If history has taught us one thing about the mafia – provided the teachers are
Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola – it’s that the decline of a mob family
is as dramatic as its rise. The players all act invincible, but for every sweet
heist there’s a bittersweet bust, and all fantastic stories of mafia survival
end at the bottom of a lake.
Sadly, the same goes for the PS2 version of Mafia, the one-time king of the PC crime syndicate. In the past, Mafia ruled the gaming streets with its gorgeous graphics, picture perfect atmosphere and amazing environments. Now, it’s merely another casualty of the dreaded port, a thug whacked by the ugly stick of limited console power.
To be fair, we’re talking about what was considered by many (including GR) to be one of the best
PC games of 2002, and a good deal of what made the game so great has survived the move. In fact, the story, missions and modes are identical, so once again (or perhaps for the first time) you play as ex-cabbie-turned-mafia-hitman Tommy Angelo, an honest man trying to make his way through the most dishonest profession this side of the law.
The linear plot takes you through 20 car and on-foot missions set against the backdrop of a fully functional 1930’s big city. And like the PC version, the story is a very good one, filed with all kinds of interesting twists and turns which lead to a nice mix of gameplay features. You’ll drive to a location, hop out of your ride, kill some bad guys, hop back into the car and suddenly get involved in a wild chase through town.
However, new persnickety problems start to arise from the get go. The cars in Mafia are
authentic – as in, 1930’s authentic – so don’t expect to zoom around the city
at high speeds. Driving such slow, lumbering beasts is made extra difficult thanks
to sluggish control, a step back from the PC version. This applies to the on-foot
action bits as well, which is forced to do away with the pinpoint accuracy of
the PC mouse and keyboard setup in favor of cheap auto-aiming and loose, lumbering
movements. This is a common issue with PC to console ports, but Mafia‘s
control programming just doesn’t get the job done.
unfortunately, the same can be said of perhaps the coolest bit in the PC version
the amazingly lifelike city of Lost Heaven. It’s still here, but trying to get
Illusion Softworks’ brilliant IS3D engine working on the PS2 is like cramming
an oyster in a coin slot. The draw distance isn’t far at all, evidenced by entire
blocks just popping in out of nowhere. Most in-game textures are flat and grainy.
The incredible sense of realism found in intricacies like blown tires, detailed
car deformation and awesome collision physics is all but gone, leaving just a
ghost of its former self.
Even so, the loading times are incredibly heinous, especially since you often have to drive from one side of town to another, which prompts a long load, then back again, which prompts another one. Now tack on full loads every time you complete a mission or go from FMV to gameplay and you wind up spending much of your time just staring at a load screen.
You can’t really blame anyone for this – Mafia is a giant, and
the PS2 simply doesn’t have enough power under the hood to do the game justice.
Except, however, in the FMV, which is pretty darn good. These are some of the
best faces you’ll see on the PS2, even if they all look like something out of Goodfellas.
From a technical standpoint, the game has problems, but if you can look past
these things, there’s a pretty cool game underneath. It really sticks to the
time period well, featuring old pistols, Tommy guns and Molotov cocktails.
No auto-sniper here, folks. Though Lost Heaven doesn’t look very good, it still
functions just like the PC version, meaning working traffic lights and very
real traffic laws. Speed and the cops will pull you over. Run a red light and
expect the same. Get on their bad side and it’s off to the races. When it gets
rolling, Mafia can
be good fun in a sort of GTA Lite way.
But the similarities end there, because Mafia doesn’t really let you do whatever you want. It might seem like you can roam around the big city getting into trouble, but there’s no point in that at all. You have to follow the missions pretty tightly and often there is only one solution to a problem. This hurts the replay value, as you won’t turn the game on and go haywire for a few hours of fun.
The Free Ride option returns in an effort to add more value and lets you drive unlocked cars around town, but it just isn’t much fun here due to the awkward control. Once you beat the story, you’re pretty much done.
If there’s one area in which this port still keeps up with its forbear, it’s the sound. A great soundtrack and solid voice acting help move the game along and set the tone perfectly. If sounds could kill, this game would be Don.
Instead, though, Mafia for the PS2 is a victim of its own ambition. The good core elements are still here, but are lost underneath a gray cloud of control and graphical issues. Mob aficionados dying for a taste of the good life could rent it, but a much better idea is to go buy the great PC version and leave this one to the fishes.