Mafia PC game Review
Updated: Jan 17
The original Mafia was a game a 12-year-old had no business playing. It was violent and had a mature story filled with betrayal, murder, and corruption. Of course, that didn’t stop me from giving it a try and doing so changed my perspective on gaming. Even at 12 years old I knew that Mafia was a special game, second only to Max Payne 2 (check out my previous article on Max Payne) and today, 25 years later, it is still one of my favorite games of all time.
Mafia is an open world, 3rd person shooter for the PC and was developed by Illusion Softworks and released in August 2002 a little over a year after the critical and commercial darling Grand Theft Auto 3. Grand Theft Auto 3 revolutionized the industry with its massive open world and freedom to tackle it any way you see fit. Similar to GTA 3, Mafia was also an open-world game but where it differentiated itself was in its immersive story. The open-world was merely a tool in which to create a more believable and grounded reality for the narrative. The main campaign was pretty much void of side mission and activities (Side missions and activities were only unlocked in the “Free Ride Extreme” mode after the main campaign is completed), it was solely there to enhance the story. And boy what a story.
Mafia follows Thomas “Tommy” Angelo, an insignificant cab driver in the fictitious city of Lost Heaven in the 1930s. One night while waiting for his next fair two mobsters, Paulie and Sam, burst into his cab while engaging in a gunfight and demand Thomas to get them the hell out of there. After they escape, Tommy drops Paulie and Sam at a joint called “Salieri’s” and they compensate Tommy by offering their help whenever it's needed. The following day while on a smoke break Tommy is ambushed by the previous night attackers and takes up Paulie and Sam’s offer and escapes to Salieri’s. Upon arrival the two men chasing him are quickly gunned down and as repayment Tommy gets invited to join the Salieri crime family.
The story is very reminiscent of the work of Martin Scorsese and strives to have the same impact and resonance as his films, and in my opinion, succeeds tremendously. First and foremost, the acting and writing are top-notch. Each character is impeccably written and Tommy Angelo is one of the most sympathetic and relatable “hero’s” there is in gaming. He is a simple man with nothing and crazy circumstances lead him to a life of crime but what makes him fascinating is that throughout his story Tommy never loses his humanity. He is loyal to his new family but never at the cost of his soul. His moral compass helps justify playing as a criminal and that is something the later games never captured. The supporting cast is the typical mafia movie affair but all of them give that little extra making them unique in their own way making this seem like a real crime family.
We spend more time with Paulie and Sam than most other characters and they too have excellent development and add a really strong dynamic to Tommy’s story. With them, you often get different perspectives on any given situation almost as if they are the devil and angel on Tommy’s shoulder. The game is also shot beautifully with all the angles and techniques you would find in any Hollywood movie giving the game a very polished and cinematic feel even by today's standards. The open-world lends itself very nicely to the game and tries to capture the times realistically. This is not GTA and if you blow a stop signal or get caught speeding a cop will pull you over and give you a ticket. Some might find it to be annoying but for me, it only made the world more believable.
As great as the story is and how awesome the game looks, I wish I can say the same about the gameplay. It's passable but it is definitely rough by today's standards. You have all the standard assortments of weapons and vehicles all accurate to the period but they are not always fun to use. The driving is so accurate that it's boring. Often you will get into “high speed” car chases but the cars feel like they are a million tons and they move like molasses. It takes so much time to pick up speed and once you do you will often crash, making you go through the whole ordeal again.
The gunplay fairs a little better than the driving in that the guns all feel and sound great, they function properly and are fun to use but all the enemies are bullet sponges and I found myself left without ammo forcing me to use the god-awful melee combat. Often you can equip baseball bats and brass knuckles but there is absolutely no skill involved, I mostly just found myself mashing the button hoping I hit the bad guy more then he hit me. The combat would be a huge issue if not for the excellent mission design.
Unlike most open-world games of the time, there is barely any fetch quest and almost all the missions are meticulously crafted giving them an extremely tight feel. There are missions where you have to pull off a bank robbery or infiltrate and blow up a brothel, there are countless missions as intricate as these that strengthen the story instead of bog you down with busy work. Every mission felt like it mattered and despite the dated mechanics I always felt compelled to continue and see it through.
Mafia is a special game. A really special game. It respected the gamers and wasn’t afraid to tell a mature story. It was not the first game to do it, I’m sure, but it did it in a way that 15 years later every moment is still etched into my brain. The game did not age so well with mechanics that leave much to be desired but if you are a little forgiving you will find a game that demands your attention and will take you on one hell of a ride.