Perhaps the first big PC game of 2002 and one destined to have Godfather fans dusting off their violin cases and collecting their pinstripes from the cleaners, Mafia comes courtesy of Hidden & Dangerous creator Illusion Softworks. We managed to play through three near-complete missions when code I was dropped by the ZONE office recently, and to call the game a 1930s reworking of Grand Theft Auto wouldn’t be too far off the mark.
"That’s fair enough," says the game’s lead designer Daniel Vavra. "There are many parallels between GTA3 and us, but we haven’t been influenced by GTA and Mafia has been even longer in development than GTA3. There are similar features, but when you play the game, you realise that these are only on the surface. Yes the game is set in a huge city and involves plenty of driving, but whereas GTA is pure arcade, Mafia is a more realistic simulation. It has a deetf storyline about gangsters, on which all the missions are based. You can’t even i compare the indoor missions because GTA3 doesn’t have them, but in Mafia these make up at least 50 per cent of the game - a very important and entertaining 50 per cent of the game." Vavra likes to describe Mafia as ft "fully playable classic gangster Inovie," offering a lot more scope than Fsimply driving fragile cars, throwing Molotov cocktails, shooting Tommy guns or clubbing innocent bystanders to death. As was the case in Hidden & Dangerous, each of the 20 missions could feasibly have been, or be made into, a classic gangster movie. From the very beginning the game throws you into the murky world of organised crime. You play a cab driver, who finds a couple of hoods jumping in the back of his cab demanding he drive off pronto, and in a matter of minutes, you’ve gone from cabbie to crook. If you’d had the option to turn your passengers over to the authorities it might have been a different story -you’ll never know.
Driving around the massive city of Lost Heaven, players will find the cops are a far tougher bunch than those in GTA. Just jumping a red light will get you in hot water, and although even the fastest of the 60 different vehicles will be relatively slow compared to today’s hatchbacks, the pace of the game will be suitably frantic, day or night. "On foot the game takes place in many different interiors or non-urban locations," says Daniel. "In one mission you have to blow up a whorehouse, in others smuggle alcohol over the border, assassinate politicians or even go on a date with your future wife."
Compared with GTA's 'take this there’ missions, Mafia's are surprisingly varied, not only in setting, but also in scope - as well as shooting, plenty of stealth will be required. NPC characters will also be on hand to help you out, even in blazing firefights.
In terms of multiplayer, only racing modes will be present in the shipped game, with full multiplayer options added later, either as a free download or part of a mission disc. Until then, with its living, breathing city to explore, Mafia promises to be a highly atmospheric experience, sometimes darkly comic and thoroughly diverse. Just don’t confuse Lost Heaven with its fictional neighbour Liberty City and you won’t upset anyone.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Human beings are funny creatures. We want complete freedom to do what we want, with full anarchical autonomy and without the constraints of authority, but at the same time we want to feel we belong in a group, so that our lives may have a proper structure and meaning. The life of a gangster - or at least, the fictional glamorisation of that life - provides the perfect balance.
You are completely outside the law, superior to all other men by virtue of your affiliation and your gun, making money by the bucketload and able to perform daily acts of such viciousness and cruelty you’d be labelled a monster if you were a normal person. You get the best table at the most expensive restaurants or you shoot the head waiter in the kneecaps. You treat your mother like she’s the Virgin Mary and then sleep with a string of women before beating them up and discarding them. You take what you want, when you want it, and kill whoever stands in the way. At the same time, the Mafioso’s life is highly structured, with a rigid hierarchy, rules you must follow and a bastardised samuraistyle code of honour binding the whole thing together.
And it is precisely this balance between freedom and structure that determines whether a modern game is any good or not.
Keep It In The Family
Grand Theft Auto III provided a lot of the freedom, but not a lot of structure and meaning. It’s a chaotic cartoon of violence and wild fun, leaving you with no real responsibilities and no real consequences for your actions. It has missions, but they’re just a way of linking the great times you have stealing cars and running people over before getting out and kicking them in the groin till your foot hurts. Your character is a vacuous bonehead with no motivation except money, no loyalties and even less brains. I’m not saying it isn’t one of the greatest games ever made (because it most certainly is), just that wannabe Tony Sopranos and Henry Hills won’t find the full satisfaction of belonging to a criminal family, and growing as a person and a delinquent within it.
In Mafia, you have a proper story, a character who feels, thinks and changes and a world that reacts to every one of your actions, leaving a trail of consequences a mile wide. You can’t murder a street full of people and get rid of the police chasing you by running over a couple of star symbols floating in the air, and it’s not about laughing out loud while performing the most outrageous transgressions you can think of. That doesn’t necessarily make it a better game, but it does make it more like a proper recreation of criminal life.
A League Of Its Own
Not that this is some kind of game-on-rails. Like I said before, it’s all about finding a balance. We asked product development manager Luke Vernon just how different Mafia is from Grand Theft Auto III, since many people assume that this is just a 1930s version of it. "Both have large, living cities," he says. "But there the similarity more or less stops. In Mafia, you get far more involved in the story and your progression through the Mafia family and through life. There are a wider variety of missions and settings in Mafia too, because we have more than 30 buildings with massively detailed interiors. Jobs take full advantage of the variety of locations and the variety of nuances each can provide. At the same time the player is permitted to deviate (on foot, by car. by tram or by train) from the mission route but the missions are so compelling that they will soon be back for more."
Rock On Tommy
Despite all the available freedom, the story is at the heart of the game, and Illusion Softworks is determined to create a truly cinematic experience, with the kind of acting and dialogue rarely seen in games. Hopefully this won’t mean a ludicrous, over-the-top script in the Max Payne vein, although Mafia does steal its narrative devices from films. The story itself is told - and played - through an old-movie style flashback, as veteran mobster Tommy recounts his life to a detective in the hope of receiving police protection. He starts off as a young taxi driver, whose car is taken by a group of gangsters making a runaway and proves his great driving skills by delivering them to safety. He’s then offered a job with the Salieri family and spends the next ten years working his way up the criminal ladder.
Luke described a typical mission for us. "It would start at the Salieri Bar with a discussion about a certain business topic, a few punks starting trouble in our territory, for example. You would then discuss with the Don what to do with them (ie take 'em out or teach ’em a lesson). The first would involve guns while the second would involve knuckledusters and baseball bats. You would then go with Paulie or Sam to collect the right tools for the job before getting in your car and reaching your destination." At the same time though, you'll be able to go off exploring and do your own thing. "There are certain missions where you'll be constrained by time," he says, "but otherwise you can just roam about. It is also possible to approach each mission many different ways."
Keeping It Real
It's the detail that makes your eyes goggle and your mouth salivate. Every possible attention has been paid to recreate the period properly, from the Tommy guns to the cars (more than 60 of them) and absolutely anything else you can imagine. "The entire development team has spent an age watching just about all the mafia films available." says Luke, "with some of the biggest influences coming from The Godfather (check out the boat or the revolver in the toilet scenes). This has helped us to ensure that the game has a true feel to it and to make sure that it appeals to those who are into their mafia movies as well as games."
Certainly, the range of characters you meet is the sort that populate every gangster flick of the last 70 years. "There are prostitutes, street punks, politicians, bootleggers, cops on the take, priests and even sailors." And each of them will act like an individual, creating a feeling of a world that is truly alive and one which reacts to everything you do realistically.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the behaviour of cops. "If you run a red light and it is witnessed by the cops then they'll give chase and issue you with a ticket," says Luke. "However, if you decide not to stop or indeed ram the cop car to escape then you move to a wanted status, which will last until you lose the cops. If you get pulled over at this stage you will be arrested and the mission will end. The highest level of reaction is if you kill someone and it is witnessed. The police will now be on high alert and cops on the beat as well as in cars will now be looking for you. If you are stopped while on this level of awareness the cops are not interested in arresting but shooting to kill."
But it’s your interaction with other mafia types and the general public as well as the police that make it all come together. If it lives up to expectation Mafia will definitely be the total gangster game, a genre that has never produced a really quality title.
"We believe that where the games have failed before is from focusing too much on one aspect of the gangster lifestyle as opposed to encompassing the entire experience. Mafia is based on exactly this from when we first meet Tommy and he is thrown into the family, to his survival as he struggles to grow within the organisation." Find out in our exclusive review next month if it can really deliver.
The Bugs Sleep With The Fishes
It Should Be Good, But Will It Be Playable?
Illusion Softworks established a massive reputation with Hidden & Dangerous, but this was slightly marred by the incredibly large number of bugs that plagued the title. I’ll never forget the time I got one of my soldiers to lie down only to see him fall through the ground, reappear through a cloud and fall to his death miles below. At other times your soldiers would just die by stepping over some grass, climbing a ladder or falling out of a suddenly unsubstantial vehicle. Then there were the crashes and the problems getting your save games to work. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the game wasn’t so damn hard to start with. Well, there’s no chance of that happening this time. Illusion has been spending the last few months ironing out any problems, which is why the game has suffered so many delays. "After the feedback on the original Hidden & Dangerous, it has been a key issue to ensure that the game is as bug-free as possible," explains Luke. "This obviously takes time and a great deal of testing." Let’s hope it works.
So What About The Multiplayer Then?
With some people expressing disappointment at the lack of online play in GTA III, it’s going to come as a bitter blow to hear that Illusion Softworks have also ripped the multiplayer from Mafia’s initial release. The word has it that the team could have added a racing game but didn’t think that it reflected or added to the single-player core of Mafia. By way of consolation we can confirm that the team is still working on multiplayer components to be released either as a patch or as part of an expansion pack at a later date, with standard Capture the Flag and Deathmatch modes, as well as another unique mode. Seeing as they’re describing this as Counter-Strike with cars, it could well prove to be something that’s worth waiting for. As usual, we’ll keep you up to date with the very latest information as soon as it breaks.
So there you are, leaning against the cab you’ve been driving all day and puffing on a cheap cigarette, the kind that roughs up your throat just for the hell of it. You hear a squeal of tyres and round the corner come two smartly dressed guys carrying pieces and legging it for all they’re worth. Before you know what’s happening they’re both in the back of you cab and you’re flooring the accelerator into life. Only you haven’t moved more than a couple of feet before the rival gang’s car behind you catches up, rams into the side and sends you flying into the stone steps of someone’s front door. You recover, back out, reach the end of the street and make a sharp turn. You think you’ve lost them until your two passengers start shooting out of the windows and you’re knocked again into a wild spin that ends with one street lamp less for the local dogs to piss on. You’re about to step on it again when you catch the face of one of the wiseguys in the rear-view mirror. He’s dead. The world fades to black and you still don’t know what all that was about. Then all of a sudden, there you are again leaning against the cab you’ve been driving all day and puffing on a cheap cigarette...
Straight To Business
Most games like to cosset you for a while, hold you by the hand and assure you that you’re the one in control. A select few -Resident Evil springs to mind -prefer to throw you in at the deep end. And you know what? That’s exactly what happens to you here.
Mafia let’s you know right from the start that you’re in for one hell of a ride, that you’re going to be as tense as if it were your own arse on the line, and that one tiny mistake is going to be enough to send you right back to the beginning of the mission.
Anyone who’s played Hidden & Dangerous, the game that put Illusion Softworks on the map with a big shout, will know that really hard missions that have you kicking the cat with frustration as you play them for the 15th time are not necessarily a bad thing as long as they’re good. And in Mafia, they’re bloody brilliant.
But we’ll get to that later. For now, let me put to rest any ideas you may have of this being a Grand Theft Auto III rip-off. It’s true that there are obvious similarities. In both games you play a criminal, you drive cars, you’re chased by the police. In both games there’s a massive city to explore. And in both games you’re sent on missions to kill people. But where GTA III was pure cartoon anarchy, Mafia is a very structured cinematic affair. This means you lose out on freedom but gain on story and characterisations.
Perhaps the most important difference between them though, is that GTA III is a superb driving game with some occasional shooting, while Mafia is a superb shooter with some occasional driving. Not that it seems like that at first. After shaking off the rival mob and delivering the gangsters to safety in the manic first mission race described in the opening paragraph, the game lets Tommy (that’s you) become acquainted with the rather enormous city of Lost Heaven by getting you to drive customers to the hospital, the bank and so on. Unlike the taxi missions in GTA III though, you don’t have a choice of who to pick up. Instead you have to get to your destination and wait for the next scripted passenger. And if you bash the car too much or run someone over, it's back to the start of the ride.
A Family Affair
It wouldn’t be much of a mafia game if you were stuck driving a cab for the rest of your life and, soon enough, that rival gang (headed by Don Morelli) from the first mission manages to track down your vehicle and proceeds to smash it to a scrap heap and you to a pulp, leaving you with no means of livelihood and a fierce thirst for revenge. Luckily, Don Salieri, the boss of the two wiseguys you helped escape can provide both. The first by welcoming you to the family, the second by sending you armed with a baseball bat and a couple of Molotov cocktails to Morelli’s parking lot to smash up some cars of your own.
This would be interesting enough in itself, but what gives it a little narrative edge is that the whole game is basically a flashback of Tommy’s life, as told years later to an Irish cop in exchange for protection. For once, you’re given a proper character to play, one who -unlike the antihero of GTA III, for example - has thoughts of his own, doubts and feelings. Heck, he even has a family and changes physically through the years that Mafia encompasses. It’s not a leap forward in the sort of game storytelling discussed in this month’s Supertest because it’s very much a mission-led game, where the story is told mostly in cutscenes. But the vibe of all those gangster films we know and love is captured extremely well. There’s even a level where you walk the barman’s daughter home, finger pressed on the SHIFT key to avoid running ahead of her while you talk. This right before you save her from a rape attack and are rewarded with the chance to test how much the springs on her bed squeak. Unfortunately, this scene is not playable, but the ensuing cut-scene helps to give it that 'you’re watching a movie’ feel.
But it’s the bits you play that matter. And here is where the main difference with GTA III arises: Mafia is all about realism. The period cars are recreated in full detail, from their acceleration, top speed, weight and suspension. What this means is that most of the vehicles move like milk floats when compared to the road rockets in GTA. But that’s part of the game’s charm. After a while you forget about the car’s limitations and get sucked into the era. All the detail and realistic touches let you become totally involved and forget now and again that you’re playing a game using mouse and keyboard on a beige monitor. It’s true that driving isn’t a bag of arcade fun (mainly because the ever watchful cops force you to keep to the speed limits), but that’s not the point. You won’t be nicking cars and cruising around just for the hell of it, but there’s plenty of driving in the missions, and you do always have to get to places yourself, so the immersion factor is very important.
But the crux of the game lies in the shooter sections, and these too are far removed from mindless arcade mayhem. Whether you’ve been sent on an assassination attempt or are involved in a vendetta strike, the action is always tough and unpredictable. Although the engine has a similar feel to Hidden & Dangerous, it also works very much like a third-person Counter-Strike. It’s all about ducking behind cars, creeping round corners and being extremely careful about everything you do. And when I said it was unpredictable it’s because, while the enemies are roughly in the same place every time you play a level, they never seem to do the same thing twice (bar certain scripted moments). As if it wasn’t hard enough already. The Al - except for occasional glitches - works well as a team too. So once you’ve been spotted they'll try to surround you and then roll away and take cover when you start shooting. I can’t emphasise enough just how much the tension builds up when you’re expecting someone to put a cap in the back of your head when you least expect it. But at least they have the same disadvantage as you: limited bullets.
Play It Again, Tom
I've never been so aware of Al enemies having to reload and only having a limited amount of ammo. This is very important tactically. The best time to roll back into view is when you hear them reloading, and you can either wait for them to use up all their ammo and run at you with a knife or take them out quick so you can pick up as much ammo as possible. If you know what weapon they’ve got, you can even count the shots.
One type of reloading you can’t count on though is one involving save games, since the game only saves between missions. On the one hand this is great, because it gets rid of the gameplay destroyer - constant quicksaving every two steps. But Illusion could have been a wee bit more generous. There are some extremely long missions -so long you have to load a few new sections - that have no autosaves in between. So, after a dozen attempts you make it right to the end and then something else unexpected happens and you have to start over. It’s equally frustrating and rewarding, with every ten bursts of anger balanced out with a real sense of achievement you wouldn't get otherwise.
At least you can complete each mission in many different ways, and they’re varied enough that you don’t get bored at any stage. One minute you're shooting your way out of a carpark where you’ve been set up, the next you’re making a hit on a traitor, stealing a race-car, entering a race with a different race-car, robbing a bank or stealing documents from a mansion with the help of an expert safecracker. It’s intense stuff all the way. Some of the scraps you get into will remind you of the fantastic shoot out at the end of LA Confidential, and you really will feel the tension getting to you after a while.
Heaven And Hell
Despite its greatness, and like all games, Mafia isn’t perfect. There are a few gameplay niggles and inconsistencies. The city of Lost Heaven could have done with a bit more atmosphere (street urchins running in the streets, fruit and vegetable stalls and so on). There could also have been a few more people working for the family, because you never really get the feeling you belong to a big, powerful organisation.
For all its cinematic power the script isn’t all that hot either. Illusion has said its aim was to use high-quality acting so you could really believe you were in a film. Well maybe their version has top of the range Czech actors, but the English ones are very average. Not necessarily bad for a computer game - except in a couple of cases - but certainly nowhere near the excellent range of voices provided by GTA Ill’s impressive Hollywood cast.
Some of you will no doubt also be put off by the increasing levels of frustration such a hard game with no saves entails. But then you wouldn’t be able to call yourselves real gamers. It’s the knowledge that every little jnistake is going to cost you, that you can't afford to panic (which is precisely what you’ll do), that you have to take every chance you get, that makes this the powerful and gripping experience that it is. Health is hard to come by and so is ammo, which means that although the action isn't as fluid as in something like Max Payne, every little success makes you feel like you’re on top of the world. And that's a very rare achievement.
Special mention should be made about the music, which is fabulous at all times. From the original score to some great Django Reinhart numbers and other jazzy period pieces (if you’re a Woody Allen fan you’ll recognise many of them from his films). You can see for yourself that the graphics are also topnotch, especially the interior levels. The engine is superb, even if it can feel a little awkward when you’re shooting from a tight and confined space when the camera backs into first person.
We could list all the great references (or steals if you prefer) from some of the greatest films of all time - in particular the first two Godfathers - but it’ll be more fun to find it all out for yourself. Let’s just say that some of the things Tommy does, have more than a touch of Michael Corleone about them, and one of the members of the family is a lawyer-type very much in the vein of Tom Hagen (the Robert Duvall character in The Big G).
Despite the flaws and the gameplay niggles, Mafia, like Hidden & Dangerous before it, has a special quality about it that means when you’re involved in one of the missions, you don’t care about anything else. You’re completely absorbed in this world of honour, backstabbing, assassination and robbery. You’re a man with a job to do, respect to win and a family to provide for.
One day we’ll be able to have a game with the freedom, depth and raw fun of GTA III and the story, characterisation and class of Mafia. For now though, they’re both essential.
I've Played Through the early chapters of Mafia on four separate occasions - each time distracted by something shiny like a gaming magpie, making a dash for higher FPS ground after Mafia's opening hours of bespoke boredom.
Speed limits, taxi shuttling from the theatre to the hospital, short-cuts that end up with your car lolling on its roof with a mission failed message but a breath away... there can be no other game that hides its winning hand so deep into the game.
This time though, I'm going in for the kill. I'm gunfighting on the rooftops, I'm shooting dogs outside hotels, I'm patching up the game so I can win a race, and I'm standing in a barn during a thunderstorm awe-struck at how it's so very much like my second-favourite scene in The Untouchables. The action hasn't dated well, but somehow the graphics have - while it's role as a period piece is practically unparalleled as you thunder round comers (at precisely 40mph) and Collide with a lampposts to chintzy '30s music.
No, it isn't as close to Scorsese as reviewers said, but it's closer than Max Payne got to film noir. Somewhere deep in the Czech Republic a new Mafia don is being made, B in every sense of the B word, and I'm very B excited.
Still The Best GTA clone based on the Mafia, and still the best Mafia game outright, no game is as deserving of the title 'Mafia' as Mafia. The driving sections were awkward and clunky which might be attributed to the fact that cars at the time were awkward and clunky, and some missions were horribly unforgiving with cruelly placed checkpoints and spiking difficulty.
Everything else though, like the scripting, the plot, the style, the characters, the shootouts and the locations, and the set-pieces, oh, and the humour. And the action. That stuff is all excellent, almost perfect and carried off with such a sense of Hollywood authority that you'll be overcome with satisfaction from start to finish. It's got great era-specific music too, and the old cliche of being in a 'living, breathing city' is alive and well. For five pounds, this is an essential piece of PC gaming history worth owning. So what if that sounds like an infomercial? It's still true.
You haven't lived until you've played this game because:
It's 2002 and Grand Theft Auto 3's been out for six months when Illusion Softworks show off their masterpiece. It's a perfect recreation of 1930s America, very admirable. What's more, you explore it all from the point of view of a cabbie who slowly turns into a Mafia goon as the game progresses.
It's got violence, history, varied missions, an enormous city to explore and production values that haven't been trumped. Vehicles are slow and handle badly (hence accurately), the streets feel alive and it's fiendishly tough. The story is well told (in flashback) and, if that bores you, there's two Free Ride inodes so you can just explore the authentic-looking city of Lost Heaven.
Add in excellent music, awesome cliaracterisation and animation, plus the fact that it plays and looks better than The Godfather which was released four years later, and you understand why it was so highly rated across the board.
People probably didn't play it because:
Illusion Softworks also made Hidden & Dangerous 2 and neither sold that well. As the relevant companies marketed the product well, we guess word-of-mouth didn't spread. They were tough, intelligent simulations, if their system specifications were a little high; perhaps the public just want something simpler? Or perhaps they were still playing GTA3? Finally, releasing the same month as Medieval: Total War and Max Payne might have been a bit unlucky. Stand-out moment of brilliance: Speeding. Give your hard-handling jalopy too much gas, run a red light or prang another car and the cops will chase you down relentlessly, just like real life. However, they won't shoot you for that; you'll just get a speeding ticket and a fine. If they spot a gun though...
The panel's views:
Will: "I love the music - there's no other game I've ever played that automatically just puts you so easily into the mood and setting. At first, I was bitching about getting stopped by the police for speeding etc, but then I just realised that it was all part of the game." Steve: "It's got fantastic voice-acting as well, and it still looks great even now. It just nails the whole 1920s thing - and the missions are really inventive. Like getting the Canadian whisky -going out into the countryside and having a shootout on a farm."
Better than Goodfellas. That's the film, not the pizzas.
Tonight, matthew, I'm going to be a gangster. I'm going to go back to the '30s, when the roads were clear, and I'm going to play the part of a taxi driver who gets caught up in the syndicate of an old-school mob family, then pussies out and decides he wants his family to be safe.
So, we start our story with a chat to a good-old Oirish New Yoik trench coated copper, cutting a deal. The policeman wants us to tell our story -and that's what the game is.
A few things make Mafia stand out. The soundtrack is as authentic as any GTA game, with Django Reinhardt's jazzy skidoodles guiding you around the streets. It's less commercial than a cross-promotional set of '80s themed CDs, but things were less commercial back then. The mini-map only tells you about traffic, if you want to know where you're going, you have to look at a map, which obscures your view. Like it would.
Also, the cars are slow. The opening mission can leave you stumped, until you realise that you can't outrun the other car - you have to nudge it into a pillar, and take advantage of their lousy manoeuvrability. By the time they've three-point turned out of their corner, you'll be well away.
Still, our hero is a good example of a hapless soul, whose road to hell was paved with self-doubt and good intentions. He's not a typical Rockstar ex-con protagonist, lie's an example of how good people can be tempted and that makes him more immediately sympathetic. Because none of us here are thieves. Now for information on how to steal this game, see "But how?"