I’d make a terrible mobster. I can’t shoot anything and my getaway car is a complete piece of junk. Never will I sit in a dark room, surrounded by well-dressed cronies, face smeared with marinara, ordering someone’s death. And if that life is half as difficult as the awkward controls on Mafia, then you can keep your life of crime.
As mob ing?nue Tommy Angelo, you play a cab driver that falls into ?the life’ through a quick sequence of events laid out in the early levels of the game. Borrowing from pulp gangster movie clich?s of the past 50 years, Mafia will quickly draw comparisons to GTA3, circa 1930, but those comparisons only hold up to a cursory glance. Like Grand Theft Auto, you’re working your way up the ladder of organized crime, running around an island chain of city sections, jacking cars, and bumping people off. Once past that, Mafia unfolds as a truly cinematic experience throughout roughly 20 missions. Unfortunately, the gameplay can’t live up to the promise of the cut scenes. Beneath the epic grittiness is a first person shooter struggling to do justice to its PC roots, but with a console’s controls.
The early levels of the game begin with you going through your day-to-day chores as a cab driver. If this were Crazy Taxi, that wouldn’t be so bad, but this is 1930. Cars in the thirties were crap. They handled like crap and they accelerated like slightly warm crap. Taxi-style missions in games are only fun if you can put the lives of your passengers and pedestrians in jeopardy. With the glacial acceleration and woefully unspectacular crashes, I found myself searching for a button that would allow me to just take the bus. You’d think the mafia could afford better cars. As it is, the Model B was only a step above driving around town in Fred Flintstone’s car. I know. That’s really how many of those old vehicles drove back in the day, but realism doesn’t always make for a great gaming experience.
The other main portion of gameplay is made up of you running around, clubbing, shooting, and throwing Molotov cocktails at your enemies. Here the controls really suffer. It becomes obvious after your first encounters that this game was designed and intended for a mouse/keyboard interface. It’s not intuitive and you’ll often find yourself staring at the ground, running in circles, while thugs in snappy suits work you over. This only reinforces a hard and fast rule that I have ? if it was on the PC first, play it on the PC. If it was a console game first ? you get the idea. Not to be forgotten are the frequent and excruciating load times. You’ll have enough time during loading to watch the Godfather trilogy in its entirety.
The graphics, however, are quite polished. Each of the characters are distinct and their facial expressions truly give you a feel for who they are, right down to their flattened noses and sloped brows. The atmosphere of a Chicago-style city from 75 years ago is believable, if not entirely immersive. Unfortunately, one of the best aspects of the PC version of this game was left behind in the conversion. In firefights in the PC version, broken glass sprayed, tires flattened, and bullet holes riddled everything. In the PS2 incarnation, you’ll have little effect on your surroundings.
The sound is where Mafia really excels, however. If you’re a fan of Glen Miller or any of his big band brethren, this is the game for you. Classic swing recordings pepper the story at just the right moments. There’s even a hectic chase tune steeped in accordion riffs. Of course, no mobster epic would be complete without a portentous orchestral score. Mafia has it in spades. The soundtrack alone strengthens what is otherwise an average game. The voice acting isn’t exceptional, but far above the hackneyed Saturday morning fare of many other games.
Showing up on the console scene a full year and a half behind its PC incarnation, Mafia presents itself on the PS2 as a clumsy port of a far superior game. It started out with promise, but gets bogged down with poor controls. In the end, what should have been a crime epic is reduced to a wacky caper, especially if you’re watching me try to run someone over in what amounts to a riding lawn mower. This version of Mafia does little more than make you wonder why gangsters traded zoot suits for jogging uniforms, and why I traded my experience with the original for a derivation robbed of its smooth execution. Go download the demo for the PC version. This one sleeps with the fishes.