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Platform

PC

 

Genre

Action

 

Publisher

Take 2 / GOD Games

 

Developer

Illusion Softworks

 

ESRB

M (Mature)

 

Released

Q3 2002

 

 

- High production values

- Excellent visuals

- Realistic driving sequences

- Cinematic quality

 

 

- High system requirements

- Ralph's voice gets on my nerves

- Gets obscenely hard at one point

 

 

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Mafia

Score: 8.0 / 10

 

With the rise of technology comes a greater realization of a particular genre of gaming: simulation. While item collecting and boss battles formed the set pieces of earlier titles, the modern gamer may look forward to increasingly realistic gameworlds where immersion and the joy of experience takes precedence over high scores and killjoy.  

 

mafia-1.jpg (20622 bytes)          mafia-2.jpg (20612 bytes)

 

Mafia is one such game, placing the player in the shoes of one Tommy Angelo, a taxi driver in the city of Lost Heaven which resembles a crime-ridden 1930’s Los Angeles. After a strange turn of events, Tommy is forced to join the Mafia and is consequently bound to the powerful Salieri family.

 

Tommy’s ascension through the criminal underbelly spans 20 missions. These are played from a 3rd-person perspective and usually involve driving of some sort. Objectives range from delivering (suspicious) packages, chauffeuring mobsters, vandalism and grand larceny.

 

There’s also “Freeride”, a freeform driving session featuring cars the player unlocks during the single-player missions. The objective is to earn money by destroying other vehicles, eliminating gangsters or (if Tommy is driving a taxi) ferrying passengers. True to its crime ethic, Tommy can steal cars, however, if caught by the police, he may be fined or imprisoned.  

 

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It wouldn't be a gangster movie without the guns and Mafia features a small, but potent selection of old-fashioned weaponry such as the Colt 1911, Thompson 1928, Smith & Wesson Model 27 Magnum and the ever-reliable baseball bat.

 

From the panoramic opening sequence to its seedy, post-mission cutscenes, the cinematic aspirations of Mafia become obvious. All cutscenes are real-time and benefit from commendable direction and camerawork. It’s also here that I was able to 

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witness close-ups of characters’ faces which display some of the most lifelike skin textures I have ever seen. Voice acting is occasionally irritating (the stuttering Ralph comes to mind) but generally well done.

 

In creating the sprawling city of Lost Heaven, the usual design pitfalls have been cleverly sidestepped. Pedestrians do not behave robotically and display various walking styles and mannerisms. Traffic lights are functional and the lavishly-detailed cars obey road rules. It’s through the strength of its simulation that Mafia’s “day in the life” gameplay dynamic atttains plausibility.

 

The 3rd-person view is adequate, but suffers minor problems with regards to combat. In the spirit of authenticity, guns exhibit recoil; while acceptable from a first person perspective, I found this setup to be awkward when aiming weapons from behind Tommy’s head.

 

But if gunfighting is occasionally problematic, the driving scenes are simply astounding. Cars handle superbly; I could feel the suspension of the car as it rocked and the slight sway of chassis as it rounded a corner. Vehicles damage realistically too, with broken headlights, punctured tires and even loose axles. Cars are authentic to the 1930's time frame and you'll be behind the wheel of such venerable machines as the Schubert Six, Bolt Ace Fordor and Lassiter Phaeton. As the game progresses, you will acquire faster and swankier cars which are stored in a garage for future use.

 

mafia-3.jpg (17487 bytes)          mafia-4.jpg (18391 bytes)

 

It's a pity the strength of its presentation is spoiled by a curious setback concerning game difficulty. There's one mission where Tommy has to win a race in which the driving proficiency demanded of the player is ridiculously high. The resulting frustration and repeated attempts (30 by my last count) almost single-handedly destroyed all enjoyment hitherto experienced. The casual gamers among us will certainly have their patience tested.

 

Mafia also requires some hefty system requirements. Even on my Pentium 4 and 64MB GeForce 2, I experienced considerable slowdown during the fast car chases (effectively defusing any suspense) or when atmospheric effects (rain, mist) were present. Load times were also lengthy.

 

But in the end, I have to admit that I enjoyed the life of a mafioso. While I didn't appreciate the sudden difficulty of the racing mission, it doesn't wreck the game as a whole. It's a nice change to be one of the bad guys: I invite others to do the same.

 

- Justin Liew

(October 2, 2002)

 

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