Watching gangster movies and reading true-crime novels are two of my favorite pastimes. Noir in general is possibly my favorite genre, and I stand with my HD colleague Melissa Parker when she says that the noir resurgence in gaming is a wonderful thing. I’ve been jealous of my Apple-devotee friends for their ability to play Overkill Mafia for a while now, so I was thrilled to discover it had migrated to Android this week. It’s not a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s manna from heaven for noir fans like me.
In Overkill Mafia, you play as a Prohibition-era mobster who looks suspiciously like Al Capone. Like Capone, you begin the game as a newcomer to the Chicago crime scene. Unlike Capone, you’re apparently taking on a billion gangs at once on your own. There are a variety of campaigns to complete, each of which consists of 20 waves of enemy mooks that are trying to rub you out. There are also “Reputation Battles,” in which you fight endless enemies until you die, and the “Best Shooter in Town,” in which you strive to get as many headshots as possible before your time runs out.
Before you get into any of that action, though, something has to be said about Overkill Mafia’s graphics—specifically, how unbelievably gorgeous they are. If you like the Sin City black-white-and-red aesthetic, you’re going to get a big kick out of Overkill Mafia. The art is incredibly detailed and retains a lot of what I love about period-piece noir comics like Road to Perdition, which works really well in this context. And that’s not even mentioning the animation, which is smooth, crisp, and delightfully gory (I really dig the tiny splatters of blood that appear whenever I kill one of my rivals).
The other part of Overkill Mafia’s design I really appreciate is its sound—but that’s not nearly up to par with its visual design. I began salivating when I heard honest-to-God voice acting in the game beyond simple grunts and screams, but the lines are often clunky and poorly delivered. More importantly, the music is nice, classic jazz, but tracks often overlap jarringly, so you’ll hear a dramatic piano fall when you die while the jaunty melody plays on underneath. And most terrible of all, when your health falls to critical—as mine so often does—your character will begin taking raspy, horrifying breaths that disturbed me so much I had to turn off the sound altogether.
So yes, it looks good (and sounds OK ometimes), but do those good looks translate into good gameplay? The answer is that’s not always the case, especially in free-to-play games, but Overkill Mafia plays as slick as it looks. The controls are simple and intuitive—aim your gun with your left thumb, shoot with your right, switch by scrolling up and down with both. It can be frustrating when you try to shoot and accidentally hit an item button instead, especially since items are so expensive (more on that later). But for the most part, I got used to that after a half hour of playing.
The biggest source of aggravation in Overkill Mafia is its aiming system, which is haphazard at best. Instead of the usual FPS aiming reticle, you are instead looking down the barrel of whatever gun you’re using at the moment. That’s fantastic for immersion, but much less fantastic for trying to hit very tiny areas of the screen. One of the best parts of the game comes when you shoot “support boxes” to get power-ups, an addition that makes the shooting-gallery style of play start to feel like a modern update of those rad 90s Tiger Electronics shooting games. But when you have to actually cover your target with a bulky gun and hope you’re shooting the right pixels, the game’s demanding precision starts to get downright annoying. That’s the default, though; there are other reticle options, naturally, but nothing with any satisfying degree of precision.
That said, the problem is not insurmountable — but it is pretty tough. The other side of Overkill Mafia is upgrading “Capone’s” wardrobe and arsenal with resources earned by completing waves and unlocking achievements. Cash and liquor are your currency for purchasing items and gun upgrades. Liquor is the freemium “diamond” equivalent, except it does double duty here. Instead of just speeding up wait times or buying you more time in combat, booze is also essential for buying some items and upgrades. You can only get a few liquor bottles at a time, unless you’re willing to pay. Luckily, the liquor prices are surprisingly reasonable, and will last you for a while. Prices for the game’s best equipment cost so much liquor and cash that they’re prohibitively expensive, but buying them isn’t strictly necessary—at least not until you attempt the highest-level campaigns.
So Overkill Mafia escapes our pay-to-win boycott just by the skin of its teeth. Don’t tell anybody, but even if it hadn’t, I’d probably still keep playing. It’s such a neat presentation of the shooter genre within a storytelling oeuvre I adore that I just can’t stop myself. It’s certainly not my pick for Game of the Year right now, but it’s a fantastic option for anyone who wants to play an FPS on the go. Overkill Mafia makes me confident that noir-themed games are sure to be a staple in mobile gaming for years to come.
Is it Hardcore?
Slight frustrations here and there don’t detract from an enjoyable noir shooting-gallery experience.