Mafia follows the story of an ordinary man unwittingly drawn into the services, and eventually employed, by a mafia crime family in the 1930s. If this sounds like this game might be like GTA3 or Max Payne, you're wrong, and in some small ways you're right.
Mafia contains a much more developed story an atmosphere than the GTA series ever had, but also allows for some good old random action between and during missions. While when describing Mafia it is easier to use other games, make no mistake, Mafia stands on its own two feet, and shoves a Tommy gun in your groin just in case you were think'n of play'n GTA3.
Since this is a plot driven game you are playing through the daily life Tommy. At first a cabbie following his daily routine, but after a series of events you become involved with the mafia. As the story unfolds many missions are initiated at the behest of the mafia, others, you will have to find out for yourself.
As I noted Mafia is a third person shooter. The view is much closer to the character than most third person shooters, often just a few meters away and slightly higher than the characters head. In my opinion this gives me a little faster reaction time with my weapons, and much faster reflexes when playing. It also makes playing in smaller rooms much easier since the camera isn't zooming in and out all the time like in other third person shooters.
The city you play in is quite dynamic. While maybe not as large as the GTA series, it is big. The streets are also more like a 1930s city than a modern one. There are fewer expanses of square blocks and perfect intersections than GTA3. Mafia has many more winding roads and tiny back streets with larger streets on the outskirts to relieve traffic problems.
Well-placed street signs also provide for somewhat easier navigation, but the most useful navigation tool is the map feature. The map displays nearly full screen when you're looking at it, but is also fairly transparent to allow you to both drive and look at the map at the same time. It also shows your destination with a blue x.
I already commented on the feel of the city, but the interior design should also be noted. The designs in the inside of buildings are remarkably real and original. The detail is great. I do not know where they came up with some of the interior designs, I'm guessing some research on buildings from the 1930s and earlier took place.
On top of being endlessly detailed and authentic, the buildings are great fun to fight in! There is just enough cover to keep things interesting, and enough open space to keep the action moving.
Ammo and Gunfights
As this is a third person shooter, some people may wonder about the difficulty of the combat system. Mafia is not as easy as a FPS, but is probably one of the easier third person shooters in terms of aiming I've played. This is due to the fact that I mentioned earlier where the camera is closer to you than in usual third person shooters.
Getting the crosshairs on your target is easy. However, accuracy is not. Mafia won't allow you to snipe a guy down the block with your pistol no matter how long you aim, well if you do it's * hard. Also note that the machine gun barrels do rise when you let them fire a long burst, as they should. Even close range fights can involve more misses than hits. Fortunately, the rules for reloading and accuracy apply to the AI too (remember this when you're being chased).
More realistic accuracy can be fun since many fights involve ricochets and stuff splintering all over the place. It also means you don't have to have 100% cover to be close to fully protected, nor will jumping into a room, by a door, or out a door guarantee you'll get hit. This is not to say you can hide indefinitely, don't keep your head peeked around the corner too long . . .
Note that the AI can run out of ammo too. So if you want most of his ammo, you better take him down sometime today.
One more thing about ammo, reloading in Mafia is much more real than most games. Yes, you must reload, but unlike some games, if you reload and already have ammo in the chamber . . . you lose that ammo.
Many games now have interactive tutorials. Mafia is no exception. The tutorial teaches the player just about everything you could possibly want to know about playing Mafia. I am always pleased by good tutorials since I, like many other people, am allergic to opening manuals (aka. packing material).
While playing in the main mode some people might find that wandering around the city is not as fun as GTA3. For those looking for optional missions, a separate mode outside the main game called Free Ride is available. It takes place on the same city map, but acts much like a seperate game. Free Ride is more open ended and offers some more humorous and crazy missions. It also provides a great environment to practice in without worrying about "woops I saved over my main game" incidents.
The graphics are stunning. I expect graphics to get better as time passes so I'm rarely surprised. However, I was impressed with Mafia's graphics. I'm running an PIII 800 with 640 Meg of ram and a GeForce 3 video card. I've experienced no video problems, not even the occasional slowdown I might expect.
The faces in Mafia deserve particular note. I've seen many attempts for people to graft real faces into video games, usually resulting in some hideous geometrically retarded characters. Mafia seems to use real faces but maps them to the characters incredibly well.
The great graphics teamed with artistic detail make for a great visual experience.
The main music for Mafia is nice and gloomy. You can get a taste of the gloomy music on their website in the opening flash animation. The driving music is as would be expected, 1930s jazz. Chase scenes have their own either wacky, or scary music. It all provides for a great atmosphere.
The voice acting is quite good. Although the script sometimes seems like someone not native to the US wrote it, it is sufficient. I like to think it could have been a little better, but I'm not finished with the game so it may improve.
For those who may not have enjoyed the special style of Max Payne (I loved it), no Mafia does not tell the story, nor is the dialogue in that style.
Controls are mostly as would be expected. For those familiar with WASD controls you'll be a little surprised that your controls are considered "secondary controls" to the arrow keys (arrow what?), but fortunately WASD works with no customization necessary.
A nice feature is that both driving and walking controls can be configured with the same keys since you won't be doing both at the same time. I.E. you can use WASD for directional keys for both driving and walking.
I have only two nitpicks:
First, is that I get occasional sound crackling. I haven't upgraded my sound drivers so that might fix it. Second, was the fact that the dialogue sometimes is a bit generic, but my opinion of this might change, and most of the time it is not an issue.
All in all Mafia is a first class game that seems to be worthy of all the praise it is getting. Welcome to flavor country.