Like other aspects of American culture, the organized crime of the 1930s has been largely romanticized through books, movies, and other forms of media, including games. While there have been some valiant attempts at re-creating the 1930s Mob scene on your PC screen, none of them quite match the scale or the cinematic feel of GodGames and Illusion Softworks' upcoming game, Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven. In fact, the development team at Illusion has deliberately designed the game to mimic movies about organized crime, and it definitely shows, as a few of the game's 20 single-player missions seem like they could make the transition to the silver screen flawlessly.
In Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven, you take on the role of a cab driver in the city of Lost Heaven, a 12-square-mile fictional city that closely resembles Chicago and New York of the 1930s. From the people who walk the streets and sit on fire escapes to the working traffic lights and trolleys, the amount of detail in this massive city is impressive. There are even different sections--such as a Manhattan-like area, a slum area, a Chinatown, and a Little Italy--to give the city more personality and less of a repetitive feel. If the switch from the Hidden & Dangerous engine to a more flexible engine in 1999 is what made the city of Lost Heaven possible, then it was well worth the delay it incurred. To give an even better idea of how detailed the city is, it's possible to navigate through the streets based on the location of various landmarks.
Since driving plays such an important role in Mafia, you'll become familiar with streets and landmarks of Lost Heaven quickly. Most of the missions require you to drive to a specific area, and some are actually timed, so you'll always be on the lookout for alternate routes that shave a few seconds off your time. Of course, an alternative method to finding shortcuts is to run red lights or drive on the wrong side of the road, and while you may think this is perfectly acceptable, the citizens and the police of Lost Heaven don't seem to think so. Whenever you drive toward oncoming traffic or run a red light and cross through a busy intersection, cars will flash their lights and honk at you. If you happen to catch the attention of a police officer by performing similarly reckless acts--like running over pedestrians--in your vehicle, then the police will attempt to pull you over. Getting lost in the city should never be a problem, as the development team plans to incorporate a pointing device that indicates whether you're heading in the correct or incorrect direction.
Mafia's driving engine is more realistic than you might think. Each of the 60 different vehicles in the game behaves like its real-life counterpart, and they can all receive varying types of damage that can prevent them from running--like flat tires caused by bullet holes.There are specific missions where your driving skills are really put to the test. In one mission, you'll essentially be the driver for the getaway car, but other gangsters will shoot at you from their vehicle as you try to drive your compatriots to safety. Some missions even involve racing on an actual track--that happens to be owned by one of the crime bosses--in a vintage F1-style car.
It's Nothing Personal, Just Business
Initially, it might seem like the on-foot missions take a backseat to the driving portions of Mafia, but this isn't the case, as the on-foot missions play an equally important role in the game. While walking the streets of Lost Heaven, you have access to a variety of weapons, including a Thompson machine gun, a baseball bat, Molotov cocktails, pistols, sniper rifles, shotguns, and other firearms. As tempting as it may be, it's not always a good idea to use heavy firepower when trying to accomplish a mission. In one case in particular, you have to enter a hotel restaurant area to take care of someone who's been interfering with various questionable activities. If you go into the room and shoot the target, then there's a distinct chance that employees of the hotel or the henchmen of an enemy crime boss will be alerted and come running into the room to shoot you. An alternative course of action would be to walk up to the man and beat him senseless with the baseball bat. It might still alert the citizens who are trying to have a quiet meal, but your chances of leaving the room unscathed are much higher.
Other missions require strategies other than just brute force. For example, in one of the early missions, you have to run through an alley to get away from a group of thugs, and unfortunately, they have guns and you don't. However, this alley has plenty of blind corners that you can use to ambush the hoodlums and introduce their faces to your fists. In another mission, you have to sneak on board a boat that runs around the Lost Heaven harbor--which is quite a spectacular site--and find a way to get into the bridge area without drawing any attention to yourself. Of course, Mafia also has its fair share of straightforward missions, in which you can simply rely on your weapons to do all the thinking and run into an area with guns blazing. More often than not, you'll have NPC partners to back you up during some of the bigger gunfights.
Illusion also plans to include up to eight multiplayer modes in the final version of Mafia. At this point, it appears that there will be variations on the deathmatch mode, as well as multiplayer driving modes where you can race around tracks created in the city. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see any of the multiplayer modes in action, but the very prospect of a strong multiplayer aspect should get fans of the game even more excited.
It's hard not to get excited about Mafia, as it's one of the few games that seems to successfully convey a feeling that the city and its inhabitants are alive and aware of the action taking place in the game. Illusion has put a great amount of effort in the character models and environments. Even smaller details--such as small puffs of smoke coming from cigarettes and the gentle rocking of the aforementioned boat--are abundant throughout the game. Illusion still has to add English voice-overs and make a few touch-ups to the animation, but otherwise it looks like Mafia is well on its way to making a Q1 2002 release.