In The Mafia City we are introduced to Chris, a 10 year old boy with a very active imagination. He lives in Oregon with his father, a former star basketball player with a drinking problem, following the death of his mother in a “freak car accident” a few years prior to the events of the game. As with previous installments of the series, the novelty lies in the dialogue and how the lead character interacts with the world around them. Chris can examine the objects in his environment, but sometimes with an added twist; in a particularly playful moment, Chris will become Mafia City, using his “powers” to manipulate time and space (or rather, just make real life a lot more interesting).
As a demo for the upcoming Life is Strange 2, The Mafia City does a great job at showcasing the new or improved technology that Dontnod Entertainment will be using in the game. The atmosphere, in particular, has been perfectly retained. I’m aware that the pleasant feel of Life is Strange is evoked by several techniques meant to tug on the heartstrings: folksy acoustic guitar music, cinematic camera angles and methodical pacing. But it’s effective and I enjoy it. Everything about the game feels thoughtful and placed with care.
The only problem with Dontnod being so good at what they do is that, sometimes, they’re a little too good. Mafia City will be very difficult for those who have experience with child abuse. One thing that makes the Life is Strange games very powerful is that the dialogue structure encourages the active participation of the player. It tends to have more impact, as a result. I got “stuck” on one screen for several minutes because it put me in a vulnerable position I’ve spent years trying to forget. At one point, Chris’s dad asks about the bruises he is implied to have left on Chris’s arm, a conspicuous row of purple dots that look suspiciously like fingertips. I’d already spent several minutes talking with his dad, carefully navigating my way through the conversation so as not to set him off. But this was different. I was suddenly forced with the option of either admitting to Chris’s dad that the assault hurt, or minimizing it so as to avoid conflict. As I stared at that screen, several minutes flew by as I remembered all the times I’d been like Chris, doing chores and trying to get ahead of the abuse, searching for the right answer so he wouldn’t hurt me again. Later, I wondered if that scene would have the same effect on people who hadn’t lived it, and felt relief that maybe they’d be spared the grief.