A Made Man.
Let me take you on a temporal jaunt to a virtually lawless era filled with wiseguys and tough broads, where the streets are hard and organized crime is running at a fever pitch. Grab your pork pie hat, get out of town and come with me to Lost Heaven.
Mafia is Illusion Softworks' action epic set in the roaring '30s, based in and around 12 square miles of a working metropolis. She's powered by one of the most impressive engines I have seen on a PC to date, leading to the kind of doll you'd murder for. In fact, some control issues and relative lack of replayability are the only major problems for this hoodlum.
Actually, that's a bit premature. You're no hoodlum just yet. The game opens with unsuspecting, law-abiding cabbie Tommy Angelo (that's you) being convinced (at gun point) to drive two wounded hoods on the run. Where? You don't know. All they say is "Lose the tail!" - which is tougher than it sounds. Imagine twelve miles of open city with two armed hot-heads in the back and four more hot-on-your-heels. Your cab goes a blinding 60 mph. Not exactly Need for Speed.
The next day, all it takes is a not-so-friendly visit from the goons who were tailing you the night before and you're ready go to work for some "family" protection. Welcome to life in the city of Lost Heaven.
The story is strong, interesting and well-paced with impressive voice talent. While the game's 20 missions are vigorously linear, there is little limit to how you can complete them thanks to the working cityscape. The missions are varied and integrate perfectly with the plot, from walking home the daughter of a friend and protecting her from switch-blade wielding riff-raff to sabotaging a race car and then being forced to race against said car and many others on the open circuit. There's also plenty of shooting and car-jacking ala Grand Theft Auto 3. Boredom is not an issue here, folks.
The gameplay is equal parts driving and gun slinging action. You will receive a mission, pick a car from your ever-growing garage, drive to the mission and shoot, destroy, extract and/or escort individuals or items to various locations around the sprawling Lost Heaven.
Through the course of the game, Ralphie the resident stuttering grease-monkey genius will even teach you how to pick the locks of Lost Heaven's various vehicles, which is necessary in order for you to procure new rides. But if you haven't learned how to jimmy a lock, you might as well hop a trolley. That was not a joke.
Like GTA3, all hell can break loose while on your merry way to club some wise guy over the head with a baseball bat. Since it's the 1930's, don't expect BFGs or even a simple MP5. Instead, expect the classic Louisville Slugger, brass knuckles, knives, various handguns, a couple shotties and the infamous Thompson (the Tommy Gun). These babies are modeled great, sound wonderful and fire even better with different kicks and reloads times.
Even still, you should keep an eye out for the fuzz. Speeding, minor fender benders, running red lights and other petty offences can earn you negligible fines and a slap on the wrist. Consequently, carrying or firing guns in front of cops, running down pedestrians and resisting the police will have the boys in blue looking to make an arrest. And they can easily put you six-feet under in the process.
Your enemies are on their toes as well. They will duck behind whatever cover is available, roll to dodge shots, even rush in and jack cars for themselves to give chase when necessary. Other neutral NPC's will flee at the sight of a gun, not to mention a firefight. The line of sight AI is really cool..
This is all thanks to Illusion Softworks' new IS3D engine. Mafia takes the idea of the bustling city to a new, incredibly ambitious level with an awe-inspiring sense of detail and forethought. Without a doubt, the game is gorgeous. Sixty vintage cars with about a bazillion polygons each, unparalleled texture detail, densely furnished indoor areas... I could go on and on.
The way the engine is implemented is the real accomplishment and goes beyond simple aesthetics. Car tires can be shot or blown, causing all kinds of driving issues. The damage modeling is first rate, as windows can be shattered, fenders can be ripped from vehicles and the cars deform accurately. The cars even need GAS - working gas stations are scattered around the city to provide needed petrol for the hijacked care that has been thoughtlessly left near empty. There are fully functional subway and cable car systems. The city is alive with busy traffic, pedestrians and beat cops. Mafia is a living, breathing entity, truly.
Just make sure you check the system requirements; this is a high maintenance mistress. Running Mafia on lower end systems will be a tough one, but if you have a smokin' machine, you're in for a treat.
With so much to do it's really no wonder why the control would be off-putting to some gamers. The driving elements, including physics and handling, are truly commendable achievements, but require some serious control not found on a keyboard (driving games + keyboard control = HULK SMASH!). If you have a good control pad, then you're fine. But even a sweet racing wheel would require you to switch from wheel to keyboard and back often, which is a pain.
However, the control for each gameplay type (in car, on foot) is pretty damn solid. Running and gunning plays identical to CS or your FPS du jour and the driving bits rival Motor City Online.
Aside from a lack of replayability due to linear mission structure (even still, you get a couple "take a drive" options for filler) and the demanding control, Mafia is a top-notch game offering a lot more than just shoot 'em up craziness. The graphics are incredible, the story is well told and the gameplay is fun and exciting. Lost Heaven's density and vibrancy will suck you in for hours at a time. Definitely worth your pennies.