There is a big group of people out there, myself included, who have awaited the arrival of a 1930’s mafia game ever since we first saw Marlon Brando and Al Pacino together on the big screen (or at least some sort of screen). So when a game like Illusion’s Mafia, with its Getaway style gameplay, hits selves our eyes all get big. Mafia’s story is told in an intriguing way. The game begins with your character Tommy Angelo meeting Agent Norman in a small diner. Here Tommy informs Norman that he worked for the major mobster Don Salieri but he now wants out. In exchange for the information on Salieri Tommy asks Norman to get protection for him and his family. After that the story is told between the diner and flashbacks starting from when Tommy first got involved in the mob.
The visuals have their ups and downs. Although the graphics are dated each character is very detailed and looks unique. Well-designed characters make it easier to find the person you need. Instead of walking around for half an hour trying to find some guy named Paul you can easily recognize him and save yourself a lot of time. The city of Lost Heaven is a great recreation of a 30’s Chicago or New York. The downs include some goofy animations, most notably the way your character runs. It might not look so dumb if you didn’t only see from his waist up.
You can tell Illusion put a good effort into this game by the sound. One of the most noticeable sound effects are those of the cars. Each car sounds different. Some ride smoothly while others make you turn down the volume. The sound of the train rolling by overhead, a charley riding through the streets, and that old music no one likes anymore makes the city feel alive and gives it authenticity.
Your basic exchange of bullets in Mafia occurs between you and a lot of your enemies. Because you’re in the third-person perspective and most fights are inside, both you and your foes have lots of cover available. So, the process is basically keep rolling around from object to object while firing until all the bad guys (or good guys) go away. It’s fun but a good amount of the potential enjoyment was lost when the PC controls were ported to the PS2. The aiming could use tuning up, especially since the auto-aim feature really doesn’t help much (it will lock onto an enemy but won’t follow his movements). Often you’ll be shooting your gun wildly for a few seconds before the crosshairs finally land on a target. The weapons you sport throughout the game stay in either the pistol, automatic, or shotgun family. There are also melee weapons including bats, knifes, and Tommy’s fists, but those won’t get anyone far. Some of the shootouts consist of trial and error. For instance you may enter a hall with doors all around. Opening the door with the armed guys behind it before finding the automatic weapon in some other room will usually result in you dying. Luckily the shootouts aren’t too long and replaying them isn’t much of a chore.
Driving in Mafia is well done although you speed demons might be disappointed with the velocity of most of the old cars. Regardless of speed each car has strong and weak points and all are controllable. The drive-by handling is kind of funky but that’s really the only thing wrong when it comes to cruising Lost Heaven, and with Lost Heaven being so big, that’s a big plus.
Once the main game is complete there are two other modes to keep you playing. First is Free Ride which is exactly what you except. You drive around in cars you unlocked and explore the city. The other mode, which is a PS2 exclusive, is Racing featuring single races and championships. As I said the cars aren’t that fast and down right slow when compared to those in Midnight Club 2 or Need for Speed: Underground. This definitely devalues the mode but it’s still enjoyable.
Mafia is a mixture of a great mobster-movie feeling and not as great controls. Many things from the city of Lost Heaven to the way the story is told makes you feel like part of the family. The graphics and sound hold their own and the extra game modes really add some length to the game. But the ported PC controls don’t translate well on the PS2 and drag the game down. The controls don’t feel as bad as other made for PC games but there is a lot of room for improvement. Mafia definitely is an enjoyable game but you may want to consider buying the PC version.
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