Top critical review
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Good story and action sequences marred by bugs and nonsensical design
on 29 October 2009
Mafia is a very engrossing game. The voice acting is excellent, the story compelling and the narrative perfectly paced. The missions are varied and challenging and combat is always satisfying, be it by sneaking up behind people with a baseball bat or going all out with a vintage 1930s tommy gun. Unfortunately, in between the story and the action sequences lies a rather sloppily designed game that had this reviewer screaming at the screen in frustration.
The main problem is the save system. It's one of those old school autosaves that don't allow the player to save freely. Presumably this was included to make the game more challenging or provide it with a more authentic feel. I don't have a problem with the saving per se, but it becomes a real issue in combination with some of the other problems this game suffers from: For one, the insane amounts of driving in old cars that aren't allowed to do more than 40mph. You WILL spend most of your time in this game driving around the streets of Lost Heaven, in cars that struggle to go up the several inclines dotted around the map with policemen who will stop, fine and potentially arrest you if you do more than 40mph. Add to this that almost NONE of the missions take place in any sort of reasonable vicinity of your home base and what you have is a game that makes you drive the same old routes over and over and over again. Note this is not GTA type driving, whizzing into the sunset in sports cars, these cars are slow, and the police will stop you if you jump a red light, speed or cause a crash. Now here's where the save system comes in. A lot of the time the game doesn't save for you until you've actually achieved or activated something at your destination, so a lot of the time you end up spending 10 minutes driving to a mission only to have something go wrong early on and find yourself having to repeat the drive every single time until you advance far enough into the mission to activate a save point. I don't mind redoing missions until I get it right, but having to go through the whole slog of getting there time and time again is a bit too much to bear. Similar problems exist with the AI of your gang members who occassionally assist you on a mission. Quite often they will do incredibly stupid things to get themselves killed like keep running into the flame of an exploded molotov cocktail. A lot of games have stupid AI and this is in principle forgivable, but if you find yourself having to repeat long stretches of a mission because the game hasn't saved and your squad members keep killing themselves in ridiculous ways you will be pulling your hairs out.
Technically the game seems to have its problems too (I run it on an ATI graphics card which it supposedly doesn't like). Hours of smooth play will suddenly be interrupted by long periods of complete framerate crash and stalling, other times you walk into a building only to find the walls haven't loaded properly and you're somehow stuck in some half-generated door.
So, overall, I did finish this game because it is great fun in parts and the story is certainly absorbing. I only wish the framework in which the core gaming experience is delivered wasn't quite so shoddy.