Super Mario Perfect Game Of The Century

What happens when a plumber and a princess go on vacation to a tropical island known for its beauty and wonderful tourist attractions? Well, if you are Mario, then it can only mean its time to get wrapped up in yet another adventure and hopefully, save the day.

This time around, Nintendo sends gamers to Isla Delfino, home of sun, fun and a nasty brown sludge. Well, the brown sludge is a rather new feature added by someone who suspiciously looks like Mario. Its because of this resemblance that gets Mario accused of the sludge and graffiti crimes, leaving him with the duty to clean up the island. Of course, being the good gent he is, Mario agrees and heads out to solve this mystery of the other Mario.

In the process of cleaning up, Mario must also find and collect ‘Shines’, the islands own personal sunshine devices. Naturally, these are collected through any number of means and as collected, allow you access to other areas of the game. Of course, you do not need every shine, as there are a lot, just enough to keep opening the right areas for you to progress the game.

Sound like Mario 64 or any number of other platformers? That’s because it is. Mario Sunshine follows many formulas laid down by both its predecessor and the genre. However, as any good Mario game does, it also has a lot of innovation, and even manages to turn old ideas into fun enjoyable ones along the course of the game.

The biggest addition to Mario Sunshine over its early counterpart is the new WaterPak Mario gets to use called FLUUD. With the waterpak you can squirt all the sludge away that must be cleaned, but its usefulness far from ends there.

FLUUD adds many new tricks to Mario’s arsenal, including hover abilities, a rocket jump and a speed burst. Combining these abilities with others becomes essential to completing tasks and progressing your way through levels. FLUUD also has other methods of handiness such as squirting water in front of you to do super belly slides or using it spin fast on ropes to throw yourself far. Again, that’s not all as the game is designed with FLUUD in mind and there are plenty of extra spots to use it. This includes defeating enemies, turning objects in levels and knocking things round. In fact, a good rule of thumb is to squirt everything you see, as it may react in some form or another. This all really opens the game up with some variety and gives you plenty of ways to accomplish tasks, as well as makes discovery of FLUUD’s uses fun.

Mario has an arsenal of his standard moves available as well throughout Mario Sunshine. This can be a simple as stomping an enemy, to super useful moves like the triple jump or flip. Mario has some others though, like the ability to crawl on chainlink in old Super Mario World style. This similar approach is also present in the controls, which made Sunshine incredibly easy to pick up play. The controls are simple, with only a few tricks needed to learn, and kids to adults should find Sunshine an easy learn.

As I said, Sunshine borrows heavily from its predecessor, which includes your level advancement. As I said, as you collect shines, new world areas open up, each one with multiple tasks to acquire shines. Shines can be found elsewhere as well, such as by collecting Blue Coins or performing tasks for citizens in the main world area. Not all shines must be gotten for a finished game, but they are still fun to hunt down and completists will have plenty to do. Nintendo even included the fact that the more Shines you get, the brighter the island becomes. Just another quirky detail that is really fun to watch unfold.

Levels themselves are very well laid out and include plenty of variety throughout. A harbor, a beach, an amusement park, a village — all and more are present, each with different parts to it and even levels within the levels. These mini-levels are rather pointless, but some of the most enjoyable as well, as they are usually a form of obstacle course with a Shine at the end. This varies from running and timing courses, to slides and even my favorite, a Mario-sized pinball machine. Between these and the regular levels, which have all kinds of secrets and fun little tasks to do, there is a massive amount to explore and do and one can find themselves running around just looking without getting bored.

Enemies that show up in Sunshine are both of the old and new, with an surprising amount of variety in their abilities, strengths, weaknesses and ways to beat them. Bosses are the bread and butter though, with some incredibly hard, incredibly fantastic and very cinematic battles. Even within the early parts of the games you will have already faced a giant Wiggler (and I mean giant) and a Mecha thing, battling it from a rollercoaster car. Battles like these continue and really thrill and entertain.

Despite what some may have thought, Sunshine’s graphics are not just like Mario 64‘s. Although they could have certainly been better, they are still very well done with plenty of vibrancy to them and some great animations. Some areas really stand out as well, such as water effects and sludge. The game simply looks like Mario should and is done well enough to be very pleasing to the eye.

The only graphical drawback is the camera. While some say the camera is Sunshine is bad, I found it to only get in the way on a few occasions. It is true it does not always want to work the best for you, but you have a nice level of control over it, both zooming and rotating, which should help in just about any situation. You may still get “stuck” behind a wall or some such with the camera at times, but the game at least is designed to show you a shadow of Mario, allowing you to know what is going on. In fact, for all the important tasks, I had no camera problems, once I learned to control it fluidly, so unless you hate controlling cameras as well as moving, it should be just fine.

Sound is as expected mostly well done. You get good music and sound effects, all very appropriate of a Mario title. Nintendo even threw in some classic music for a nice area of the game that should please all old-schoolers. Sadly, the voice acting is not so great, but not in the game enough to distract you at any point.

As I have been saying, Mario Sunshine is much like Mario 64. This almost insures those who enjoyed the original will enjoy this next installment. Sunshine goes further though and is really a great platformer all around. Anyone looking for the next great thing on the GameCube should take a look here and give it a whirl, and it is one of those titles which can easily bridge the age gaps as well. Sunshine is full of fun, plenty of innovations and Nintendo quirks, and just comes off as a very enjoyable way to spend some time gaming. I have enjoyed my time so far and continue to do so and find that my money was well placed in the trust of Nintendo, as Sunshine is and will remain a great game.

An Honest Review On Moto Gp

The Xbox has already seen some solid racing titles, but more is typically better, especially when the system is still relatively new. Enter THQ and Climax, with an offering of a solid simulation-style motorbike racing game. Moto GP handles well and looks good and should easily please all those race fans looking for another title to add to their lineups.

Moto GP is not really unique in any way in its setup. It features many tried and true racing genre standards. You will find a standard “career” style mode in the Grand Prix and a more accessible “one-shot” setup in the Arcade Championship. Of course, there are also a variety of tracks, bikes and riders to choose from as well. Despite this standard fare, Moto GP still stands tall due to its ability to combine all its features well and offer a solid and entertaining experience.

The single most enjoyable part of all this is in the game’s control and gameplay. Unlike auto racing games, motorbikes require a little different handling style and Moto GP captures this well. As you race around the track, you can not rely on quick braking and powersliding (although it is possible), but must finesse your bike around corners and learn the feel of each bike’s abilities. You must start turns early and avoid off-road at all costs, keeping yourself tight to the track. This givesMoto GP a unique racing feel and really challenges the player who is only used to auto racing titles.

Moto GP sticks to the simulation aspect in the Grand Prix mode as well, and offers some challenge in learning the hardcore aspects of racing. In Arcade however, you get to have a little fun and drop some of the stricter racing requirements. You can earn points doing such stunts as wheelies and burnouts, offering a second, different mode to enjoy the game with.

Both modes, Grand Prix and Arcade, give you a lot to do in the game, with the Grand Prix mode being rather deep. The rider creation offers good flexibility and the system for improvement is nice, although nothing new. The game also allows you to continue into more seasons after winning the first and improve skills, although racing on the same tracks as before, so this can get repetitive as well.

The controls of Moto GP are remarkably smooth and the game offers a nice selection of setups that will help you find exactly the control scheme that works best. All the little nuances of motorbike racing are represented well, as you race around leaning forward to get more speed or putting more into a turn to try and take it faster. The game also “feels” fast, and gives a nice sensation of speed as you race down straightaways.

Ten tracks are offered throughout the game and give you a nice variety of racing styles. Sadly, motorbike racing is not the most diversified of racing types, so some tracks seem like slight variations of others and racing them can get boring after awhile if you are used to more variety in racing titles. A large assortment of licensed bikes and riders are also offered, and give a great selection for any style of bike you may want. As mentioned though, the Grand Prix has a nice rider creation as well. The game has some unlockables as well, such as mirrored or reversed tracks and various ‘fun’ modes, which can be accessed from both Grand Prix and Arcade modes.

Of course, multiplayer is present and Moto GP allows up to four players. Split screen is a pretty decent way to play, as the game design still allows an open field of view, even with half or quarter of the screen. Due to the more technical nature of the game, Moto GP does not get as wild as other racing games, but is still a fun multiplayer experience.

Moto GP not only offers up a solid gameplay experience, but is a great looking title on the Xbox. While the tracks need more diversity and detail, the riders are very well done and the effects, such as lighting, really add to the look of the game. There are some excellent intro videos for tracks in Grand Prix as well, that really add to the flavor of a race career. The sound is not as spectacular, but does do its job. It has all the right sounds, but nothing outstanding or memorable.

Moto GP is definitely geared more towards serious race fans, as it is definitely more of a simulation, even with its Arcade mode. For race fans though, it is a great game. Solid gameplay leads the way and really offers a deep career mode. A little more variety would have been nice, but there is still enough to master. Non-race fans may still find some fun as well, as motorbike racing is a change of pace from other styles, so it is worth at least a rental.

Admittedly, My First 30 Minutes Playing Castlevania

 Harmony of Dissonance were a little under-whelming Although there were some cool elements, I was just not impressed in comparison to the hype and my own personal excitement that had built up. Once those 30 minutes passed though and I started to move through more and more of the game, it became clear Harmony was in fact living up to all its hype. The game is certainly not *better* than Circle of the Moon, but instead, is an excellent compliment and balance to it, offering more Castlevania, with new and different elements of play.

HoD is the story of Juste Belmont, descendent of Simon Belmont. It’s been nearly 50 years since Simon’s defeat of Dracula and the dark lord is not scheduled to return for another 50. However, when Juste’s friend Maxim returns after a 2 year training hiatus and says their friend Lydie is in trouble, Juste and Maxim head out to the newly created castle of Dracula. This story is surprisingly interesting and throws some excellent twists at you that really push it forward, and add to the overall flavor of the game.

As far as the gameplay goes, Harmony offers several different elements over Moon, which really gives it its unique and fun feeling. The game still progresses in the same basic manner, in that you explore areas and find items, eventually finding bosses and fighting them for more unique items. These unique items usually allow you to access new areas previously unattainable. However, this progression is paced differently than Moon and the castle opens up differently as well.

The main difference is that there are not as many strict blockages in your way, although many standards still exist like platforms requiring a double jump or walls needing to be broken. Instead, Harmony has many “boss” battles, some really feeling rather minor, that block your path, although some only guard extra items. You do still need to collect special items, but more of the castle is open to you overall as you go, with smaller areas blocked off, offering a larger concentration on exploring and adventuring in Harmony.

This works well, giving you lots of freedom in exploration, but also lends itself to lots of repeat traveling, some very anti-climatic boss battles, and lots of repeat traveling. While repeating areas is nothing new to the series, although early on you do it far too much, the unchallenging boss battles were rather disappointing. Many are “walk into it once and beat it battles,” instead of having to learn the strategic edge to win. Also, with the right equipment, some bosses are terribly weak and die within a short amount of time, even some of the later bosses which you expect to be hard. The number of boss battles help make up for this some, and you will love just running into a boss room door when you weren’t expecting one to be the area or so soon after another.

Despite the repeat traveling I mentioned, the layout of the castle is very well done and compliments the more open feel well. It has many series’ standards, but also some very interesting new areas, although they lack the same “oomph” since you do not “open them up” from battles or whatnot. I especially loved some of the small elements like giant gears to jump on with gaps in them or swinging pendulums, which are not exactly original but fun elements overall. Only bad thing is though, there was very little danger in these parts and they really only served as something interesting instead of foreboding. In fact, besides enemies, the castle itself holds few dangers, with a few exceptions, which tends too be anti-climatic as well when you enter areas that feel as though they should hold countless dangers. Overall though, you still get a great sense of awe exploring the castle, and one story twist REALLY adds to this, when you think you have it all figured out.

One feature that must be mentioned here though, is the great puzzles or tasks laid out for you in Harmony’s levels. Usually hiding good items and sometimes a pathway to other areas, there are several areas where you must either be on your best performance to complete the task (such as racing a ball, trust me, its cool) or fighting an enemy a particular way. These areas really break up the pace of the game, in a good way, and give you something really cool to focus on, either for a few seconds or a few minutes. Also, instead of numerous hidden passages like Moon, you encounter well hidden or tricky to uncover areas that are fun to discover. You may search for hours for something, only to find yourself trying something new and giving yourself the “well, duh” slap on the head when you figure it out.

The fighting in Harmony is nothing new, but well-paced and action-packed. Many tried and true enemies return (zombies inside the front door anyone?) and many great new ones show their faces. What’s nice about Harmony, is despite the lack of boss size, the regular enemies help make up for it. Armors are probably the major enemies as they come in various forms and are HUGE. Also though, you encounter great enemies like phantom swords of various levels and belly-flopping fish who are tougher than they appear, as well as many original takes on old enemies. It all works very well and somehow, despite having to retrace many steps, enemies remain interesting and fun to fight and sometimes even challenging.

What I can not figure out though, is why my whip now must have a power-up to twirl in a circle? Although Harmony does let you stand stationary and throw your whip out a direction based on the control pad while holding the attack button, I much prefer the twirl. That aside, the rest of Juste’s arsenal is pure Castlevania fun. You get upgrades for your whip which equip and add bonus damage like fire or electricity, you get items to equip like various armors with great effects and rings that effect sub-weapons, and of course, there’s always your sub-weapons (dagger, ax, holy water, holy book, cross, fist), all of which are very useful and some slightly tweaked for this game. The best part though, is the magic system which allows sub-weapons to be turned into magical attacks.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the DSS system. It offered a massive array of possibilities and lots of mystery as to what the cards did. Harmony’ssystem though, fits the fast-paced action of the game better with a nice compliment of attacks and defenses that are all useful in their own way. You get cool effects like a whirlwind of holy books or homing ice daggers. Also, things like fiery dragons being summoned and attacking with a short-lived but powerful attack are useful on tough enemies. The only downfall to the system is the need to decide ahead of time, and find, the sub-weapon you want. But, you quickly adopt favorites and strategies and know when to pick up what.

The final big change and probably the one thing more people wanted more than anything in the gameplay is a save anywhere feature, although it puts you back at your last save point when you load. This feature is incredibly handy, if not a bit too nice to gamers. It takes some of the edge out of playing, since you can explore an area, find a dead end and reload to start where you were, but offers the flexibility of not needing to worry about finding a save point before shutting the game down.

Harmony has received a graphical overhaul over Moon with rather nice results. Levels look great and the parallax backgrounds in some areas are absolutely incredible, and I mean incredible. Konami put some extra effort to really give this castle design a great feel. Effects like ghosts in windows in skeletons in mirrors are also very nicely done. Some enemies, such as the huge armors and some bosses are amazing looking as well, although some smaller ones are a bit drab. Sadly, some animations and effects are not all that great, although good enough. Juste’s movements look rather stiff at times and the lack of things like his not whip flaming with the fire add-on, etc., are little elements you really long for that just take away from the feel of the game. Also, none of the magic effects are really spectacular looking, although some are better than others.

Sound is well done, although again, nothing great. Some areas have really good music, others don’t. Some sound effects are really good, others aren’t. Overall, it all fits the game well and works well enough, but is nothing memorable or exciting.

For those looking for more than just a quick game, Harmony offers several secrets and some different ways to do things, including turning features off to make the game harder. Some things are hard to find or figure out, but overall you’ll find plenty to keep you busy.

As I said, I like both Harmony and Moon the same. I honestly think Castlevania fans of all types are going to love Harmony as well and really enjoy it. What’s nice though, is it offers a new type of gameplay while sticking to the Castlevania formula. You get more of an overall exploration feel in Harmony, while still getting the thrill of uncovering new areas, items and fighting challenging enemies.

I Think It’s Safe To Say That Contra

Shattered Soldier is Konami’s answer to all us old school gamers who sit around and complain about games being “too easy” these days. Shattered Soldier will kick your butt. It’s a throw back to the original Contra days when men were men, aliens were aliens, one shot killed and patterns had to be memorized.

That being said, Shattered Soldier is fun… very fun. Due to its harking back to the nature of the beginning of the series, this is one game mostly reserved for fans. Contra: SS is done in the side-scroller fashion, although set it a full 3D world, and takes you through the game in a stages/levels fashion with plenty of things to blow up.

Being Contra, the game of course deals with aliens, powerful soldiers and lots of firepower. Of Alien Wars fame, Bill Rizer returns is this installment to stop the invading threat, along with a new partner Lucia. The game actually includes cutscenes furthering the story, although frankly, this is all very minor backdrop stuff to the game’s all consuming action.

So, what makes the game fun besides just “being Contra“? Well, SS as I said is done in a side-scrolling fashion, which is a nice throw back as opposed to everything being in 3D these days, although the game IS in a 3D world for graphical goodness. This side-scrolling approach makes the game simple to play and learn, although the intense action makes it VERY difficult to master.

The game presents you with four stages to begin with, each one taking place in a different location and having unique encounters and situations (although much has been seen in some Contra games before). For example, in one stage you’ll be running through a city, then crawling across some pipes, only to be thrust upon a snowboard and switched to a front perspective as a giant worm-thing attacks. Of course, other stages have you riding hover bikes, fighting large robots or aliens, or hanging onto missiles as you fight.

This constant switching of play styles really keeps the game intense and it is all paced well enough that it does not feel fragmented, although some of the parts feel out of place of the level. Enemies are constant throughout levels, and there is a great mix here as well. Enemies switch constantly from standard running ground troops, to grenade launching men, to alien creatures and even some unexpected, tough and large boss-ish creatures. Also in the mix are fun periods of fighting machines and vehicles and also the large and incredibly fun ending boss battles (I LOVE the train level ending!).

This is all standard Contra stuff for those that have played the series, but even despite this, it is still all very fresh feeling. However, there is some new stuff added to the series as well. The main issue is the use of weapons. No longer are there pickups, instead you have three weapons through the whole game, each with a main and alternate firing method.

At first this seemed like a bad approach, as I enjoyed the pickups and finding a favorite method of time gone past, but it has been well integrated into the game. At different points in the game, or with different enemies, you will find various weapons are best. This means that although you have six weapons to use always, you must figure out which to use. In fact, some areas are designed to favor some weapons, and some may in fact not be possible without a specific one. Combined into the intense pace of the game, this works well and adds a new element of strategy.

Also new in the game is how you can select stages, instead of just being ran through each in succession. The various difficulty settings are where the game takes on its true challenge as well. With easy mode, you are basically handed the game with 99 continues. Switch over to normal though, and you are down to 3… and this is where the true challenge begins. Of course, there’s also a hard mode, so it gets even more intense if you like. There harder modes are also where you want a second player with you, as it is great working together in this game, not to mention loads of fun like previous games in the series.

Sadly, even with the challenge, the game is rather short, very short in fact. No shorter than say old Contra titles, but I guess I was just hoping for some more. However, the challenge will keep you playing and practicing and the old-school style action has a way of constantly drawing me in for more. Its a game I and I think most Contra fans will no doubt pick up again and again. Also, things must be unlocked and there are some bonus things to unlock as well, so you will not get and see everything right away.

Being set in a 3D world works very well for the game and it really does look rather good. Stages are at times a little dark or muddled, but well detailed and full of life at other times. Effects are big and flashy, like they should be, although figuring out what hurts and what doesn’t can get annoying. And finally, animations are all very well done with some great, super-size enemies who really steal the show. I must say some 3D elements look at of place at times, although still look good, but for the most part, it all meshes very well (again, I LOVE the train level!).

The sound is also a nice bonus, as it far exceeds a simple shooter expectations. Full of plenty of booming action and a great pounding soundtrack, the game really draws you in audibly and this helps set the pace for the action.

I must say it again, because it’s worth repeating: This game is really mainly for fans of the series. However, I do not think the game distances itself from others, as shooter fans may really find the action to their liking. It plays like old Contra with new ideas, making it a new Contra, but still feels like old Contra, even though its new… well, you get the idea. Let’s just say this game is a new breed of a gaming goodness monster that will hopefully not only only see future Contratitles, but perhaps other Konami series redone like this as well.

A Brief Review On Grand Theft Auto III

Widely received as one of the more successful releases for the PS2 and PC in the last year, Grand Theft Auto III wowed many a fan with its hybrid game-type approach and its “balls-to-the-wall-anything-goes” attitude. And let’s face it, being able to perform a drive-by on innocent civilians on a whim can be a rather appealing aspect of a game — especially when a day at work has gone awry and you’re beginning to feel angst welling up inside you that has your psyche slowly spiralling towards a desired outlet reminiscent of something from the movie Falling Down! …errr… *ahem* Pardon me.

At any rate, let two things be known: First, I am probably one of a select few who didn’t do complete drool-laden backflips over GTA3. Second, despite the bulk of the preceding text being donated largely to the topic of GTA3 (and my latent madness), this review is not focused on the aforementioned game at all, but instead, Illusion Softworks’s Mafia.

There are obvious points of comparison between these two games though that need to be illustrated. The most salient of these points from a review standpoint is that both games revolve around a 3rd person character who must navigate missions in a large scale city environment by performing various deeds of ill repute with a focus on the driving and thievery of vehicles. With that stated, the two games’ similarity ends here.

I’ve always been of the opinion that a game should try and do one thing very well and that is fulfill the requirements of its genre by trying to push that genre’s boundaries using the tools of creativity and innovation. My opinion is no different when it concerns dual-genre games, which may be why GTA3 didn’t intrigue me. But where GTA3 lost my interest, Mafia has surprisingly stepped in and snatched it without letting go — or at least without letting go too often.

The game’s premise is simple: you are Tommy, a gangster who has earned himself a target on his back, courtesy of the local Don, and now you’ve turned to a cop for help. In exchange for protection from the mob, Tommy offers to tell his entire story and all pertinent information relating to mob activities that he’s been involved in.

Mafia essentially allows you to play through Tommy’s story as he tells it, beginning with his start as a taxi driver whose cab is hijacked by two desperate mobsters on the run from their gun-toting pursuers. The game moves from here as Tommy ultimately finds himself apart of the “family” and his adventures continue. You control Tommy in 3rd person (as mentioned previously) and can walk around wielding weaponry or use a car, with switching between these modes being fluid and intuitive.

In terms of the presentation of the game, Mafia tries to do two things. Primarily, it introduces the game in one of the most impressive cinematic fashions I’ve seen to date and based on the presentation of the rest of the game through to its end, it seems more than ostensible that creating a movie-like atmosphere was the goal of Mafia’s creators.

The second goal of this game however seems to have been to fully immerse the player in the seemingly living world that is “Lost Heaven”, the city in which the game’s tale is set. Before every mission assigned to Tommy, you not only choose a car based on what’s available to you (either because you’ve stolen it or it’s been provided for you), but you’re administered firearms that are deemed to be appropriate for the type of mission you’ll be undertaking. Each of these tasks is fulfilled by speaking with various people who work with you in the “family”.

Once you’ve been through that preparation routine (and get used to it, because you do it a lot), it’s time to drive to your destination through the rich and elaborate world of Lost Heaven. Disappointingly, it is here where Mafia’s blemishes come to the fore… even before the real meat of the game is encountered.

With driving an intricate town as big as Lost Heaven is, one cannot combine a cinematic experience with an immersive one without flaw. The city is huge, your car is slow and reflects the sluggish performance of cars of that period (or so it would seem). Damage, speeding, crashing… all these things slow you down even more or get you pulled over by police. And some of Tommy’ driving missions are on a timer, meaning if you suck at driving AND don’t like it, it’s even less of a treat.

A movie, for example, compresses a storyline fittingly… you never see a motion picture’s protagonist drive to and fro to each and every destination, just like you rarely see them going to the bathroom unless it’s of relevance to the plot (eg. True Lies). Unfortunately, most of the driving performed in the game is slightly damaging to Mafia’s intended cinematic essence even though it’s obvious that the game’s developers took great care in emulating the look and feel of a great variety of 30’s vehicles.

You simply spend more time driving in this game than you do anything else… it’s that simple. I won’t spend too much time harping on this issue though because it’s pretty much the only point of contention that I have with Mafia, even if it’s a significant one (worth at least a grade in the rating). Hell, I won’t even harp over the fact that AI controlled cars in the game routinely run stop signs, run people over and will refuse to go around a car stopped in traffic no matter what. All of these bugs are generally forgivable when you witness the other details that Mafia provides, least of which is the sheer detail of the city, the exquisite facial textures of the main characters and the fact that, if you want, you not only can drive to your destination, but you can often take the street car or train as well. There are simply a too many details to list.

You may be asking though, “What the hell?! Why go through all that lame driving if it pisses you off so much?”. That’s a good question, and the answer is that the rest of Mafia is so intriguing that as a player, it will seem that getting through all driving tasks in the game is completely and beyond a shadow of a doubt, very worth it. The action, the story, the graphics and sound… it’s all outstanding. It’s just like sticking your fingers in the toaster and burning yourself numerous times in the process of extracting your delicious toast… it becomes worth it in the end and this particular piece of toast not only tells you a good story, but it lets you tote a tommy gun around and perform drive-bys. Well, this is coming from a guy who loves toast. Especially with PB and J.

Mafia, in all of its cinematic glory, uses the in-game engine to display the cutscenes and I doubt many will be disappointed. Character model animations are exceptionally well done for most of the game and as I said before, facial texturing is great, even if the game could use some TRUFORM to round out the somewhat blocky anatomies of the models. The interiors of buildings are even more impressive than their exteriors (which I should mention, produce the dreaded “pop-up” effect when appearing on the horizon). Hotels, art museums and banks, are all extremely well done and you’d be hard pressed to find better graphics for building interiors these days in any PC title. The music is also top-notch, and from what I can tell from my experience with music of that era, its pretty much dead-on. The voice acting and sound effects are also convincing in my book and leave little room for complaints.

Essentially, the controls are simple and easy to grasp — so no problems there. The 3rd person camera is a bit too close to Tommy’s back, but it’s forgivable. Also, he can’t do a heck of a lot other than roll around and fire his weapon. However, animations for reloading, firing and rolling are all notably good and you can have some visually entertaining firefights in the middle of a pedestrian filled street. There’s just nothing like hiding behind a car as your tires deflate with the penetration of stray bullets fired by your foes and watching a nearby coupe blow up after it’s been pumped excessively with lead that was intended to find your head as its mark.

Overall, this action is quite awesome (the last mission is particularly groovy), the missions truly generate atmosphere galore and if it weren’t for a lot of the driving (and I say a LOT because the driving CAN be fun in this game, it should just be in moderation), this game would have received an even higher mark. But the mark it gets from me is an A grade nonetheless — and coming from myself, this is surprising because Mafia fundamentally flies in the face of my aforementioned theory regarding doing ONE thing very well.

Mafia tries to do two things very well, and although one resulted in some excesses, it produced an end product that works with a storyline that’s more cohesive and structured than GTA3, which I personally see as a real bonus. Perhaps the “dual-genre genre” (try saying that three times fast) is beginning to come unto its own, as I certainly see Mafiaas the current benchmark for these types of games even if there’s undoubtedly room for improvement.

Other modes in the game such as Free Ride grant you the freedom to go around killing gangsters etc. without mission requirements to hinder you, but you may find that there isn’t much replay value regardless of the availability of that option.

Nevertheless, to conclude, mixing an immersive experience with a cinematic one is, without a doubt, a daunting task taken on by Mafia’s developers and it’s certainly not perfectly executed. But, this is one of the top releases of this year regardless of any shortcomings that have arisen as a result of that conceptual alchemy… and hopefully the experimentation continues.