The leafy avenues and posh boutiques of Windsor are a far cry from the grimy streets of 1930s America, but lurking in an unassuming office block hidden behind the shopfronts and narrow cobbled alleyways is the UK front for Take 2 Interactive. When our man on the inside suggested we drop by to check out the latest build of Mafia, it was an offer we couldn't refuse...
Your Own Capone
Mafia is a story-led action game from the makers of Hidden & Dangerous, set in an imaginary American town during the golden age of the gangster. You start out as a humble taxi driver, but your world is soon turned upside down when a group of wiseguys pile into the back seat and commandeer your cab as an impromptu getaway car. Before long you are screeching through the crowded streets with a rival gang on your tail, and it's all downhill from there. The game's missions are spread over several years, charting your rise in the local mafia as you get dragged ever deeper into a life of organised crime, going from driver to hitman and trusted trouble-shooter. Not only does your own character change, getting noticeably older and gaining weight towards the end of the game, but the city also develops around you, with new buildings being constructed and others falling into dereliction. Even the cars you see driving past on the streets and the clothes people wear change over time, and the attention to detail is impressive. The sheer scale of the city is also eye-catching, with miles of streets to drive along and a labyrinth of alleys and footpaths tucked away behind the shopfronts and apartments. Cars can be stolen to help you get around, but as there's a trick to stealing each type which you must learn first you may need to resort to public transport sometimes. Luckily then Mafia comes complete with working trams and overhead railways.
Piece Of Pipe
As you work your way through the game you will get to drive gangsters around town, carry out a hit on the boss of a brothel, rescue a partner from a gas station and take part in a savage baseball bat fight between rival gangs in a grimy back alley. And as the body count rises you will come to appreciate the little touches, like the juddering of the tommy gun in your hand, the way your victims keel over as you shoot them, and the groaning as they lie on the floor clutching at their chests until you finish them off. Mafia oozes atmosphere from every pixel, and although it's a dark, brutal game the blood and gore isn't over the top. The graphics are a match for the likes of Max Payne, and if anything the game looks even better in motion than it does in the screenshots, from the smooth character models and beautifully detailed cars to the winding city streets lined with shop signs, lamp posts, scaffolding and fire escapes. The only bad news is that we will have to wait until at least January to get our hands on the final product. The version we saw was already looking very promising, but the dialogue was still in the developers' native Czech, and the third person camera and physics needed a little work. But if the team are given time to polish the game they could be on to another winner.