The First Don.
Moviegoers have been treated to a wealth of flicks detailing the long, storied history of the Mafia in America. Films like Goodfellas, Casino and of course the unequalled Godfather trilogy chronicle outlandish acts of brutality, endearing acts of respect, and occasionally horrible acting performances. (Sophia Coppala, anyone?)
But the Mob has been largely untouched (or rather, Untouchable) by game developers. GTA 3 had mob underpinnings and a few PC strategy games have put you in the spit-shined shoes of a money-counting boss, but there haven't been many large-scale efforts to translate the feeling of working for the family.
Well, the folks at Illusions and Gathering of Developers will try to break the kneecaps of the mob sub-genre in their upcoming PC action/adventure, Mafia. And after the very impressive demo I recently had a chance to check out, it's pretty obvious that this could in fact be the last family standing.
Set in 1930's America, Mafia oozes with classic mob style. You play an unlucky cabbie pulled into the mafia after being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And like any good mafia movie, the story is filled with shady characters, ruthless violence and more double crosses than an entire season of Survivor.
In fact, it's the emphasis on story that really sets Mafia apart. In development for over 3 years, the game spans a monstrous 20 missions in the fictitious City of Lost Heaven, which covers 12 square miles of city streets, rustic countryside and everything in between. Over 3 hours of in-game cinematics move the plot along nicely. Though the plot is fairly linear, each 'level' is filled with sub quests, leading to a lengthy singe-player experience.
But Mafia is hardly an adventure game. Taking a cue from GTA 3 (though again, the game's development cycle started long before GTA 3 hit stores), Mafia features copious amounts of both driving and on-foot third-person action. You're a mob man, after all, and it wouldn't be much fun if you didn't get to misbehave.
Since it's set in the 1930's, you won't find grenade launchers or laser sights. Shotguns, pistols and Tommy Guns rule the day, and they're not as user-friendly as contemporary, fancy automatics. Trying to take out a crowd of baddies with a shotgun is made even harder by the kickback.
It's also hard since the AI won't just stand there waiting to be shot. Enemies will jump and roll behind cars, leaning out to deliver some lead to your head. Likewise, pulling out a gun in the middle of a crowded restaurant will put the patrons on alert - some might even raise their arms and start running. Thanks to an impressive line of sight system, however, they actually have to see you to react. You can pull out a gun while standing behind a guard; others will flee, but since he can't see you, he isn't going anywhere…except 6 feet under after you whack him.
Driving sequences are equally realistic. The game employs very accurate physics and full damage modeling; smash into enough stuff and you might get a flat or lose a fender, which will affect the car's handling. And like the weapons, these aren't fancy racecars. You'll drive all sorts of old clunkers, roadsters and slightly tweaked classics, a whopping 60 in all.
Acquiring the cars themselves is a bit more complex than in other games, as you'll need to learn how to pick locks for the different models. As your skill increases, the time it takes to break in decreases, which means you have a better chance of securing a new ride without getting caught by the cops. Thank god The Club wasn't invented yet..
Nor was the fantastic 'LS3D' engine that powers Mafia and takes the game into Max Payne territory. Gorgeous visuals and great attention to detail really set the 1930's mood. Much of the environment is destructible, which leads to some incredibly cool shootout sequences. Watch as bullets slam into the side of your car, leaving holes and shattering windows while scattering empty shells on the ground. Giggle as a pool of blood from a downed enemy tracks along the carpet, leaving incriminating footprints. Gasp at the reflections and bump mapping and terrific lighting.
Then, wonder aloud why you haven't heard of Mafia before. It's been a well-kept secret in the game industry, but that will likely change when the game hits stores shelves at the end of the month. In the meantime, oil your brass knuckles and keep your eyes peeled. I'm tired of being a stool pigeon.