Mafia (the game) - Review
Mafia is an open world third-person shooter adventure game developed by Illusion Softworks and published by Gathering of Developers in 2002.
The game had been started by the czech development team in 1998 and was supposed to be launched in 2000. It would have used the same game engine as another game Illusion Softworks had made, namely Hidden and Dangerous. However this did not meet the requirements set by the team, leading them to port it to the LS3D engine, which would take two more years than initially planned, but a weather system, and day-night cycle and a very large world, at least for the time, with an area twelve square kilometres spanning the main city and surrounding countryside would be included.
It was originally codenamed Gangster and was to be a driving game, similar to another very fun and successful game of the time, Driver. However, much of the plans for this initial version of the game, such as a racing mode and even multiplayer, did not end up in the final product. However the physics and police behaviour did, a topic I will touch on later in this post. Along that, a very frustrating mission in which you replace a driver and have to race others in a F1-style cars was present in the game, this mission would later address the fans' complaints by adding an option to skip the race altogether. Much of the change was due to the fact that the game was intended to be more mature and realistic and would feature highly choreographed cutscenes to advance the story.
Setting and plot
Mafia is set in a fictional american city by the name of Lost Heaven during the prohibition era of the 1930s. It features architectural styles and landmarks similar to those present in cities of Chicago, Los Angeles and Sand Francisco at the time. The game starts out with the protagonist as a taxi driver in 1930, forced to help two mobsters working for Don Salieri escape an ambush set out by a rival Morello family. After their escape, he is attacked by members of the Morello family, so he lures them to the headquarters of the gangster he helped, the Salieri Bar where they are promptly disposed of. He is handsomely compensated for his troubles and is thus lured to this lifestyle of luxury, thus he is recruited to work alongside Sam and Paulie, made men of the family.
Spoilers ahead! During the 15 or so years the game's events take place, Tommy will take part is all sort of adventures. For example early on, the bartender of the restaurant, Luigi, asks for help as some punk were harassing his daughter, Sarah. Tommy helps out and even starts a relationship with her that would later end in marriage and a daughter. But while scaring them, he and Paulie end up killing one of the troublemakers, who turns up he's the son of a powerful councilor of the city. In this early chapter, Tommy is introduced to Salieri's consigliere, Frank who sends Tommy to plant a bomb in one of Morello's brothels, set up in a hotel, and kill an informant that is working there. It is here that he finds out that it is Sarah's friend, Michelle, who he is tasked to kill. Tommy decides to disobey the order and allow her to live with the condition that she leave the city an is never heard from again.
In 1933, all three, Tommy, Sam and Paulie, are taked to oversee a shipment of whiskey arrive from Canada, but are attacked by police officers, who had been bribed by the Morellos, and barely survive. But before Salieri decides to retaliate, he tasks Tommy to kill his consigliere as there was evidence he had been laundering money from him. After some investigating he finds out he's being helped by the police to escape, so after a long chase they end up at the airport where the protagonist learns that Frank didn't betray him for money, but to protect his family. Upon gaining this information, Tommy decides to fake Frank's death and allow him to escape to Europe. He then proceeds to hide this information from the Don and carries on as normal. So the time to win against the Morello family had come, Tommy being tasked to kill a dirty city official in their pocket, and an underboss and his brother, Sergio. This last target evades death multiple times, eventually ending with a massive shootout at the city harbour where he is dispatched. With the enemy weakened, a hit on the leader himself, Morello, is issued where the three chase him in his armoured limo off a bridge under construction at the outskirts of the city after a long chase.
After 5 years of relative calm, in 1938, plans a bank robbery without Salieri's permission and asks both Sam and Tommy for help, but they refuse so as to not upset the boss. But a mission where Tommy is tasked to steal some tobacco crates, he becomes suspicious as this task was very dangerous for barely any payout. But he soon discovers that, hidden in the crates, were diamonds that they weren't privy to. This betrayal prompted him to join Paulie on the heist, which they carry out successfully. The next day, when Tommy is to meet with his accomplice to split the hidden cash, he instead finds him dead. In panic, he decides to call Sam for help and meet him at a local art gallery. However, it is not help he gets, but a shootout ensues as he finds out the Sam had informed Salieri of their plans. During the standout he also informs Tommy that he learnt of his soft heart and that both Michelle and Frank had been found and subsequently killed. The protagonist does win out, but is put in a very precarious position after enraging the Don, so he contacts an FBI detective by name of Norman for help.
Although former enemies, Tommy begins explaining all these events in detail. The story is told from the perspective of this conversations, with flashback to the actual events where the player takes control to carry them out. By the end of the game, the confessions and evidence he provides end up piling up and assure a massive raid on Salieri's establishments which end with him being jailed for life, with several of his men even sentenced to death. Tommy is also placed in witness protection and a home for him and his family is arranged in Empire Bay, a city which would be the setting for Mafia II. But in 1951, an elderly Tommy washing the lawn is gunned down by the protagonist of the sequel as a favour. The game ends with the player's character lamenting his life choices he made in an attempt to better his condition that ended up costing him everything.
As mentioned before, the action takes place in a twelve square kilometre area that includes the city, the surrounding countryside, but also some detailed interiors that include the Salieri bar, a museum, a church, some sewers, the airport, a few other small buildings and an abandoned prison. Traversing this expansive area sees the player going about on foot or using 51 era-appropriate vehicles inspired by the american auto industry of the time. Combat features the use of fists and several weapons ranging from baseball bats, to revolvers and semi automatic pistols such as the legendary Colt 1911, to submachine guns, again with the appearance of the iconic Tommy Gun that popularised gangsters in all forms of media, to sniper rifles and molotov cocktails. Using these weapons would cause havoc, due to the realistic physics engine used. Shooting tires would pop them, while targeting the fuel reservoir would cause the vehicle to leak and explode. Cars suffered deformation in real time, with lights and glass shattering and take damage according to the location hit. If the player was operating a vehicle, having an accident would cause not only that vehicle to take damage, with details such as engine stalling and transmission failure, but he would take a hit as well, going so far as to cause death if he'd roll over in a convertible, effectively getting decapitated.
Upon finishing the story mode, a new mode called Freeride, and a more extreme version featuring stunts jumps, side missions and no police patrols appropriately named Freeride Extreme. This latter mode's missions would range from the trivial, such as killing some gangsters, to the ridiculous, such as chasing a spaceship around town or action packed, such as driving a trucked rigged to explode if the speed would drop below a certain threshold. Both these modes also added 19 more vehicles, 5 of which were racing cars, to the roster encountered during the campaign.
Another really neat fact that factored into the game's realism and set it apart from its competitors, such as Grand Theft Auto III, was that the police wouldn't just attack the player at every turn. Instead, they would fine him for minor offences like speeding or running a red light with 1000$ during Freeride and at no cost during the story. But if the player did four of these minor offences in view in a row, or for more dangerous acts such as accidents or visibly carrying a weapon, they'd get arrested, with physical assault elevating the police response to 'shoot to kill'. This increase in police action would also coincide with better armaments being employed, as well as the use of spike strips being used. There where some limitations to this, such as the fact that going on the sidewalk had no effect, or that other NPCs doing the same action would not attract police attention. On the other hand, the player could exploit the AI, NPCs that were fighting the player would also target the police if it was closer without the officers reacting, ensuring a distraction to cover an escape.
Reception and Impressions
The game released in 2002 with massive praise both from critics and fans alike, both claiming the story was paced well and appreciating the more cerebral action and realism, as opposed to its competition in the genre. The original PC release, with its living city received an overall Metacritic score of 88/100, with later PlayStation 2 and XBox versions dipping in quality, garnering scores of 65/100 and 66/100 respectively. It was also voted as the best game made in the Czech Republic, having sold around two million copies by 2008, according to Take-Two Interactive, the company that bought the intellectual property and would go on to launch two more games in this universe.
My impressions are very high of the game, as I am a fan of mobster media, and the Godfather vibe of the game was very gripping. The great pacing, helped by masterful voice acting, allowed the setting to be uncovered slowly, and along with the realistic driving (even including a clutch that even some racing games omit), makes for great immersion. The cutscenes, inspired from movies like the aforementioned Godfather and Goodfellas gave the game a more mature tone, but didn't get bogged down by it, by including some humour here and there, with alot of action scenes to keep the player interested and grounded. The soundtrack was also amazing and fit the tone and era perfectly. Here's a sample:If you like an open world third person shooter set in a world of gangsters with a very realistic atmosphere, physics and weapon damage, then I highly recommend you try out this game. Sure the graphics are dated, but it is 15 years old, after all. Give it a shot, I think you won't be disappointed!