Hello. I haven't chimed in for a long time. How it is y'all? I'm doing well I think.
Am I glad I bought Mafia? Fah-getta-boudit!
I usually purchase a game, after I've played its demo (when available). After playing the demos for games like Commandos, Drakan, Omikron, Nocturne, Septerra Core, Rune, Blade of Darkness, Anachronox, Max Payne, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Medal of Honor, Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast, and Dungeon Siege, I couldn't get to the store fast enough for each one. Thank goodness for demos. Because without them, I never would have discovered the many fascinating gaming experiences available outside of my primary genre of choice, the adventure game genre. You see, I don't need a demo for an adventure game. I just go and buy them all. But before I lay my money down on something I'm unfamiliar with, I need to check out the demo.
When Mafia was released, I was hesitant to purchase it. Where's the demo? What? No demo. How am I supposed to know if I like the “feel” of the controls? I passed on it. For a week. It went on sale for $31.99, and I pounced. I rarely purchase non-adventure games without first playing the demo. But I just had a gut feeling about this one. The subject matter is very interesting to me, and I'm always attracted to trying something new. I mean, I've never played a game that requires a lot of driving. I decided to satisfy my curiosity. And I ended up satisfying a whole lot more than mere curiosity.
This game is serious. There's very little humor in it. Just the way I like my games. Oh, I'll be among the first in line for Tony Tough, but the dark, serious games grab me tighter than any other type of game. This game is also seriously, and allow me to repeat, SERIOUSLY difficult. That's OK in my book, since it's seriously fun. I didn't mind trying the same sequences over and over, until I finally succeeded. I'll even admit that the high difficulty factor resulted in great satisfaction on my part. Wait a minute. Why do you have to play the same sequences over and over? Well, the save-game system forces you to repeatedly play many sequences, since you are not permitted to save your progress when you choose. Instead, the game auto-saves for you, once you successfully complete a predefined sequence of actions within each mission. There are 20 missions, and 8 side missions. Within each mission and side mission, the game will auto-save several times. I completed all 28 missions, and ended up with 116 (I think) auto-save games. Although that's a lot, I understand if this puts off people. At least the game does give you an on-screen message “The game has been saved”, so you know you can run to a sink to wipe the sweat off of your brow. Actually, that's being a bit harsh. If you need to take a break, you can just hit the ESC key to pause the game.
I've noticed that some people complain that this is a short game. Short? Ex-squeeze me. I don't think so. The game keeps track of how long you've played, and my hours add up to over 36. That's 36 hours, excluding all of the hours that didn't “count”, due to unsuccessful gameplay that resulted in the sometimes dreaded “Mission Failed” screen. Plus, the game rewards you with an additional 19 missions for completing the original game! It's called “Free Ride Extreme.” In this mode, you learn that there are 19 men spread out around the city of Lost Heaven that when approached will present you with the objectives for a unique mission. Once the objectives for a mission are completed, you are rewarded with an especially cool car to add to your stable of cool cars. The “Free Ride Extreme” mode, as far as I can tell (I haven't played it much yet), is not story-driven, so its appeal to me is somewhat limited. At any rate, it's a heck of a nice extra. I'm sure I'll dabble with this mode from time to time over the months to come.
Anyway, here's what I think this game is: It's a third person driving/racing/shooter/adventure game. My guess is that it's 47% driving game, 3% racing game, 45% shooter game, and 5% adventure game.
It's a driving game. You start out as a humble cab driver who is just glad to have a job during the tough economic times of the early 1930's. You begin the game by simply driving several people to their requested destinations, within a reasonable amount of time, and without banging into other things like cars, buildings, people, and lamp posts. This first mission seems designed to familiarize the player with the vehicle controls and the layout of the city. Navigation is a snap, even without extensive exploration of the city, because of the game's automap feature. The automap is translucent and fills nearly the entire screen when activated. It even shows where you are, the direction you're headed, and a blue “X” marks the spot of your required destination. I do feel that this game is tough, but it's definitely not user-unfriendly. You have to obey the traffic laws most of the time (sometimes, following the law is not an option in this game), but the game even helps you out with this situation. If you don't want to be bothered with speeding tickets, just hit the F5 key, and the game will not allow your speed to exceed the city's speed limit. Of course, there's no magic key that you can hit which will prevent you from running red lights or banging into other things, so you do have to pay attention! After you've collected several fares as a cab driver, your character automatically decides to take a break. During this break, your character gets caught up with the Mafia. You see, you end up being forced at gun point to be their getaway driver. Things take off from there, and the story gets interesting. Within the upcoming missions, driving about the city of Lost Heaven is still a big part of the game, because you are required to navigate to the various destinations within each mission on your own. I enjoyed this part of the game. Maybe it's because this type of thing is new to me. But I think that the developers should be given credit for designing an incredibly realistic driving simulator. Oh, and you can even learn how to steal many of the different kinds of cars in the city. I ended up with quite a stable of cars, and each one has its own unique driving characteristics.
It's a racing game. You don't have to drive race cars very often, but you better learn to be pretty good at it. If you can't learn how to handle a race car, you won't get through the 6th mission, which requires you to win a rather long race. Many important people have placed large bets on the Mafia's race car. The original driver of the race car gets injured before the race and is unable to show. Considering your cab driver background, you are selected as the replacement driver. Finishing second or worse is not an option, and the game will not progress, until you win the race. It took me around 3 hours one Sunday afternoon to win the race. However, I never got frustrated, because the race is very fun. It takes place on a Formula 1-type race course, and you must complete 5 laps. I remember one attempt where I was in the final set of turns on the final lap and in first place...then spun out and finished 6th or 7th. I'll admit that I sat there stunned for a few moments, before I got over the disappointment! The good things were that I was convinced that I had the racing skills to win, and besides, racing around that course was a blast…even after 3 hours. Heck, I knew that all of those losses (some very close) were just going to make my eventual victory that much sweeter. Not to brag (bologna, I'll go ahead and brag), I can practically win every time I play that race game now. Just for fun, I've gone back many times to that pre-race autosave just to kick some butt. Fun, fun stuff. There are other racing car sequences in the game, but the 5-lap race is the only real race car challenge in the primary game.
It's a 3rd person shooter game. An awesome TPS game. I'll always remember the first time I pulled the trigger on the Tommy gun. After about 5 rounds blasted through the gun barrel, I was staring straight up into the sky! This game really makes you struggle with the recoil of the various weapons. I love that. Games like Medal of Honor and Return to Castle Wolfenstein also have this feature. I've grown to adore this feature. Just play Mafia, MOH, or Wolfenstein, then play a game like Nakatomi Plaza that has weapons firing without any recoil, and you'll probably grow to appreciate what I'm trying to describe. The TPS sequences are so varied that they are always exciting. You have gun battles in an airport, on a farm, in a church (like I said, this game is serious), in a jail, on the city streets, on rooftops, in a rich person's mansion, in an art museum, and many other places. My favorite TPS sequence is a bank robbery. I won't give away any of the details. I'll just say that I played through the bank robbery at least 6 times. The TPS sequences are very challenging because not only do you have to deal with the recoil of your weapons, but you also have to deal with a very limited supply of ammo and health kits. Usually, you'll get a grand total of one or two health kits per TPS sequence! It gets tougher. These kits usually only restore around 50 (out of 100) health points. Considering the fact that several sequences take over an hour and have you facing 20 or more enemies, you must stay on your toes 100% of the time. No matter how good you are, you'll probably have to replay a fair amount of these shooter sequences. They're tough, but they're so much fun, that I didn't mind the repetition at all.
It's even an adventure game. There are many parts of the game that do not require skillz, yo, ah-ight. This game would not appeal at all to a traditional adventure gamer, but the adventure game parts definitely appeal to someone like me who enjoys multiple genres. Here are some of the adventure game sequences in this game (well, they're adventure game sequences to me): Sometimes your car will be low on gas. Find a gas station and fill "er up (you didn't spend all of your money elsewhere I hope). Take a stroll with your girlfriend and enjoy her conversation and company (you can only do this once). Plan your bank robbery with your friend Paulie (this is an especially cool sequence with interesting conversations). My favorite adventure game sequence requires you to infiltrate a dock/warehouse, then you must outfox a dock supervisor, in order to steal a particular shipment of goods. This is a rather involved “puzzle” and requires no action skills. There are many sequences where you are just roaming around your home base (Salieri's Bar) just talking to folks and preparing for the upcoming mission. Preparations include your choice of car and acquisition of weapons. And there are probably other adventure gamish things to do, but you hopefully get the idea.
I should also mention that this game is very linear. I don't mind linear games though. If anything, I'm attracted to linear games. Linear games tend to tell a focused story, and I really get into games with a focused story. Although the game allows you to freely roam around the entire 12 square miles of Lost Heaven, you won't actually find much to do, until you reach your required destination. If you park your car, then hoof it around the city, you'll find that the citizens don't have anything pertinent to say, and you're not allowed to go inside the hundreds of buildings (unless it's a building that must be entered to continue the story). But it still can be enjoyable to simply roam around the city and soak up the atmosphere. The sights and sound effects are truly excellent.
Mafia is a top-notch production. The story is long, immersive, filled with plot twists, and believable. The voice/actor talent is nearly as exceptional as the talent involved with games like The Beast Within and The Last Express. Playing Mafia was like playing a part in a Godfather movie. The ending is among my favorites. I can't say anything, without giving it away, so I won't. All I'll say is that it should at least cause you to sit back and think for a moment. I sure did.
Mafia scores a 90% on the Sap-o-meter.
Now, if only I could get my ancient (September 1999) computer to run Hitman 2 and Prisoner of War. I'm really enjoying this multi-genre stuff.
Doug “Mafioso” Millsap
Currently playing: Deus Ex; Bioscopia
Most recently completed: Creature Crunch; Guilty