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Posted on Feb 4th 2017 at 08:00:00 AM by (Disposed Hero)
Posted under Review, PC, PS2, Xbox, Lost Heaven, Open World, Shooter


I have never considered myself to be primarily a PC gamer, but there was a time back in the late '90s and early 2000s when I did a considerable amount of gaming on the PC.  During this time, I played such revered classics as Half-Life, Max Payne, and Deus Ex, all of which I would consider to be among my all-time favorites.  Many excellent games were being released exclusively on PC, and when these titles were later ported to consoles, the results were often lackluster. 

One such game from this era that I have always remembered fondly is Mafia.  Releasing less than a year after the immensely popular Grand Theft Auto III, it may be easy to dismiss Mafia as a cheap knockoff.  While Mafia may resemble the Grand Theft Auto series at first glance, I have always felt that it was the "anti-GTA" game.  Although both games share similarities with their open-world environments, crime-based stories, and emphasis on driving and shooting gameplay mechanics, Mafia's more serious and less satirical tone, focus on realism, and larger emphasis on narrative rather than free roaming sandbox gameplay sets it apart from Rockstar's juggernaut.



Mafia is an open-world third-person shooter that was originally released for PC in August 2002, and then later ported to PlayStation 2 and Xbox in 2004.  Developed by Illusion Softworks (now known as 2K Czech) and published by the now defunct Gathering of Developers, Mafia released to positive criticism by both gamers and critics alike.  However, the console port was more heavily criticized due to features being cut from the PC version and a number of performance issues.

The story of Mafia is set during the 1930s in the fictional city of Lost Heaven, where we see main protagonist and mobster Tommy Angelo meeting with police detective Norman at a local diner.  Tommy, now wanting to leave the Salieri mafia family, negotiates a deal with Norman to tell the police everything he knows about his boss Don Salieri and to testify against him in court in exchange for a lighter prison sentence for himself and police protection for his family.  Tommy's story is told through a series of flashbacks, detailing how he fell into a life of crime and the key events over the last decade that got him to where he is now, including some bad decisions that come back to haunt him later. 


Well written dialog keeps the story interesting from beginning to end.

Drawing inspiration from crime dramas such as Goodfellas and The Godfather, Mafia's story is easily the highlight of the game.  Being presented as flashbacks, we get Tommy's perspective on the events of the game in hindsight, which I found to be an interesting approach to storytelling.  The game tries to establish that, despite the bad things Tommy is forced to do, he is not a bad person.  He once worked an honest job, but was forced to join the Salieri family because he needed protection from a rival family that he inadvertently angered.  Tommy often feels remorse for his actions while his associates do not, and he sometimes shows compassion for others by sparing certain peoples' lives, disobeying direct orders in the process.  He also has conversations with his associates where he questions what his family would think of him and the work he does.  During a monologue at the end of the game, Tommy states that all he ever wanted was a better life for himself and his family, and the work he did wasn't worth it in the end.  However, actions speak louder than words, and it is ultimately up to the player to decide what they think of Tommy's character.

The gameplay in Mafia is largely made up of gunfights and driving sections, and this is where the game begins to stumble.  The shooting mechanics feel incredibly stiff, requiring you to press the fire button once to raise your gun, aim the reticle at your target, and then press the fire button again to actually shoot.  There is also no cover system, so to avoid being shot, you must manually stand behind walls or crouch behind objects, then expose yourself to shoot an enemy.  There is also no 'regenerating health' system in this game, and, while there are first-aid kits scattered throughout the environments, they are few and far between.  Tommy also cannot take much punishment before dying, and due to infrequent checkpoints and a bit of trial-and-error styled gameplay, frustration will set in as you are forced to replay sections over and over again.  Although it sounds like I'm being harsh, this game is simply a product of its time, and there are certain refinements of the genre that we have become accustomed to that are absent here.  There was a time when this gameplay was considered great, but it hasn't aged well, and as a result many people will likely have difficulty revisiting Mafia today.

The driving component of Mafia also feels like a chore, but for different reasons.  Vehicles are sluggish and slow, and they are incredibly difficult to handle.  This isn't due to poor implementation or aged mechanics however; it has more to do with the 1930s setting and the developers trying to emulate how cars actually handled during that time.  Unfortunately, these poor mechanics can create for some infuriating driving sections when you have to chase an enemy or lose the cops, and it also feels like an eternity driving from one end of the city to the other.  One neat idea that was incorporated into the driving was the addition of traffic laws that police will actually enforce.  Police will pull you over and ticket you for not stopping at red lights and for going over the speed limit (set to 40mph for the entire city), however, as you can imagine, this gets old very fast.  While I can appreciate the novelty behind the decisions that were made when designing Mafia's driving, sometimes sacrifices have to be made to realism in an effort to keep a game fun to play, and this was most certainly one of those times.


Better obey the rules of the road!

The original score of the game, while very minimalistic, is quite good, with orchestral pieces working well to punctuate various events throughout the game.  There does exist some licensed music in the game, and while I can't say I particularly enjoyed the 1930s era music, I can appreciate the validity it helps give to the setting.  The voice acting can be hit and miss, with less important characters sounding flat and lazy, but most of the main cast does a great job.  The quality voice acting of the main cast along with the well-written dialog combine to keep the story and cutscenes enthralling from beginning to end.

The graphical presentation of Mafia, while obviously dated by today's standard, still looks surprisingly good for a game released in 2002.  The city of Lost Heaven is vast and detailed, resembling the burrows of New York.  Cars in the game are based on actual cars from that time period, and the car models themselves are distinctive and detailed, accurately reflecting their real life counterparts and any damage they sustain.  Character models of the main cast are especially impressive.  All cutscenes are rendered in-engine, and these give some great close-ups of the characters' facial features, which have an outstanding level of detail for the time this game was released.


Graphically impressive for its time.

Mafia was most certainly a great game for its time, and while I will always hold it in high regard due to the memories I have of it from way back when, unfortunately I can't recommend revisiting this game today.  It is simply a product of its time, and its dated mechanics will undoubtedly hold it back from being an enjoyable experience for most people.  However, this game still has something great to offer with its intriguing story, so if you want to somehow experience this game, I would highly recommend finding a good Let's Play and experiencing the game that way.  For those looking for a more modern and refined take on the Mafia franchise, I highly recommend Mafia II, and there is also something to look forward to with Mafia III releasing soon.  For anyone looking to play Mafia II, I highly encourage you to familiarize yourself with the story of the original Mafia first.  While it isn't necessary to play the first game to appreciate the second for the most part, there is one particular scene in the second game that is a direct homage to the first game, and it will be lost on anyone who isn't able to recognize it.  This is a great and surreal moment, and it would be a shame for it to go unnoticed.

Unfortunately, Mafia is not the easiest game to get your hands on if you do want to play it.  It has been removed from any digital distribution platforms on PC, so the only options left are to track down an original physical copy for PC, which may have difficulty running on modern machines, or find a copy for consoles, which is known to be an inferior port.  All the more reason just to experience the game through YouTube.  The following video does a great job of telling this game's story, splicing and editing together pertinent gameplay segments with story cutscenes:





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Comments
 
Really good review man. I always liked Mafia. I remember when it first came out it was really something special. It was like a "big" deal. And it was fun. I thought it was really cool. I'm with you also in the fact it doesn't really age that well. But for anyone who wants a good narrative and can deal with a little bit of "dated" not "bad" gameplay. Mafia is definitely one you should just pass by. It definitely has something to offer. I bet Mafia III is going to be good. Might be a good time to re-visit Mafia I and II....I really liked your review Man. You should do more. Felt just like I was reading Game-Informer....if not better then most. And you didn't spoil anything. You really should do more. If anything you made me want to play mafia hahah.....later man.
 
hahaha...Up above when I said

"But for anyone who wants a good narrative and can deal with a little bit of "dated" not "bad" gameplay. Mafia is definitely one you should just pass by...."

I meant to say Mafia is definitely one you SHOULDN'T pass by....My bad.

 
Back when I was obsessed with open-world GTA games, Mafia was like a breath of fresh air.  True, the vehicles (all save one) are slow, and the characters feel stiff, but this game is so much better than many of the other GTA "clones."  The story is just so much better, and the ending kind of surprised me, enough to fuel a second play through (back in 2004).  The game can be hard to find on PC, but if anyone can settle for the jewel case "edition" (I did), it won't be that much (though likely more expensive than Mafia II, which is around $11).

Great article, Disposed.

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