Developed by Illusion Softworks and published by Take 2 Interactive subsidiary Gathering of Developers, Mafia won critical and fan acclaim for its brilliant story and direction, excellent graphics and great gameplay when it was released in August 2002. The decision to port Mafia was made in early 2003, with the game set to go to the Gamecube (cancelled), Playstation 2 and Xbox. Due to circumstances unknown (money hats), the Playstation 2 version of Mafia has been the first to surface. Unfortunately, it appears as if 90% of the things that made Mafia a great game on the PC have been significantly crippled during the porting stage.
Keep the Change, You Filthy Animal
In the 1930s, America lost its innocence. With the onset of the Great Depression and Prohibition, various family run mobs rose throughout the major cities. These mobs would supply liquor, drugs and hookers, and would eliminate anyone who got in their way. Mafia starts with Tommy Angelo walking into a bar and meeting a police detective. Tommy has decided to come clean, and take down the mob that he was a part of.
The game plays out in synchronization with Tommy's story. Tommy starts off as a cab driver, but is suddenly thrust into a world of crime when two Mafia men jump into his cab while being chased. He is accepted into the family after rescuing these two men, who he later finds out to be Paulie and Sam. The rest of the Salieri family is introduced - Frank, Vincenzo, Ralph, Luigi and Lucas Bertone. The story sequences in Mafia feature some of the best direction we've seen in recent times. These scenes are filled with great action, interesting story advances, great animation and top quality dialog. Unfortunately, in the Playstation 2 version of the game, watching Mafia's cut scenes is more enjoyable than playing the game.
The main problems with the Playstation 2 port of Mafia come from everything having to be cut back so that the system can handle it. This port of the game features bad graphics, sloppy controls, extremely close fogging, poor frame rates and constant load times which are often in excess of 1 minute. Playing the Playstation 2 version of Mafia can be really detrimental towards one's impression of how good the game really is. Mafia is a great game, but this port isn't.
The level of realism in Mafia's action sequences can be a blessing and a curse. They're excellent for immersion, but questionable when one is seeking a fun game to play. Mafia's gunfights are very intense - you can't take too many hits and you have limited ammunition, but the same applies for the bad guys. The game does an excellent job of pacing with the action sequences, and consistently has you doing different things, so as to ensure that the game doesn't devolve into a series of dull firefights. Unfortunately, the Dual Shock 2 does an excellent job of hampering any possible fun that could have been experienced. The cars available in Mafia are true to their 1930's equivalents - big, bulky and slow. Players must also be aware of the fact that the eye of the law is always on them, meaning that you can't exceed 60 miles per hour (it was 40 in the PC version) with cops in the area, you can't drive on the wrong side of the road, you can't run through red lights, and you're really in the shit if you hit a pedestrian. Police chases can be fairly exciting as you have to lose the police tail and let things cool off before you can show your face again. Things such as switching cars and hiding in alleyways can help a lot. Unfortunately, chases on the road feel like snail races due to the speed at which the cars run.
From the structure and themes present in the game, there are always going to be people comparing Mafia to Grand Theft Auto, though each game does its own thing, and does it very differently. Mafia's main game is not a free roaming experience - it is made up of 20 different missions. You can run off and do your own thing in Mafia, but not to the extent of GTA. The console versions of the game feature the Free Roam mode from the PC version, but it is immediately unlocked. There are a few extra missions in the Free Roam mode which should keep players occupied after the main story is finished. A racing mode is available if you wish to race 1930's beasts around the streets of Lost Heaven at 60 miles per hour.
Angels with Filthy Souls
The PC version of Mafia featured great graphics at the time, but these have been ripped to tatters to run on the Playstation 2. The once beautifully modeled cars are now boxy hunks of crap. The city is square, filled with very low quality textures, lots of fogging and small draw distances. All of the lighting effects have been scrapped, leaving the environments looking very plain.. The player models are very blocky and poorly textured, and their animation stinks. Compare the in game animation to some of the cut scene animation, and you'll agree. The game has a very rough appearance - it almost looks like a game from the latter half of the original Playstation's cycle. Finally, the frame rate is poor, and there's no 60 Hz mode present to bump it up.
The only thing that has really survived the porting process intact is Mafia's sound. The soundtrack is comprised of catchy 30's era tunes produced by jazz legend Django Reinhardt. These innocent pieces of music make for easy listening while on the road, or can make a gruesome firefight seem fairly sadistic. The voice acting and script is of a very high quality, and does a convincing job of immersing the player in a 1930's mob war. Mafia doesn't feature any surround sound support.
And This One's for Your Old Man
Mafia is a great game, but the Playstation 2 port is decidedly sloppy and bordering on unplayable. If you like your games cut down so you can play them on inferior hardware, by all means, play Mafia on the Playstation 2. We recommend that anyone who is series about playing Mafia should play it on the PC, or wait for the upcoming Xbox port, which should be a heck of a lot better than this mess.