If last year's sales charts are any indication, crime does pay. Two of the most popular games released on PCs and consoles were Take-Two's Max Payne and Grand Theft Auto III, both of which were gritty, violent action games that explored what happens when angry thugs get their hands on automatic weapons. Later this year, GodGames will release a new game that will take a different approach to the life of a computer-game criminal. Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven will be an action game from Czech studio Illusion Softworks that will take place in a huge American city in the 1930's--a place that's run by warring crime syndicates that have the police on their payrolls and where even the lowliest thug can become a high-ranking mobster if he's ambitious and unscrupulous enough.
GodGames was kind enough to stop by GameSpot's offices and give us a firsthand demonstration of Mafia, and despite the fact that we haven't heard much about the game for some time, it looks extremely promising. Mafia will be a third-person action game in which you'll play as Tommy, a lowly cabbie who ends up falling in with the Salieri family, a wealthy and powerful group that has lots of influence, but is also at odds with the rival Morello family. Over the course of the game's 20 huge missions, you'll be able to take Tommy through various secondary quests that can involve anything from sneaking into guarded buildings and assassinating key characters, to cracking safes, to stealing a prized racecar. Like Grand Theft Auto III before it, Mafia will allow you to hit the streets on foot or behind the wheel of a car. You'll spend an approximately equal amount of time doing both, though you can expect to be jumping in and out of stolen cars and diving out of the way of enemy gunmen in the same mission later on in the game.
From what we've seen, Illusion Softworks isn't just trying to make Mafia look great--the developer is clearly attempting to render its 12-square-mile city with as much detail as possible. Mafia has some very impressive-looking special effects, including lightning on a stormy night that illuminates the surrounding clouds and sky and muzzle flashes on guns that flare out in the darkness. We watched an absolutely spectacular firefight between gunmen armed with rapid-firing tommy guns in a dark garage, and the continuous illumination provided by the blazing guns actually lit up the entire area from all sides as the gangsters all fired bursts, ducked for cover, reloaded, repositioned, and fired again. In addition, all of Mafia's buildings and streets are adorned with highly detailed textures, and the game will have plenty of appropriate ambient sound, including ragtime and swing music heard on radios or played by live bands, as well as chatter from the city's inhabitants as they go about their daily business. Mafia's citizens are all brought to life with very detailed and lifelike motion-captured animation, as well as fully lip-synced facial animation when spoken to. Tommy can speak to any characters in the game simply by walking up to them and right-clicking, and each character will have something different to say--especially when Tommy is foolish enough to draw a gun in plain view of civilians, who will run for cover and shout for help.
Fortunately, some of Tommy's jobs won't even require him to step out of the car. Over the course of Mafia's missions, Tommy will leave behind his life as a cab driver and become a made man who is proficient at picking locks and stealing cars and is also a top-notch getaway driver. Mafia will have about 60 different vehicles to choose from, including roadsters, taxi cabs, racecars, and even hijacked police vehicles. Mafia will render each of these classic 1930s cars faithfully, and when Tommy steps into a new one, it'll look as pretty as can be, complete with reflective surfaces on the chassis and working headlights. But when you're driving for the Mafia, you won't always have the luxury of empty, quiet streets and a full tank of gas. As we saw, Mafia's cars can have their windows shot out, their frames peppered with bullet holes, their bumpers torn clean off, and their tires flattened or wrenched off the car.
An Offer You Can't Refuse
Of course, when you're driving on a mission for the Mafia, your paint job is often the least of your worries. When Tommy's behind the wheel, he'll have to make sure he avoids any enemy fire, protects any important passengers he's carrying, and avoids any run-ins with John Q. Law. In Mafia, the cops have been bribed not to lock you up and throw away the key, but they will pull you over, apprehend you, and cause you to fail your current mission, so you'll have to make sure you don't go over the speed limit or run through too many red lights (or over too many pedestrians). If you do, a "wanted" meter will appear at the top of the screen, and you'll be chased by police vehicles that will try to run you off the road. If you can get away from the cops and stay away, your wanted meter will eventually empty out and you'll be in the clear, though later on in the game, you may want to hop out of your current vehicle and steal a cop car for kicks. Like in Grand Theft Auto III, you'll have a car garage where you can park the various cars you've stolen, though you'll actually be able to keep more than one car at a time. In fact, you'll eventually be able to amass a huge stable of different vehicles that you'll be able to choose from in your later missions, and the game will actually let you set the city's speed limit to a whopping 40 miles per hour if you'd prefer to joyride at high speeds without worrying about the cops.
There will also be plenty of missions in Mafia in which Tommy will be on foot. Mafia will have a great variety of different missions that can involve stealth, theft, assassination at long range with a sniper rifle, down-and-dirty gunfights, and more. Regardless of whether he's on foot or behind the wheel, he'll receive a mission briefing in the form of an in-engine cutscene. These cutscenes generally seem to look terrific so far, thanks to the game's expressive motion-captured character animation, which makes the game's surly mobsters and terrified victims truly believable. Tommy can pull up his mission objectives at any time by pressing F1, but since some of his missions are timed, it's usually best to go right in and get started.
On foot, Tommy might start out with a simple handgun, though he'll eventually pick up high-powered rifles, sawed-off shotguns, sniper rifles, and tommy guns-- the best weapons from the top designers of the era, like Smith & Wesson and Colt. Though the game won't be an exacting weapons simulation, Mafia's firearms will be modeled after their real-world counterparts. For example, the Colt .45 caliber handgun will be a compact, fast, and powerful weapon that's relatively accurate, but it won't pack as much punch as a shotgun. As we saw, the shotguns in the game will help clear guarded doorways beautifully, but they'll have a very significant kick, and they'll also require extra reload time, often forcing Tommy to run for cover so he can safely slap in a few more shells. The powerful tommy gun won't need to be reloaded as often, but as you'd expect, the kick from the weapon's rapid firing will pitch the barrel of the weapon upward the longer it's fired continuously, making it most effective when used in short bursts. While on foot, Tommy can take cover behind cars and walls and run, jump, crawl, and roll to the side when he's under fire.
Tommy will also need to use more discreet weapons like baseball bats, crowbars, and knives to quietly dispatch his enemies in stealth missions, since none of Mafia's firearms can be equipped with any kind of silencer. Over the course of each mission, he'll have to complete various secondary quests that can often be resolved in numerous ways. In one mission we watched, Tommy broke into a mansion accompanied by a safecracker in order to steal important documents and make off with them, but his escape was nearly foiled when the owner of the house came home early. In that mission, and in others like it, Tommy will have the option of attempting to flee to safety using stealth, but he can also pull out his guns and shoot his way out. In other missions, Tommy may have a more useful helper who will provide cover fire as he goes about completing his objectives.
It's hard to believe that Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven--which looks so good but has received so little press--will be out so soon. This very impressive action game looks like it should take some of the best elements of games like Grand Theft Auto III and Max Payne and combine them with an original premise and extremely high production values. Mafia looks very, very promising, and hopefully it will turn out to be as good as it looks when it's released at the end of this month.