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Sofware in Review → Games → Third-person shooters →

Mafia review

By Sergio Magdaleno

My wife walked into the room while I was playing Mafia. It was past midnight -- you know how it is when you're really into a game -- no sound in the house except for that of bullets flying all around the screen. "What game are you playing?" she asked -- a normal question, nothing to get excited about. But this is not a normal game, so I slap her across the face and tell her I'm playing Mafia. "I told you before, never ask me about my games."

Yeah, right -- if something like that happened in my house, all of my stuff would be in the driveway the next minute and a couple of cops would be there to escort me to the police station, of course, with a detour to a dark and lonely place for me to meet Mr. Knuckle.

Backstory

No, Mafia is not going to transform you into that kind of guy, but it does succeed in representing an American city in the 1930's. The US is in bad shape after the 1929 stock market crash and people are trying to survive any way they can, getting any job available no matter what it may be.

To our main character Tommy Angelo, life didn't treat him that badly; he was in better shape than most people because he had a job working as a taxi driver.

Screenshot: Tommy Angelo, our main Character, not a Taxi driver anymore

But lets start from the beginning. The game opens with a meeting of two men on opposite sides of the law; two worlds colliding in a dark bar full of smoke and people drinking to commemorate or to forget.

The one on the wrong side of the law is willing to betray his employers in exchange for federal protection. He's not even doing it for himself, but for his young daughter and wife. The cop -- Detective Norman -- rejects the idea at first, being that it's coming from a gangster. But then he hears the magic word and a universe of opportunities seem to appear for the tired detective. He starts to listen; it's a long story, Tommy is ready to talk, and the detective suddenly has time for him.

The magic word was Salieri, and that's where the game starts.

There are more questions than answers in the first chapters of the story. Why was Tommy so willing to betray the Salieri family? How did he start in the Mafia? What happened between him and his employers for him to fear them? Did he betray them? Did he steal from them?

Everything will be answered on that long talk between the gangster and the detective, but the game wouldn't be that fun if we only listen to the story. We have to live it, we have to experience it firsthand and that's what the game is about.

Tommy Angelo didn't want to be a Gangster -- as I mentioned above, he was a taxi driver, and one day he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There you are as Tommy waiting for the next fare to appear when a car crashes right in front of you, two guys from the Salieri family are being hunted by the Morello family and there is no escape. They feel trapped until they see your taxi; they get in and your first mission begins, helping them escape certain death.

Screenshot: Happy people in a Bar

You finally get them safely to the Salieri Bar and they pay you a load of money -- they even offer you a job, but you decline. The next day, while working, you have a close encounter with the Morello family and they are in a bad mood because of you. Fearing for your life you start running, and lucky for you the Salieri bar is really close by. You barely get in, ask for help, and then getting into the family is as easy as passing a simple test.

Mission by mission you as the main character are instructed in the ways of the family. You see the ordinary taxi driver transform into a ruthless Mafioso, fall in love, have a daughter, be hunted by doubt and remorse, and at the end the the reasons for his betrayal are clear.

Characters

The characters in Mafia are well developed, and you get to know almost all of your partners in crime very well. Your main accomplice is Paulie, and I'm sure he was based on the character played by Joe Pecsi in the movie Goodfellas. Paulie is crazy, dangerous, has a bad temper and he even looks and sounds like Joe Pesci. Sam is the name of the other enforcer; he's a little slow and in more than one mission you have to go back and help him escape. Other than that he is a good guy to work with.

Then there is Don Salieri, the big boss. He is normally calm, but you sense some danger from him -- more than from anybody else. He can be ruthless and sends people out to kill without even a single doubt.

The Don has a right-hand man named Frank; he looks more like an accountant than a Mafioso, but looks are deceiving. Frank's both smart and cold-blooded.

On some missions you will be required to go with both of them, and if you know them you'll know what to expect. Before almost every mission you have to visit Vincenzo to give you some weapons and Ralph to get you a car.

You will meet some other characters during your missions, some of them criminals who will teach you how to steal cars and even give you some extra jobs.

Gameplay

In the options menu you have the chance to start a new game following the complete story of Tommy Angelo, but there is also an option called "free ride" that is really interesting and fun to play -- more on that later.

The game type can be divided into two main parts:

  • First/third person adventure
  • Driving

Previous third-person perspective games like this one had problems seeing the target when it was right in front of you, and your own body was in the way. Mafia as well as some other new games have solved this issue by changing from a third person to a first person view, which is done automatically.

The default setting of the keyboard for the Third person is close to the normal WASD, but with some notable differences. The selection of some of their keys is not practical, and I recommend you to change them to suit your preference because some of them really don't make sense.

Screenshot: You can see the windows exploding and the smoke coming out of the car

During the driving I didn't use the keyboard -- I used a game pad instead. Lost Heaven is a vibrant city with a lot of cops, traffic, and people interacting. You're expected to shoot your enemies while driving the car so it can get really interesting.

You will have to drive to almost all of your missions. While on the road you can choose to respect the traffic rules or not, but beware the policeman who are on patrol -- they can end your mission before you even get to it by arresting you.

Screenshot: Two friends, Tommy and Paulie looking for fun at night

The driving gets a lot of attention; after all that's why Don Salieri hired you in the first place. You will have to do a lot of driving in this game, from racing a super cool car to escaping other gangsters in a truck full of illegal whisky.

The game engine is called LS3D and was developed by Illusion Softworks; the rendering is crisp and realistic, well defined and detailed. The cars, the people and even the bullet holes are well presented.

You can't manually save games by yourself; this is done automatically by the game at the end of each mission. Also if you reload your weapon and you still had some bullets in it you will lose them, so be careful.

The AI is not the smartest I have seen, sometimes it's really not very smart at all, giving you easy targets to kill. It will definitely need some improvements if there is a sequel.

I have to tell you a little about the City of Lost Heaven. Illusion Software did a great job bringing this city to life. It's full of traffic, people, policemen walking the rounds, ships crossing close to the port, the noise of the airport and on and on. The designers also decided to add different music for each different area that you're in. Places like Newark, Chinatown or Little Italy get their own rhythm, but it's always according to the period portrayed in the game. From barbershop to classical Italian folk music, the score is never intrusive but always there, adding to the game experience.

Screenshot: Using the TAB button you can make the map appear, as well as yourself and your target

Free Ride

Sometimes you don't feel like following the story; sometimes you just want to go out and start destroying cars, or killing gangsters. When you get this feeling then is time for free ride mode.

Free ride makes Mafia re-playable by allowing you to simply select a car and start making money in various ways:

  • Taxi Driver: You can get a taxi and start driving people to where ever they want, which is not really exciting but is the safest way of making money.
  • Destroying Cars: If you select a big truck, you can start pounding away at any car you want to. If it's not totally destroyed then you can get out and use your beloved Tommy gun and make it explode.
  • Speeding: This one is easy -- just get a fast car. But be sure your vehicle is stable enough for the pursuit because you will have all of the Lost Heaven Police department behind you.
  • Killing Gangsters: This is the one that will get you the most money, but of course it is also the hardest. Gangsters travel in pairs, and if you shoot at them or even bump them with your car they will come after you shooting, so you will have to be ready for them. There are also some gangsters walking around the streets of the city. You will recognize them when you see them; the pedestrian gangsters walk by themselves and are easier to kill.

There are a lot of different cars in free ride mode, but not all of them are unlocked. The only way to access these cars is by completing missions in the regular game, especially the bonus missions.

Car Cyclopedia

Another feature on the main menu is the Car Cyclopedia, which allows you to see all of the cars available in the game as well as the different characteristics of each one. If nothing else it's a great way to learn about car history

Conclusion

Overall this is a great and fun game to play. It accurately portrays an American city during the 1930s, complete with the music, the cars, the weapons and the clothes -- everything adds to the experience.

Mafia

Mafia
Game Type First/third-person shooter and 3D driving
Manufacturer Illusion Softworks
Operating Systems Supported Windows 98/ME/2K/XP
License Proprietary, heavily restrictive
ESRB Rating M (mature)
Price (retail) US $10 from Amazon.com
Demo Click here
Screen Shot See article for screen shots
Recommended System
Product website Click here