Review by Andy787

"An offer you can't refuse."

As with many people that will surely become interested in Mafia, my interest in the title was piqued upon noticing similarities between it and the ultra-popular Grand Theft Auto 3; from the living city you're given to play in, to car-jacking, gun-toting gangster life you take the role of. But as you actually get into the game of Mafia, you realize it's a totally different beast than GTA3, and though that may be what drew you in, what will keep you here is an experience completely different.

Now starting with Mafia's story, while it does hold similarities to GTA3's, it's only in the pretence, because while they both involve gangs and criminal lifestyles and what not (Mafia's taking place in the 1930s, GTA3's in more present-times), when you get right down to it, Mafia's story wipes the floor with GTA3's. Simply put; Mafia's story is excellent. It starts you off subtle enough, describing your character (Tom, or Tommy as your soon-to-be cohorts will refer to you) as the average joe, every day nice guy who makes a living as a cab driver. Not a mission into your low-life cabbing career, however, and you'll quickly be thrown into a war. The game picks up as two gangsters you'll soon call your best friends are racing blindly down the road --presumably just after finishing an important job-- slam into a light post. Not interested in becoming tommy-gun fodder for the tail following them, the two gangsters ditch the car dash off in your direction. Throwing you into your cab and directing you by gun point to their hide out, you're now a part of the mob. Their mob. Or you're dead.

Quickly though you'll take to your new home like a fish to water, as the game paints each and every one of the characters beautifully, each character with their own defining traits and personalities. You'll soon be able to recognize anybody in your gang by the tone of their voice or the color of their suit, and thanks to the game's brilliant facial rendering, each character is given much more life, with unique slurs and accents, to the shapes of their eyes and scars on their mouths -which is luckily so considering everyone dons a slick dress suit, you'd need to tell the difference between them somehow ;) Now back to the story; the game's premise mostly revolves around the battle between Salieri's gang (yours), and Morrello's gang. Most of the missions will involve you and one or two of your cohorts trying to sabotage Morrello's gang, from killing key leaders in Morrello's camp, to bombing a building in Morrello territory to show your authority.

Now Mafia's main difference between GTA3 gameplay-wise, is that instead of playing through completely outdoor missions, and largely always inside a car, Mafia's missions are more often a much more in-your-face affair, involving epic, magically orchestrated indoor fire fights between you and the rival gang. The actual interface of the action in the game is completely different than that of GTA3, and could be very closely compared to that of other 3rd person shooters like Max Payne. In Mafia however, you must be much more weary of your surroundings, because where a game like Max Payne is more mindless, non-stop bullets flying, Mafia really makes you play strategically, making you use your surroundings as cover while reloading, ducking for accuracy and cover, and generally just being much more cautious, as a shotgun really will down you in one shot, and a shot to the head is a shot to the head as it should be. Another factor running through your head during a heated fire fight is your reloads. In Mafia, when you reload, you actually lose the bullets you have in your current clip, so you're always thinking about the best ways to use your ammo.

Mafia packs a decent sized list of weapons for your enjoyment as well, including bats and knives, to your wide range of handguns, shotguns, and of course, your good ol' tommy gun. Almost all of the weapons have their own strategic advantages and disadvantages, and since you can conceal only a limited number of weapons, what you pick up and drop is often an important choice, especially considering the difficulty of the game. On that note, the game's difficulty does need to be addressed; this game isn't for your grand parents, and even with your ever sharp wit, you'll even find yourself in some real throw-the-controller-at-the-wall scenarios. A quick-save feature would've remedied this, but as it is, you're only able to save when the game makes you, after completing entire tasks and what not. Actually finishing those tasks can often prove to be mind-bendingly difficult however, and if you happen to screw up pretty bad early in a mission, you're likely going to be in trouble late in it.

On to the other main gameplay element of Mafia, and probably the factor why this game gets compared to GTA3 more than any other; the driving. I'll just say it up front; the driving in Mafia is much different than GTA3's. That said, the driving is still very cool in Mafia, and an integral piece of the gameplay as a whole, but it should be put out in the open that if you're looking to fly down the street at 120mph and kill a ton of cops, just to grab a pick-up that erases all of your misdoing, you're not going to get it in Mafia. What you will get, however, is a much more somber experience. It still controls just like GTA3 (yes, even with the keyboard), if a little more realistic, but as with the cars, the laws in the city are also more realistic. They're not completely restrictive, as you can still hit a cop in broad day light and he'll act like nothing happened, but there are some added rules. For one, if you go over the speed limit (40mph) in the presence of a cop, he'll try to pull you over (the mob takes care of your ticket though, the nice guys that they are). Luckily there's a speed limiter in Mafia, that when you put it on, it keeps you from exceeding the speed limit. Very luckily in fact, without it this game would've become insanely tedious trying to stay within the speed limit. The other big rule is running red lights. You'll always have to be looking around before you run through a light, since cops will go after you as well if you run a red light.

Yes, the rules can be quite annoying, especially when you've got a tail going 90 filled with shotgun-toting gangsters, and to outrun them, you get a dozen cops on your tail. Aside from the rules though, driving in Lost Heaven (Mafia's city) is generally a very enjoyable affair. Each of the classic 1930s cars feature great controls and physics (though many can be as slow as Patrick Star), and through the course of the game you can amass quite a hefty garage full of classic machines. The garage is also how you go about getting new cars and learning how to steal them. Almost every mission you'll get a new car, and your gang's lovable family mechanic will teach you how to steal it on the open road. Also worth mentioning is the game's public transportation system. The city actually features two fully working and useful transportation systems you can use aside from your car, the subway and the trolly system. They both cover their own areas of the map, and can often be useful if you don't feel like driving (they can actually be faster to your destination as well). Another extremely useful feature of navigating the huge city is the in-game map that you can summon up with the touch of a button. I can't stress enough how useful the map is, despite being so subtle an addition.

Mafia packs some very impressive graphics as well. Like I said previously, the graphics are extremely good at portraying each of the characters in the game, the faces are just excellent, and the textures are superb and very life-like. Animation is excellent for the characters, they all move very realistically, from walking, running, jumping to ducking. The skin tones in the game have to be the best I've ever seen as well, the characters are just beautiful pieces of work. The cars in the game are modeled with equal finesse, each sporting some beautiful reflection work and are modeled explicitly to their real-life counterparts.

The city itself is also mighty impressive, especially considering it's size, and it really packs some insane attention to detail. Every building is textured very nicely (though many are reused), and they all have their own defining additions, from wooden gates to dark alley ways behind the houses, to dirty laundry hanging in the yards. The city is always bustling with life as well, endless traffic jams to dozens of pedestrians littering the side walk, people getting in and out of their cars, subways charging, planes flying.

Things just don't get bad in Mafia, and the sound is no exception. First and foremost, the voice acting in Mafia is superb. The story is told in cut scenes and completely voiced, so the voice acting is very important, and luckily it comes through big time. Each character is given their own distinct tones, slurs and accents through voice, from Tom's clean cut and always respectful tone, Paulie's New York-ish accent and to-the-point speech, to poor ol' Ralphie and his never ending stutter. The music doesn't disappoint either, with very dramatic and epic moods, very reminiscent of many classic gangster movies. And finally, the sound effects are also excellent. The weapons all sound great, vehicle noises are spot-on, and the every day bustle of the city is well represented.

Mafia packs some real replay value for a primarily action-oriented game. Aside from the fairly lengthy (for an action game) and quite challenging 12-15 hour story mode, the game also gives you another very cool mode to play through when you finish story mode called Free Ride Extreme. In Free Ride Extreme, you'll be given a wide variety of humorous sub-missions you can complete for more luxury cars to add to your collection. For instance, the first mission has you scrambling across the city trying to run over ''Speedy Gonzalas,'' a guy that runs around at high speed with flaming feet, sporting only his underpants. This mode really is a great little addition to the already excellent game, and really offsets the overly serious mood of the story mode quite nicely.

In closing, I really can't think of anything too wrong with Mafia, other than it's generally high difficulty. It's a superb game through and through, from an extremely engrossing story, to the epic, awe-inspiring fire fights and relaxing driving aspects, the beautiful graphics and highly impressive sound. The game packs some hefty replay for a game of this type, and all in all, it's just a great package. If you have the specs to run this sucker, it's definitely a game you need to play.

Final Score: 1----------2----------3----------4----------5----------6----------7----------8----------9.2----------10

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 09/13/02, Updated 09/13/02

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