Mafia takes place in the fictional 1930s city of Lost Heaven. The player takes the role of a relatively innocent cabdriver who becomes involved in the underworld of organized crime through a random accident. While between fares one night, the hero is suddenly approached by two shady characters in urgent need of a ride. Fearing a quick shot to the head if he refuses, he accepts the passengers and, thanks to his excellent driving abilities, is able to help them escape the rival gang members that had been chasing them. Quick thinking and good driving skills save the day for the thankful mobsters, who make it a point to remember the main character. When he finds himself out of work a short while later, the hero is graciously welcomed to "the Family."
The third-person adventure in Mafia has the player moving about a 12-square-mile city, designed from authentic photographs and architectural plans from the 1930s. The player will have almost complete freedom to move about the city, exploring and interacting as he sees fit. Each building is unique, providing a sense of location and allowing the players to learn landmarks as they travel through Lost Heaven. A wide variety of missions will have the protagonist racing cars, investigating seedy hangouts, and even executing hits (if his conscience will allow it). Mafia is designed to envelop players in the look and feel of the classic gangster movies that were its inspiration.
What do Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto series and Illusion Softwork's Mafia have in common? To begin with, both games attempt to create a bustling metropolis filled to the brim with civilians going about their everyday lives. Similarly, both games revolve around a life in organized crime with stealing, murder, prostitution and gang warfare being the orders of the day. That is where the similarities between the two games end, as you will see both games offer entirely different experiences.
In Mafia, you begin the game as a simple taxi driver in 1930's America, where each city is under the control of the mafia. The game commences with a beautiful cut scene introducing you to this scenario, thrusting you directly into the shoes of Tommy Angelo, whose life is thrown into disarray when he finds himself involved with the Mafia.
The aforementioned Grand Theft Auto's major selling point was the non-linearity of the gameplay. Whilst this allowed the player to do whatever they wished, it sadly detracted from the atmosphere of the game in the games before Vice City, leaving you playing as a nameless character that showed neither emotions nor personality. In Mafia, the plot is integral to the game and very well scripted, distinctly unlike GTA's free-form gameplay. Furthermore, the sense of character development is enormous and as the game progresses further, you find yourself developing attachments towards particular characters and hatred towards others. The story is superbly written, drawing from classic gangster films such as The Godfather on many occasions and the atmosphere created by the graphics and sound makes the game an incredible experience and an absolute joy to play.
The gameplay is of course important - after all, a good plot is nothing unless it is delivered well. Thankfully, Mafia achieves this with fantastic style. Gameplay is split up into two sections - the driving levels and those which are on foot. These are merged incredibly well and the transition between one and the other is smooth and easy. The driving sections generally consist of driving from one area to another, occasionally in car chase scenarios. The physics are realistic and the damage model on the cars is accurate, determining the performance.
However, one element of driving noted in the manual appears to be missing. It states that your petrol can run out, although fortunately, this has never happened to me on any occasion as running out of petrol in the middle of a car chase could be quite embarrassing. Overall, the car sections are pulled off well, although they are not as enjoyable as those in GTA. Other forms of accessible transport appear, such as trains and trams. The main sections are on foot and are reminiscent of Max Payne, but without the bullet time. Despite the fact that these scenarios are nothing new to this genre of games, they are incredibly varied throughout and as previously mentioned, you will spend much of your time attempting to guess your next mission, only to be surprised by a brilliant plot twist.
To reveal the plot would spoil the game entirely, but to give a general outline, missions involve wrecking the cars of rival gangs and escaping before being caught, infiltrating a house to retrieve some important papers and having to race on a professional course to protect the Don's honor. However, extra gameplay features independent of the initial plot become accessible through unlocking modes known as 'free ride' and 'free ride extreme', which give you total autonomy. Drive passengers around in your cab like the beginning of your adventure or start a mindless killing spree GTA3 style - whatever takes your fancy goes.
Mafia is a hugely challenging game which will push your skills as a gamer as far as they will go. It adopts a more realistic approach than GTA, with the police pulling you over for speeding and arresting you if you so much as pull out a firearm, so God help you if you decide to become a mass murderer! This is a welcome change from the majority of games on the market, although the game is occasionally frustrating as a consequence.
Whilst the levels as a general rule can be completed by a more strategic approach to gunplay, one particular level does spoil the game to some extent due to the ridiculous difficulty level. This mission involves an incredibly hard race and is almost enough to make you to give up on the game entirely. Fear not though for help is at hand courtesy of a patch to make it slightly easier. The game does not feature a quick save option, forcing you to think and whilst the AutoSave function is adequate, the difficulty level means that you will often have to replay parts of levels, something which becomes increasingly frustrating and is easily the game's biggest fault.
Sound is important in a heavily scripted game and again, Mafia doesn't disappoint. Realistic sound effects and authentic 1930's music are present throughout and the voice acting is superb. Character voices are well done and keep in line with the Italian-American accents that are generally used in games and films of this nature.
Graphically, Mafia looks stunning even now, nearly 4 years after the game's original release. The character models are intricately detailed with perfect lip-synching and stunning facial detail being two points truly standing out. The cars look superb with outstanding detail on the models and an excellent damage model. The streets and buildings are highly detailed, although the textures do look slightly grainy up close. There is also very little pop up, at least if you are playing on a high end PC. Sadly it's not all good as some of the NPC's (such as those who merely wander the streets) are somewhat devoid of detail and are often duplicated and this is perhaps the only thing that makes the game stand out as noticeably last generation. Regardless of this, it is still a fantastic looking game in spite of its age and is certainly up there with the best looking titles of the current console generation. Not only that, but it surpasses 'The Godfather' and the most recent GTA titles by some way.
Mafia is slightly lacking in that it does not have a multiplayer mode. However, the single player trek is so long and difficult that it more than makes up for it and the 'free ride' modes add a lot of life to the game, even if the main quest has little replay value.
Overall, Mafia is a fantastic title, and one that I can do nothing other than recommend. The game takes elements from Max Payne, Grand Theft Auto and the The Godfather films mixing them to create an incredible single player experience. An absolutely essential purchase for fans of the genre.
People who downloaded Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven have also downloaded:
Max Payne, Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Grand Theft Auto 3, Godfather, The: The Game, Mafia II, Return to Castle Wolfenstein
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