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SummarySo good I would join the Mafia to get it! Capisci?!
The GoodThe first decade of the 21st century was marked by a rise in creativity in Eastern European game-making. Of the new games that were developed in those countries, I consider three to be masterpieces of world significance: the Russian Pathologic, the Polish Witcher, and the Czech "Mafia".
Oh, "Mafia"... It was truly one of those "games you can't put down" for me. From mission to mission, my love to it grew and increased. It was so clear that the Czech developers loved their game so much and invested everything in it, left in it a part of their souls. When a game is created with so much love, you just feel those vibes coming at you.
Since "Mafia" was conceived as a GTA clone, the inevitable question is of course "how does this game compare to GTA games"? I can only give you this advice: don't compare. I started playing "Mafia" while thinking of GTA, and that was a mistake. It took me some time to appreciate "Mafia" for what it was. GTA games are great at what they do, and "Mafia" is great at what it does. Their goals are different. GTA is about pure fun, diversity, and humor; "Mafia" is serious and realistic. In GTA, you are happy to perform all kinds of crazy things even though you know they are impossible; in "Mafia", you are immersed into a genuine life of a mafioso. GTA is arcade-like fun, while "Mafia" is hardcore action. GTA is about insanely versatile and totally unrealistic missions tied by silly plots sparked by satire; "Mafia" is about down-to-earth, linear assignments crowned by a deep, meaningful story. They are different, they are both great, and we need them both.
That doesn't mean that there is no fun to be had in "Mafia". Oh no, there is plenty of it. Just like in GTA games, you can wreck havoc in the city, running over pedestrians, shooting people, blowing up cars, etc. You can hot-wire and hijack cars and just drive around, enjoying the beautiful scenery. But it is clear that the focus of the game is not on that. In GTA, driving was clearly more important than shooting; in "Mafia", it's the other way around. The "meat" of the game are its missions, in which shooting sequences take much more weight than the driving ones.
"Mafia" is above all a fantastic action game. It is challenging and sometimes frustrating in a good way. The large, varied, excellently designed levels, the tricky foes, the realistic way the weapons are handled - everything indicates a first-rate shooter. It is full of unforgettable moments - I'm sure each player has fond memories of how he crouched behind a wall with only 2 hitpoints left and no health kits in sight, with vicious shotgun-wielding maniacs waiting around the corner; how he desperately charged into a guarded building, diving to the side and giving the gangsters a taste of the old trusty Thompson; how he finally reached that checkpoint, read the magic words "the game was saved", removed the sweaty, trembling hands from the mouse and sat back, pouring a glass of water to quench the thirst of the dry throat...
"Mafia" never lets go, it is always ready to great the player with yet another nerve-wrecking episode. There is always a great variety in the shooting parts of the game: beside the usual "kill everyone" missions, there are stealth missions, melee fighting, sniping; the levels are massive outdoor environments, narrow corridors, a boat, an abandoned prison, docks, airport, art museum; each and every level is memorable, each and every mission is different in terms of goals and execution, but similar in the amount of pure suspense and adrenaline-raising action. "Mafia" would have been a great game even if it didn't have the driving parts.
But the driving is also great fun. The city in "Mafia" is a wonderful place to explore. Everything is done with outstanding care. The city is very large, with several drastically different areas: busy city center with skyscrapers, charming areas with old buildings, a rich district with villas, a workers' quarter, a lovely countryside, etc. There is a vast amount of different cars to steal and to drive; all of them have an authentic look and feel of the thirties. There are fully interactive trams and trains in the city that you could board if you are tired of exploring the city by car or on foot. While most of the driving serves as just a prelude to the actual missions, there are also several suspenseful chase sequences and a very challenging (fortunately, with a difficulty level slider), but excellent racing mission with the coolest cars you've ever seen.
"Mafia" has beautiful, detailed graphics, excellent music and sound effects. I just love the main theme (the music that plays when you access the main menu and also during the most important cut-scene). It is done in the style of those heart-wrenching Italian melodies for gangster movies and it fits the game's story so well.
Speaking of which: "Mafia" is a very story-driven game, much more so than the GTA games, in which the stories were there mostly to tie the missions together and also served as excuses for bringing up as many satiric scenes as possible. The story of "Mafia" is very serious, very tragic, and could in all honesty serve as a plot for a good gangster movie. There is something indescribably honest and direct in this story: it is warm and humane without being sentimental, concise without being dry or underdeveloped, and genuinely moving without being melodramatic. There is a lot of kindness and understanding in this story, but also a lot of realism, which is naturally not always pleasant, since it is a story about organized crime, after all. Above all, it is remarkably poignant and very sincere. The dialogues might appear plain in the beginning, but there is a lot of power in those precise, clear sentences. Characters tend to have moral discussions, so those dialogues are full of quotes that illustrate the happenings in the story and are stuck in the memory of the player. The story just gets better and better as the game progresses, with plot twists to follow, until it culminates in the absolutely outstanding ending.
The BadThe voice acting could be called "uneven". Not just because some actors are better than others; the same actor's performance can range from convincing to adequate to almost fake during different dialogues. In a game with such a dramatic, serious story, everything that falls below "convincing" reduces the intensity of the experience. I also think that they could have worked more on the expressions on people's faces; they are absolutely bland. So many times Tommy is distressed, angry, or desperate; his face never betrays any of these emotions, and sometimes it just looks silly, especially when combined with the less than emotional voice acting.