Originally created 10/15/02

'Mafia' video game is a hit

Tommy Angelo was just minding his own business, a low-key taxi driver trying to make ends meet. Then he made a fateful decision: After stumbling into the throes of a mob war, he joined the Don Salieri crime family.

After spending several weeks as Tommy in the new PC game "Mafia," I can appreciate the allure of a life of crime.

But there are some serious downsides - drive-by shootings, Molotov cocktails and baseball bat beatings. Not to mention sometimes inexplicably slow performance.

"Mafia" plays a lot like a PG-13 version of triple X gore-fests like "Grand Theft Auto III." You'll spill cupfuls of blood, not gallons.

What "Mafia" lacks in guts, it more than makes up for in style.

Set in the 1930s, much of the game involves driving around Lost Heaven, a three-dimensional city packed with rival gangs and watchful police. It starts out tough, and only gets harder.

There's a series of introductory levels in which you shuttle patrons through various neighborhoods, including the obligatory Little Italy, Chinatown and Downtown.

Just take it easy on the gas. Run a red light and police will write you a ticket. Hop a curb, and patrons will complain and fire you.

And be sure and pay attention to where you're going. It'll help you later, when knowing the most direct route from point A to point B becomes a matter of life or death.

"Mafia" then becomes a matter of following, or disobeying, the orders of Salieri. Do it right, and you'll earn the confidence of one mean mob boss. Screw up, and you'll probably be dead.

Between missions, sit back and enjoy the cut scenes, which are among the most well-crafted I've seen in a computer game. The facial detail - blinking eyes, creased brows and perfectly synched voiceovers - really gives "Mafia" a cinematic quality.

Before I loaded the single-player mode, I dabbled with the Free Ride game style. Select it and you can pick from dozens of historically accurate vehicles you can drive wherever you want.

I commend the developers at Illusion Softworks for infusing "Mafia" with damage modeling. Drive into a tree at high speed, and just like in real life, your car will explode.

"Mafia" lists a 500-megahertz Windows PC with 96 megabytes of memory or more as minimum requirements. But I can't see it being anything more than a slideshow with those specs.

Oddly, my 1.5 gigahertz Pentium 4 with 256 megabytes of memory struggled mightily on some of the levels, including one where I was being chased through alleys by two gun-toting hit men.

I died multiple times before going to the options screen and cranking the level of detail way down. As someone in the mob might say, it wasn't as pretty, but at least I got the job done.

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