Earlier this year we saw the release of Mafia on the PS2, a port which captured most of the PC originals gameplay and atmosphere well. Whilst we were impressed with the PS2 version and the authenticity of the port in comparison to the original, with the Xbox version on the horizon there was always the knowledge that a version of the game which should be somewhat superior was not far away. The game is now available and as predicted is a better port then the PS2 version but in not as many ways as we had hoped.
In Mafia you play as Tommy Angelo, an average taxi driver in the 1930s trying to earn his honest buck. As fate would have it, Tommy becomes embroiled in a chase between rival families and from there his life is never the same again. This is actually the first mission of the game, after a quick mission doing the rounds as a taxi driver (which somewhat helps you learn the layout of the city), the proper storyline begins with Tommy becoming one of the suits. The story is played out retrospectively, with Tommy divulging secrets and information to a local police detective in an effort to get protection, and the storyline twists and turns until the very end.
Comparisons to Liberty City from GTA 3 are bound to be made but people looking for that will be disappointed. The mission structure is continuous and most of the time you do not get an opportunity to just sight see in the city, other than in the specific game modes such as Free Ride. This keeps the story going but ultimately may see you completing the game quite quickly, and also has the problem of frustrating you if you become stuck on a particular mission. Most of the missions are given to you by the family leader, Salieri but occasionally other members will step in to give you tasks such as murdering a hotel owner before gutting the hotel, or racing in an old style grand prix race. The variety of different missions in the game keep it fresh and you coming back for more.
Like the PS2 version of the game some changes have been made since the PC version. Not only does the game feel much easier (even with the controller as opposed to keyboard and mouse) but one of the most frustrating missions from the PC version has been weakened, to the extent that anyone should be able to pass it first time. The mission in question is the racing mission and you now have the opportunity to set the difficulty level for the other AI cars. Some may complain that this reduces the console versions authenticity, others will just be happy to have an easier alternative.
Driving or walking around the city featured in Mafia you will notice just how well the developers have put together this 1930s environment. Everything from the cars, clothes, buildings, language etc is perfectly in tune with what you would expect from that era. As we said with the PS2 version, this is one of the most atmospheric games ever made and you can't help but get sucked into its highly detailed world of crooked businessmen and high crime. Driving around can become a frustrating task occasionally because of some silly AI. In one mission we were racing to get a car back before the deadline, an AI car decided to just turn right in front of us and ended up in a major crash with mission over. This isn't a major flaw and nor does it happen very often, most of the time the drivers are quite aware of your presence. On foot and the tram system offer another way to get around the city.
You can jack cars from citizens in the city but only if Tommy has been taught how to do so via Ralph. This adds a new element of strategy to the game because you're not going to learn how to jack or steal the very best cars early on in the game. Usually this isn't a requirement however, because before most missions you are given a selection of cars to use. You don't have to deal with the police except for major crimes as they are corrupt and have been paid off. However it does seem strange that they will chase you for running a red light or speeding, yet you get away with other tasks such as killing a guard. Their level of interest is determined by whether they see the action occurring or not.
Something which really plagued the PS2 version of the game was the unstable frame rate and whilst the Xbox version fixes this issue somewhat, we did notice a few moments of slowdown. The city also appears much more detailed and overall the Xbox version looks superb and much more closer to the original PC version. The sound is also impressive with positional sound on offer even for those without surround sound systems and some fantastic voice acting which, like the rest of the game adds to the atmosphere and immersion felt while playing the title, though you may get sick of the same songs playing over and over again with time.
The console versions of the game have had a few new game modes added since the PC release but they don't add too much. Free Ride is still available, and as you progress through the game you unlock more cars to use with it. You can also play either a single race or championship of races around the city which does somewhat add to the length and replay value of the game.
Mafia is one of those games that really show what a developer can do when they put a great deal of time and effort into researching their subject matter. Everything about the game oozes both style and the replication of a 1930s era is second to none. As we expected the Xbox version is the superior of the two console versions but again is still not on the level of the PC original, except for the additional tweaks and game modes.