Mafia
Game Info
Platform(s)
PS2, Xbox
Publisher
Gathering
Developer
Illusion Softworks
Genre
Action
Official Website
ESRB Rating
Blood, Violence
 
Grade
The Good

• Great story and good voice acting
• Racing and Freeride modes to go with main story
• Large world to drive around

The Bad

• LOTS of loading
• Driving is a bore
• Control interface for on-foot aspect could use tightening

 
Grade
B-

Set in the prohibition era, this gangster game comes across a lot like a more historically-driven Grand Theft Auto. Mafia even features a similar type of gameplay and even some familiar control features. Players take on the role of Thomas "Tommy" Angelo, a taxi driver who becomes part of the mob after driving an injured member of one family safely to the family's base of operations. While initially not wanting to get involved, Tommy finds himself drawn into the business for the sake of his own safety. They story is told as a flashback as Tommy is revealing his life to a member of the law in hopes of coming clean. Mafia proves to be a story-heavy mission based game that presents an interesting and mature tale.

The main mode of Mafia is mission-based, moving the player through the story through a series of missions that are often broken up into smaller sections by the auto-save feature and the unwanted loading that occurs when you drive from one side of town to the other. Initially, you'll be spending a lot of time driving around. The controls for driving are your standard lot - gas, brake/reverse and parking brake. The shoulder buttons can switch the camera behind or to the side and the L1 button will set your speed so that you don't break the speed limit. Why would you want that? Well, even though the cops are on your payroll, they still want you to obey the law by stopping at stoplights and obeying the speed limit. You will also have life gauges for you and your passengers as when you wreck, everyone on board and even the vehicle take damage.

I'll be honest - the driving sequences aren't all that fun, especially in comparison to the ones found in the Grand Theft Auto series. This is, by and large, due to the fact that the cars are a bit too realistic - they drive slowly, handle like crap and fishtail on a dime. Getting to any location takes forever. If you manage to damage your car during a chase or just by poor driving, expect the effects to make driving even more annoying. Considering how much time you spend driving, especially in the beginning of the game, it can drag down on the rest of the game.

Switching from driving to on-foot is as easy as stopping the car and pressing a button to exit the vehicle. Once on foot, you control Tommy with the Left and Right analog sticks, not unlike in Max Payne. To switch weapons, use the D-Pad to scroll through your weapons, which include a baseball bat, Molotov cocktails, handguns, shotgun and a tommy gun. The L2 and R2 buttons allow you to auto-aim your enemies and the R1 button fires the weapon. The game will work you into the mechanics of the gameplay through the first couple missions as you go about the day-to-day work of a Mafia-man. Tommy has the ability to climb up specific crates, knock out people from behind and even "jimmy" locks to cars.

While the game has what may seem to be an open-ended world, it's merely there for show during the main story. To actually get to drive around the city, you need to enter one of the two additional modes - Freeride. In Freeride, you can drive around, earning money for destroying cars or wasting other mob members who happen to be walking around the street. Since there isn't much else to this mode, you'll grow tired of it pretty quick. The other mode is a racing mode, where players can race cars they've unlocked during the game in either a single race or championship. As with the story mode, your enjoyment of the racing mode is largely hinged on whether the actual driving of these ancient vehicles doesn't bore you to tears.

Mafia manages to do some things well when it comes to the graphics package, but ultimately, it feels like it needs a few more layers of polish. The game world is pretty large, but it's composed of some repeated textures that look bland upon closer inspection. This is a shame because the game world does try its best to look as detailed as possible, in hopes of capturing a realistic feel. There are an assortment of people walking the street, but those likewise tend to be repeated a lot and don't look all that good upon any kind of inspection. The cars look good but not great - they manage to look like their real-life counterparts without being impressive or well detailed. Character models are excellent in their animation and the facial models looks great during the cutscenes, though the lip-synch is horrible and the eyes lack life. Also, there seems to be some issue with synching up the good character animation with the interaction of items. Case in point, in one scene, a character picks up a gun to give Tommy, only to have it look awkward in his hand and drop unrealistically on the table when he sets it down. Interior locations do have a great level of detail that easily outshines the exteriors.

When it comes to music, Mafia draws upon a heavy retro collection that does wonders to capture the time period well. In fact, when driving around, the music really helps set a tone. Too bad, it tends to be drowned out by the load roar of the car engines. When it comes to sound effects, the game does a good job at capturing the feel of the weapons, vehicles and even ambient sounds of the city. Voice acting proves to be quite good, even if a little reserved in parts. Considering how strong a part of the game the story is, the voice acting performs more than adequately in this regard.

In all honesty, the Playstation 2 version of Mafia just feels like it was sloppily put together. The control scheme when on foot doesn't feel all that great, as if the developers didn't want to tighten the controls for a controller. If it weren't for the auto-aim, you'd be hard pressed to get around during a gunfight. Even still, expect to die often until you get the hang of things. Also, the game suffers from some ridiculously long load times that completely ruin any continuity of mood. Since most missions seem to take you from one side of the city to the other, expect the lengthy load time as you cross the bridge from west to east. And, if you die or fail a mission, expect another lengthy load time as the mission reloads.

While I get the feeling that this game proves to be a sloppy port, it is still a good game at heart and has a wonderful timepiece story that fans of the genre will enjoy. It's just a shame that the translation from PC to PS2 appears to be mishandled in the process.

- - Kinderfeld

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