Originally released in 2002, Mafia is an action-adventure game developed by Illusion Softworks. Available across a variety of platforms, including the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, the PC version is widely considered the best, with its superior performance and graphics.
Mafia weaves a tragic tale while still managing to have excellent gameplay and plenty of action. Mafia lets you experience the life of a mobster, but also reminds you that crime doesn’t pay: there are consequences for everything that you do.
All the while, Mafia stays grounded in reality rather than falling into the over-the-top nature of similar games like Grand Theft Auto 3.
Mafia takes place in the fictional city of Lost Heaven during the Great Depression. Prohibition is in place and various criminal organizations are rising up to take control of the city. In particular, the narrative focuses on the exploits of two mafia groups — the Salieri family and the Morello family.
You play as Tommy Angelo, an everyman cab driver. Forced into becoming a getaway driver for some Salieri thugs, Tommy eventually finds himself joining the organization. He rises through the ranks as the story progresses and the player gets to see him go from associate to a trusted member of the family.
What is great about Mafia is that it is built around the narrative. Despite the fact that it is far from the first game of this kind, Mafia still tells a compelling story. Even now, almost 20 years later, it still engages most players and keeps you on the edge of your seat.
The way it does this is through focusing on a normal man. Rather than a vicious killer or master criminal, Tommy is just an average citizen. As a result, Mafia shows how it is possible for anyone to get sucked into crime. Just the wrong set of circumstances and a few bad decisions is all it takes to turn into a violent gangster.
Without spoiling too much of the story, Mafia shows the descent of Tommy into the worst version of himself. Yet, it does try to give a moral lesson without being too judgmental or overbearing. Tommy goes through an emotional arc and there is even some salvation.
Unlike many other open world action-adventure games like Grand Theft Auto, Mafia strives for realism in many respects. The city of Lost Heaven is a huge sprawling city that is full of life. For its time, the in-game world is an amazing piece of work. In total, the city takes up 12 square miles of space and provides plenty of space for you to explore.
Cars and people go about their everyday lives while the police and opposing gangsters provide obstacles for the work you want to do. Like in other open world titles, crimes and violence will lead to police coming after you. Minor offenses are reprimanded with fines. But, the police scale up their responses as you commit worse acts.
Again, like Grand Theft Auto, Mafia focuses heavily on driving. You drive around to complete tasks such as transporting allies and delivering goods. There are also a variety of other jobs such as races.
There’s an impressive 56 cars in total, so you have a wide range of vehicles to choose from. Most of them feel unique and the driving is fun — a good thing considering how much driving you do.
The same is true of the different weapons. Each gun is distinct and has its own characteristics. Some are better as long-range weapons, while others are more suited to close combat.
Whatever the case, you will almost certainly enjoy getting to grips with the various weapons. Although, the gunplay can feel a bit dated at times. You can also expect to notice some problems with the A.I. For example, police won’t engage anyone but you, even if they are attacked by other CPU characters.
The visuals for Mafia are not going to impress anyone 17 years after its original launch. However, for the time period, the huge world and detailed textures are incredibly impressive. Voice acting, sound effects, and the musical score are also better than you might expect.
There is also a sophisticated weather and day/night system. The changing environment really helps to create an atmosphere, especially during campaign missions.
The game constantly manages to set exactly the right tone and can effectively build up the drama in a scene. Equally, the cars, weapons, and characters are all rendered to a high degree of detail considering that this game released in 2002.
Mafia offers a great narrative experience that will engross you in a compelling story. There are very few complaints.
However, those who choose to play the game on the PlayStation 2 or Xbox will find issues. You can expect to see poorer performance and clearly inferior graphics on the consoles compared to PC.
On the other hand, if you play it on the preferred platform, Mafia ends up being a great game. The story is exceptional and the open world rivals that of titles like Grand Theft Auto.