Mafia: The Orienteering Sim

I just spent, over the course of the last three days, about four hours playing this game. I think the most fun I had was during the tutorial. It’s been steadily downhill from there. How can a game that gets a 9+ score on GameSpot be not only NOT fun, but actually manage to make me feel like I wasted several hours of my time?

The majority of the game, so far, has been-- I kid you not-- figuring out how to drive from point A to point B!

Which would be fine if the game had a decent automap. But it doesn’t. It has an overhead radar view of… nearby traffic. Great. You also get a directional pointer which always points toward your destination. As the crow flies. So if there’s a body of water in between you and the destination, you’re screwed. Yes, this game forces you to actually bust out the included poster-size map of the city and actually spend time determining the best route from point A to point B. Sometimes with minimal descriptions in the F10 mission text. If you don’t pay attention to the cutscenes (and I’m so fed up with the tedium of this “game”, I can barely force myself to watch them) good luck figuring out a route on the fly without timing out on the mission.

Let’s see. We’ve had automap functions in D&D style computer games for, what, 10 years now? Why should I have to go through the incredible tedium of planning a route through a city? What kind of sick bastard considers that fun in any way, shape or form? I just don’t get it. It was lame in GTA3 (which at least had faster cars and better radar mapping), and it’s even lamer in Mafia. How is this even remotely considered gameplay? HOW? The mind boggles.

To be fair, it hasn’t been all orienteering. There has been a little bit of gunplay. Which is unsatisfying, because of the funky third person viewpoint and the clunky on foot movement. It’s difficult to tell when you’re behind cover, and when you’re not. The aiming is screwy for the same reason. Will my shot go around that wall? You can’t look down the barrel, so your only option is spray n’ pray. You can do some crazy max-payne style rolls, but your character controls like a tank, so it’s usually easier to forgo all the fancy footwork and just plug everyone.

Then there was the time that I was pursuing a guy who just stole money from us. Hey, car shootout, fun, right? Well, I couldn’t aim for crap firing out of the car (oh, the joy of third person gaming). So I settled for trapping his car and forcing an on-foot battle. I trapped his car against a wall, at which point he usually hops out and starts shooting. But not this time. He rolled back and forth in the driver’s seat in some kind of endless “I’m trying to get out of the car but I can’t” loop. I tried shooting him over and over, but nothing. I finally got bored and blew out alll the tires on his car, at which point he suddenly managed to pop out of the vehicle and… shot and killed me. At which point I had to repeat that part of the mission for about the sixth time.

Seriously. What kind of fucked up people consider this an enjoyable game? You start out as a TAXI DRIVER for God’s sake.

It’s kind of a shame because the graphics engine is amazing, and the story seems solid enough. But dear jesus, if I am forced to play any more of this game, I’m going to chew my mouse hand off.

Jeez Wumpus. Press TAB and you get an overlay map with your position clearly marked and the arrow even moves as you do. Its right there in the manual and works well enough.

(Though I agree on your points about combat and control… and to an extent the sense of tedium. The cutscenes are first rate… wait a minute, you didn’t like Blizzard’s cutscenes, nevermind then. The difficulty here seems way out of whack. (That’s a Mafia pun there.) Is there some way to actually win the cigar racer section? I found Grand Prix Legends to be more forgiving.)

Although I didn’t really dig into it in my review, having to drive around for the first half of the game with the map up (and occasionally plowing my car into a lampost or pedestrian) got really old. Once I got a feel for the layout of the town, though, and the landmarks, things picked up.

Never had a problem shooting, though; maybe it was all the Heretic 2 I played. You DID turn the crosshairs on, right?

Mafia’s big strength is the sense of immersion it offers; mechanically, it’s pretty weak.

I’m up to the mission where you have to “borrow” that race car to have its engine checked out–and so far I’m really digging the game. However, I have also been a witness to Tom Price SCREAMING HIS HEAD OFF in frustration over some of the later missions–including the now infamous race (supposedly there’s gonna be a patch to let you skip it?), so I’m worried that the game isn’t gonna hold up in the long run.

Still–really nice cutscenes, good voice acting–and the music! Django Reinhardt and lotsa other 30s jazz–a very nice touch.

And, yeah, Wumpus, what Bub said. The Tab key gives you a nice big fat map, with landmarks marked and everything. But here’s a complaint of my own: WHY do you have to drive so freakin’ far all the time? Some of the missions require these gigantic treks from Point A to B without any real reason for it being so–other than, it seems to me, to extend the length of the mission, or just to be annoying.

It’s been a long time since playing a game actually made me angry, but Mafia managed to achieve that. Sort of the polar opposite of the “fun” axis.

It’s so misguided. Who can tolerate sitting through three minutes of pointless driving, cutscenes and other busywork type crap just to get to the action segments? And that’s assuming you don’t die and have to repeat it all again. Honestly, what the fuck were they thinking?

I didn’t get into much combat because the game was too busy making me its errand boy driving bitch. But from what little combat I did engage in, I can definitely say it was clearly not worth muddling through the incredible tedium to get to.

Beautiful engine, though, and excellent production values. Too bad none of that matters when the game is about as much fun as hitting yourself in the face with a meat tenderizer.

Jeff, I think the purpose for those long treks is to familiarize you with the map. But man, you’re right, it is a let down - I’ve had to bring myself to play this game far too much… when, admittedly, this is one of the most stylish games I’ve ever seen. The race is just unforgiving. You’ve made me feel mas macho again now that I know other people think so. My comment about the shooting being hard, well, I don’t mind it either. But the first run n’ gun at the gas station out of town, very early, seemed too hard for it’s early placement in the game. Too many goons too early. Let me start slow and shoot my way to the big time.

No, I did not know about the TAB map thing. That would have helped, but again-- orienteering != gameplay. And I defy anyone here to prove that it is.

The game autosaves before every dangerous encounter. You don’t have to repeat much at all, unless you’re careening into buildings and dying that way… Have you really played this game yet Mr. Tenderized Face?

I was referring to the “steal the race car” mission. I timed out on that, and had to repeat the entire thing. Drive the other car to the track from all the way across town, pick up the race car, drive it all the way across town, etc.

I don’t know whose idea of a good time that is, but it sure as hell isn’t mine.

Well, they are Czech. :)

They have these cool things called “manuals” that come with games. When you pay for them.

who’s sayin bad things about the czechs? well, I guess you’re right. They drive like CRAZY. their “freeway” system is all two lane roads and the amount of unsafe passing that goes on is eye-popping. Are there any trams in the game?


Wild and crazy.

i too am on the “stealing the race car” mission and although not stuck, i am not playing as much/as long of Mafia as i thought i would be. part of this has to do with having other games to play that are new (Turok, Enclave, Dead To Rights, NFL Fever 2003 online, etc). so i am dividing my time a lot. that said, i am fearing the actual race mission b/c i have heard it is very difficult.

is everyone driving with the keyboard? i am and it was(is) a big learning curve. i did read a post somewhere describing people using a driving wheel…is that possible? would it help? maybe a force feedback gamepad?

i can see where people are getting tired of parts of the game, but i think some serious thought went into the missions, their style, and ordering. you taxi people to learn the city layout, which helps in doing the mini-mob missions. you steal the race car and drive it across town to help out with driving it in the race, etc. to me this speaks of good design, but it is definitely NOT Max Payne play, where once done with the tutorial, you were blasting your way across town in a hail of bullets, blood, and barbiturates.

i am very impressed with the expanse of the city, the detail in the cityscape, the cut scenes, and the overall storyline. without playing GTA3, i would have to say that those who hailed this game as very akin to that style of play were not to chapter 5 and beyond in Mafia…or maybe i need to make it beyond chapter 5 myself!

as for frustration: try Dead To Rights before you nominate this game to the pantheon. DTR is VERY frustrating…and yet i keep playing it.

I LOVED the steal the racecar mission, and I completed both legs of it with ample time (using TAB, you see) so I don’t see a problem. Now the race itself (sorry for the spoiler) is pure hell on CD.

Love the game. Then again, I love all things mob-related, and Mafia feels to me like I’m playing a movie. I guess I’m ready to cut the game some slack, because I’m having such a blast playing.

Admittedly, the drive-halfway-across-the-map-before-you-can-do-anything design decision was a poor one. I can see the production meeting, though: a) “we have this beautifully rendered, living city and these awesome cars with perfectly realized 1930s driving physics – who wouldn’t want to experience the joy!” or b) “hmmm… not much game here… we need to extend the playing time. I got an idea, let’s make them drive all over the map!” or c) “hey, I’ve been playing this GTAIII game, and you get to drive all over the map. What a great idea!” Bah.

Still, the upside is the driving time does give you some familiarity with the city and as you go through the game, the TAB map overlay becomes less and less necessary. And it does give you an opportunity to admire the living city they’ve coded and immerse yourself in the city a bit more.

As for the race… it’s fucking hard. No doubt about it. It’s hard like Grand Prix Legends was hard, remember that one? However, with a little perserverance, and understanding of how the car works, it can be mastered. I beat the race after 5 or 6 tries using the keyboard.

  • Use automatic transmission. The last thing you need is to worry about shifting gears.
  • At the start, go to the inside around the stalled car and use your better braking ability to get into 1st place at the first turn. Then, it’s just a matter of staying calm and staying on the road.
  • For turns, remember that the car is rear-wheel drive, and will power-slide something fierce. Proper racing technique is important… come wide into the turn, use the apex and exit wide.
  • I found watching the front wheels of the car turn helped me to stay on the road better.

Stick with it. The varied mission structure and the awesome story really make up for the early frustrations.

They have these cool things called “manuals” that come with games. When you pay for them.

That’s why I referred to the giant pull out poster map. Jackass.

And it would have been nice if the tutorial covered the TAB map.

Long driving times = familiarity with the map --> yeah, I’ll buy that. When I was going on these endless treks I was thinking “well, at least I’m learning the city layout now.” I DO admire the vastness of the cityscape, and I like the way the neighborhoods really look different from one another. But still. I sympathize with Wumpus on this, at least a little.

In general, though, I think I’m like Gladguy here–I love all Mob-related stuff, so I’m cutting this game some slack. It helps that the dialog and voice-acting are really, surprisingly, very good. I say “surprisingly” because I expected something more along the lines of the ludicrous Max Payne dialog. The “movie” parts of Mafia are actually a lot of fun to watch.

But I bet I’m gonna bail out when I hit that race mission.

Ooh sorry Jeff. Y’see the worst thing about the race mission is that it’s also an early mission. Terrible design decision to put something so frustrating so early. Pity, because the game does so much right. It’s a very mature game, in the best sense of the word. That makes it stand out.

Well, I’ll give the race the old college try (which in my case, means about 6.5 years), but if I start yelling at the computer–I’m out. Unless they put that patch out.