Break out the pasta and get ready to take on the role of Lost Heaven cab driver, Tommy Angelo, as you get thrown into the 1930’s world of Mafia.
Already a touted PC game, Mafia brings its great story and puts together a nice little package for the Xbox; inviting you to take up a tommy gun and make people offers they simply can’t refuse.
Car chases, assassinations, shootouts, and just about every other gangster cliche have been put in place to bring Mafia to life, and a lot of attention to detail in the game helps steer it’s overall feel in the right direction: the 1930s.
Starting out as a cab driver, you are immediately thrown into a mafia car chase for simply being in the right place at the wrong time. Suddenly, and without choice, you find yourself in the favor of Don Salieri (a powerful and influential Lost Heaven city mob boss), who would like to use your services again–perhaps this time without having to put a gun to your head. After a couple of rounds about town doing your ‘taxi thing’ and getting familiar with the city’s layout, a rather unpleasant incident leaves you running into the arms of your new friend, Mr. Salieri, for protection, money, and a new job.
The general feel of Mafia appears reminiscent of the Grand Theft Auto games, so don’t expect anything brand new here, but its charm will soon make you forget any GTA flashbacks. Mafia, by way of comparison, is considerably more linear, offering an open design similar to GTA’s, but without all the side missions; making the primary story easy to stick to.
Be prepared when shootouts get underway, as Mafia has a uniquely smart AI system; moving your opponents into places just out of sight and definitely making targets hard to knock off. That, coupled with the ‘authentic’ slower loading of your guns, and your less than inspiring agility, makes each of the missions a little more challenging than you’d expect. Plan on getting extremely proficient with your gun otherwise you may find yourself shooting floors and walls–the game’s targeting seems to be a touch user un-friendly, resulting in a great deal of wasted ammo and reloading time. A solid and involving 14 hour storyline will overshadow any of these minor problems, though, and you’ll find yourself pressing through the missions to find out who’s going to get whacked next.
With all the missions going on, make sure to take the time to enjoy the graphics and look for the little details that make Mafia such a pleasure play. Such features as working turn signals on the cars, actual smoking cigarettes, cases of Molotov cocktails that swish around when carried, and some of the best looking hair I’ve ever seen, all kept my eyes glued to the screen. The game’s old fashioned sepia tones set an authentic 1930s mood, and were by no means over the top. The characters in Mafia were motion captured to give them realistic movements, and it makes for some pretty fluid animation, which looks tremendous during cut scenes.
Mafia is, however, not a direct port of a PC game; a lot of the graphics were set up for the PS2 version and, subsequently, were not changed for the Xbox version. So, you have PS2 dumbed-down visuals on a machine that probably could have handled quite a bit more. I did notice a few scenes where characters would be holding a gun or other item and it would jump around on the screen as they were moving, which wasn’t a huge problem but still an annoyance I could have done without. I guess it was a little difficult to bring this game to consoles without having a bunch of graphical errors along with it.
The soundtrack fits well, no bones about it. Some compositions in the game sound like something right out of a 1930’s New York Italian restaurant, which, personally, I loved. It was a nice change of pace from what I had been used to in other games of this genre category. The music gets dramatic too, so pump up your surround sound on this one. Background noise, horns, gunshots, and car exhausts, among others, were all well done and sounded accurate for how I imagined the 1930s to be.
Extremely solid voice acting is Mafia’s crowning glory. If these voice actors weren’t in The Godfather movies, then they should’ve been. Each character personality in Mafia is backed up with solid dialogue, from the trusty mechanic with the ever present stutter, to the Don himself; whose deep Italian tenor sent chills down my spine. Another nice little touch is that voices often trail off, depending on whether you turn or walk away from the person you are talking to. While it’s nothing spectacular, it’s a small detail that improves the game’s overall realism.
Mafia is going to be a one-time-through title for most gamers; however it does offer an unlockable Race mode, allowing you to take a few track runs with all the cars that have been unlocked throughout the main game. There is also a Free Ride mode, which pretty much gives you a chance to run around town causing mischief, which was always fun in GTA and doesn’t lose its appeal in Mafia. Don’t think the levels are going to take only one attempt, either; I took enough bullets in some levels to build my own armory. There is a definite challenge here, but don’t expect much for replay value; unless you want to watch the storyline again or really enjoy driving around in 1930’s classic cars.
Mafia will suck you in and spit you out, so be prepared to lose track of time and get through more of the game than you anticipated in one sitting. I know that, on more than one occasion, I simply couldn’t put it down.