal any of the story, but there are situations where your duty as part of the mafia will conflict with your moral or emotional desires. Overall, the story is well thought out and professionally done.

Characters: 9.0
The organization Tommy gets himself into consists of several key individuals. Don Salieri is the leader, who will brief you on missions and the current situation of the family. Frank is his right hand man, and guides Tommy when he’s just getting started. Paulie is somewhat of a hot-head, getting in trouble sometimes, but is a good friend of Tommy’s and is always willing to lend a hand. Sam is a strong and relatively silent type who isn’t as involved in the missions as much.

Each character in the game has an intricate personality. In different missions, you interact with them and learn more about them. Then just when you think you know them, they go do something you wouldn’t expect them to do. The characters keep the storyline moving and things interesting.

Intro/Ending: 8.6
While watching the intro, you could swear it was a movie. The first half consists of the camera zooming around the city while the credits appear on the screen. You get to see various locations while powerful music plays in the background. It eventually gets to Tommy Angelo, where the story will begin. It’s not thrilling, but that’s perfectly fine for a non-James Bond intro. It works well and gets you into the mood of the game.

After getting past the difficult final mission, you’ll be treated to a pretty nice ending. It ties up the loose ends of the story, revealing plot elements you had been waiting for since the beginning of the game to be revealed. It’s not especially long and not particularly spectacular, but it appropriately closes everything that went on in the game.

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INNOVATION: 7.8

Concept: 9.7

It’s about time someone did a game like this. We’ve all seen the Godfather movies, and we’ve all wanted to play the role of a mobster in a game. Mafia lets you do just this. You get to be a member of the mafia, taking part in all the crazy things you’ve seen in the movies, from bootlegging to mob wars to pulling political strings. The game takes place in the 1930’s: prime time for organized crime. The set-up of a game doesn’t get much better than that. It’s surprising that a game like this with such a sweet idea hasn’t been fully realized before this.

Ingenuity: 7.5
When it comes down to it, there isn’t a whole lot that’s new about Mafia. It’s made in the same sprawling, open city-style that the GTA3 is, the combat is pretty much standard, and the driving is… well, plain old driving. But maybe it’s not that simple. It’s not so much the individual features of the game that are new and exciting, but rather the package as a whole. It’s how all the little parts come together as a whole.

From what I’ve said, it may not sound like it’s really doing anything new and exciting. It’s hard for me to describe what makes it innovative. What I can say, though, is that I’ve never experienced a game like this before. GTA3 created a new genre of games, and Mafia takes that genre to new heights.

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LENGTH AND REPLAY VALUE: 8.1

Game Length: 8.8

There are 20 missions in this game, each with a varying number of sub-missions in each. The sub-missions vary in how long it’ll take you to complete them; some take just a few minutes, while others can take you substantially more time. I’d say that you’d invest at least a good 15-20 hours during your first run through the game. Playing through a second time is well worth it, too.

Challenge: 9.3
The challenge in Mafia walks right on that fine line between too easy and too hard. Mafia’s not an easy game by any standards, but the goal of completing it is attainable for the average gamer.

You’ll definitely fail missions quite a bit throughout your adventure, but it’s never really frustrating to try again. Each time you die, you learn a little bit more. You know that going one way won’t work, you know that there will an enemy in a certain area, and you’ll be more prepared for what is thrown at you. Expect to fail several times on your way to completing most missions successfully, and a lot of times for some of the more difficult missions. These more difficult missions can become a bit tedious, but it never gets too annoying.

Alternate Paths/Side-Quests: 6.6
As you play through the game, you’ll have the option of completely various side missions for Lucas Berteone. They pop up at various times, and it’s completely up to you if you want to take the time to do them or to just continue on with the main story missions.

If you choose to pursue them, they come in two parts: first, you do some sort of favor for Lucas. As thanks, he’ll tell you the location of a nice car you can jack, which sometimes can be rather complicated to snatch. These missions aren’t as interesting as the others since they don’t advance the compelling story, but they’re still fun to do.

As for alternate paths, some of the missions offer you some freedom in choosing how you want to complete your task. However, most of the time there’s only one way to go about getting the job done.

Extra Features/Unlockables: 5.8
Since the regular missions in the game don’t give you any spare time for wandering the city, there is a Free Ride mode available from the beginning that lets you explore Lost Heaven to your heart’s content. The main gripe I have with this mode is that you’re only given a tiny amount of ammo to work with. It was fun to go on mindless killing sprees in GTA3 (I sound like such a disturbed little boy right now), but there’s not really much of an opportunity in Mafia. It’s nice to be able to cruise around, take in the sites, and stop to explore places, but it’s not necessarily very compelling.

More notable is the Free Ride Extreme mode, which is unlocked after you complete the game. You can ride around just like in Free Ride, but this time there are 19 challenges for you to complete. You’re not told where they are, so you’ll have to search the city for them. The challenges themselves aren’t too terribly complex, but are a nice extension for the game once you’ve beaten it.

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ENTERTAINMENT: 8.9

Gameplay: 9.1

When you get right down to it, most of the gameplay involves simply driving and combat. Fortunately, it’s really not as straightforward as that. The situations that you’re placed in will have you taking a variety of approaches to this formula. You’ll be pulling off assassinations, stealthily infiltrating houses to find documents, or just plain blasting your way through hordes of attackers. The environments, accompanying stories, and different approaches you’ll need to take for the missions make them each unique enough to remain fun.

In most missions, though, there’s a lot of killing to be had. Combat consists of firing your gun while the other guy fires back, or in some situations using a bat or other melee weapon. Not too complicated. Finding cover, dodging attacks, and trying to pull of precision headshots makes combat interesting.

With driving, you’ll usually just have to transport your character to a specific location, but occasionally you’ll need to chase someone or get away from someone chasing you.

There are some puzzles in the game, but they mostly come in the form of how to best approach the combat and action aspects of the game. Puzzles that require more thinking surface on a slightly less frequent basis. They do a good job of disguising themselves as part of the game and not something like box pushing that’s obviously out of place.

The game doesn’t mind intermittently pulling a few unusual gameplay elements on you. One mission will have you racing, while another is like a track shooter. These diversions from the normal gameplay are well done and a nice break from the regular missions.

Atmosphere: 9.0
The game has an excellent atmosphere surrounding it, mostly thanks to the incredible sound effects. When it’s nighttime, it’s not just darker out – you’ll hear dogs barking in the distance, crickets chirping, the occasional car zooming by. It’s really immersive and makes you feel more like you’re in the game.

The cars, weaponry, and music are authentic to the time period, and greatly contribute to the feeling that it’s the 1930’s.

Presentation: 7.9
The menus in the game a nice, but what I really liked were the loading screens. Each mission has its own real-life graphic. It can be things like a Molotov cocktail or a gun, but it usually turns out to be some object covered in blood (the developers must have had a lapse of creativity at some point – but hey, blood covered objects are cool). These graphics reflect the theme of the mission you’re playing and are nice touches. The overall presentation of the game is good and classy.

Addictiveness: 7.8
Mafia’s missions are fun enough by themselves to convince you to want to keep playing, but the story is really what pulls you in and makes you keep playing. I do admit that I was able to stop playing Mafia for a while when I purchased another game, but soon I was back and wondering why I had ever left. For an action game, it’s pretty addictive.

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OVERALL SCORE: 8.5 (Silver Choice Award)
Precise Score: 8.52445
QuikReview Score: 9.0

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Pros:
+ Deep, thought-provoking story that’ll bring out your inner emotions (not the ones about being a fairy princess, though).
+ Excellent and varied sound effects.
+ Complex, multi-faceted missions.

Cons:
- The music, though it contributes to the setting, isn’t particularly good and gets repetitive.
- Doesn’t have as many side quests and diversions as GTA3.
- The visuals, while not bad, aren’t particularly inspiring.

I wholeheartedly support running out and getting Mafia. It was one of my favorite games of 2002, and it’s one of the finest examples in the action genre. Everything comes together perfectly to create an unforgettable experience. If you had fun with GTA3 and/or Vice City, or even if you just like action games a whole, you’ll almost certainly enjoy what Mafia brings to the table.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 02/02/03, Updated 02/02/03


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