Rarely has an action game squandered such a solid concept as Aspyr and Silverback Studios' Made Man has. Gangland shooters should be a pretty easy thing to put together at this point, yet Made Man is proof positive that with the right amount of indifference and general disdain for the game-buying public, you can still make complete dreck out of a seemingly foolproof concept. The weirdest thing is that by all accounts, Made Man shouldn't have ever come out. This is one of the last few games now-defunct publisher Acclaim had in the pipes when it went under a few years back. Now Aspyr has resurrected its unfinished corpse, yet apparently it didn't bother to have anyone fix it up beyond what was necessary to make the disc load. From its buggy, intensely frustrating gameplay to its near-absent production values, Made Man is a flat-out mess across every category.
Made Man tells the story of Joey Verola, a longtime Mafia crony who's on the verge of being "made." Most of the story is a series of flashbacks that Joey recants to a friend while they drive through New York. What, exactly, the whole plot is actually about is never terribly clear. The game jumps around a lot, and the cutscenes aren't scripted well enough to properly extrapolate on what's going down. One minute you're hijacking a truck in North Carolina; the next you're in the middle of the Vietnam War. The in-between bits of narration try to set all this up into an overarching tale of gold buried in a coffin and rival families in cahoots with federal agents to take you down, but it's all very disjointed and, after a while, insufferable. The lone positive is that Joey is voiced by a solid actor who seems to be channeling Goodfellas-era Ray Liotta at times, and he sells the character as best he can. But every other actor hams it up so badly, and the plot itself is so scattered and unintelligible, that the whole thing is downgraded to somewhere between Godfather III and Corky Romano in the lexicon of mob fiction.
Even if the plot were better, odds are you wouldn't be able to put up with Made Man's awful gameplay long enough to really invest yourself in it. It all begins with the shooting controls, which are so sluggish and inaccurate that, to hit anything, you pretty much have to stop moving for long bouts of time or use the zoom toggle to try to aim more carefully--either of which typically leads to you getting shot a whole bunch.
To counteract this, you'll want to use cover as often as you can--though the fact that the cover mechanics border on broken kind of negates the usefulness of this feature. All you need to do is walk up to a spot that looks as if you could duck behind it, like a wall or a box, and press X. Problem is, sometimes that just doesn't register, and you stand there like an idiot while bullets riddle your dopey-looking self. When it does register, there are some cover areas that you can still get shot behind, even though it looks like your whole body is covered. Even more obnoxious, you have to peer out from cover to get any kind of target on your enemies, and the second you do so, they pounce and start firing away at your peeking-out head. And for the game's final trick, sometimes you can't get the targeting reticle out far enough to even hit anything. It's as if it just gets stuck in one spot, and won't move far enough out to shoot anything other than the box you're sitting behind.
The really hilarious thing about all this is that enemies aren't even that smart. They're all crackerjack shots, but they also tend to stand in plain sight. The ones who do use cover tend not to shoot that much, meaning you can just take as long as you like to pick them off when they peer out from time to time. And then there are the enemies who just stand idly behind walls, doing nothing as you blast at them from two feet away.
Of course, when enemies travel in the kind of numbers that they do in Made Man, and have the innate ability to hone in on the teensiest part of your exposed body and shoot it to death very, very quickly, it really doesn't make much difference if you're a dunce or a Rhodes scholar. Most of the game's missions just revolve around getting from point A to point B while killing everyone in between, and often there's quite a bit to kill. So many bullets and such clunky aiming and shooting mechanics conspire to make the gameplay little more than a constant frustration. The game tries to throw a few curveballs in with a "kill rush" feature that slows down time temporarily and leads to you getting shot slightly less frequently, and a "retort kill," where some not-quite-dead enemy says something insulting to you, and then you stand over them and execute them while uttering some painful quip back to them (doing this refills your health gauge, for some reason). Not only do the execution moves look lame (and sometimes broken, as Joey won't even be facing the guy he's killing), but they don't pop up often enough to be all that useful.
Couple the infuriating shooting sequences with some abysmal stealth bits, and you pretty much get a game that's no fun to play at all. That the game isn't longer than six or seven hours is almost merciful, though in real time, it'll take you a lot longer than that to get through it, as you'll find yourself replaying dozens of sequences again and again and again. Perhaps if the game had a better checkpoint system or any sort of autosave functionality, that might not be such an issue, but that's not the case. You'll also want to be diligent about saving on your own, as the game does occasionally lock up and force you to reboot. Or, you know, you could just not play it. That'd probably be better for all involved.
Even more horrific than the gameplay is the presentation. At times, Made Man looks like a game made for the original PlayStation, and even when it manages to claw its way up to something that looks marginally PlayStation 2-esque, it still lines the bottom of the barrel with its hideous-looking textures, atrocious animations, and zombielike character models. Even with all these low-rent visual components, the frame rate still chops to death during particularly hefty bouts of gunfire. The audio is even worse, mostly because of the editing. Joey's voice acting, in-game sound effects, and the licensed soundtrack (yes, they actually went and got licensed songs for this pile of junk, including stuff from artists like UNKLE, Bachman Turner Overdrive, and Martha Reeves and the Vandellas) are all pretty solid, but the audio mix is so wildly inconsistent and periodically busted that it's impossible to enjoy any of it. Cutscene audio is much, much quieter than in-game audio, leading to a lot of volume adjustment throughout the game. Sometimes dialogue starts skipping loudly, and any time voice over narration pops up in-game, the music just cuts out altogether.
If you painstakingly dig through Made Man's seemingly endless onslaught of poor design decisions and ugly problems, you might be able to spot a few things that come across as legitimately interesting or entertaining. But it's just not worth sifting through so much garbage to get to a few fleeting moments of fun, especially when dozens upon dozens of PS2 games do this formula loads better than Made Man does. Made Man was all set to be canceled once, and it should have stayed that way. Don't play this game.