Full Review: The legitimate Italian Businessman's Social Club?
I love the Godfather films (well, the first two anyway). Classic, epic, and capturing every nuance of life in the mob. Initially debuting on PC, and now ported to Xbox, Mafia the game has quite a bit going for it, capturing the feeling of being a vintage gangster admirably as well, but falling short in its technical aspects?
As the game opens (in an impressive, cinematic title sequence worthy of a big budget film) you're placed into the role of Tommy Angelo, a cabdriver who happens to be in the right place at the right time (or, depending on your moral compass, the wrong place). After Tommy saves the bacon of two mobsters working for Don Salieri, he's offered an apprenticeship in organized crime. The narrative is presented in the same fashion as Scorcese's GoodFellas, with an older Tommy spilling his guts to the local detective ? a cop who's been after Salieri for years.
Mafia is made up of two types of gameplay ? Vehicular, and on foot. Similar in style to the GTA games (but far more linear. There is a free ride mode which allows you to tool around the city doing whatever you like, but truth be told, there's just not much to do), Tommy will take on various missions for the mob, and your base of operations will be Salieri's bar, from which you'll receive most of your dirty work.
The control is rather clunky, both for driving, and the on foot aspects of the game. Hold the right trigger to accelerate, and the left to brake. The B button acts as the handbrake, and you'll use the Y button to exit and enter cars (yes, you can jack them at will). The left thumbstick is used to walk and steer, and the directional pad cycles through available weapons (standard firearms, as well as melee). Finally, the back button displays a city map.
Speaking of the city, it's pretty huge, and fairly detailed. Pedestrians roam the streets, and vintage cars move past as you make your way around. Unfortunately, the feeling of being in a living, breathing world is lost here, and besides the great story, much of the gameplay in Mafia is a complete bore. It's just not much fun to force the clunky old cars around the streets, and even moving on foot feels unpolished and poorly implemented. Targeting is pretty limp as well, and it's really frustrating to get killed because the gamepad simply won't translate your input to the screen. Not to mention that you'll frequently restart missions because you ran over a pedestrian (where's the fun in that??). Add to that a choppy framerate and huge amounts of slowdown in certain situations (my screen froze for ? a second the first time I hit a fire hydrant), as well as the frequent and long load times, and you've got a recipe for mediocrity at its finest.
The graphics run the gamut from beautiful, to downright ugly as sin. While the character models, cars and weapons are nicely done, many of the areas around Lost Heaven (the fictional city in which the story is set) feature blurry textures, loads of pop in, and other graphical no-nos. The sound however, is anything but poor. The score is magnificent, and the voice acting is mostly well done. Ambient noise and other sound effects are spot on, and gunfights will boom all around you in sweet surround. As previously stated, Mafia's strength lies in its narrative, and you'll want to keep playing (despite the control issues) just to see what happens next. Truly capturing the feel of great gangster movies is effortless for Mafia. It's unfortunate that the story's perfection didn't carry over to the gameplay.