We must all admit that every single one of us had a thought about what it would be like to be a gangster, or at least, be a member of a gangster family after watching the Godfather movies. The seeming closeness of the family members, the loyalty of friends, the pretty women, the shiny cars, the tailored suits and the unlimited supplies of spaghetti, pasta and garlic bread made the life of an Italian mobster seemed like the one worth living. However, if we were to dig beneath the surface, we would also discover the bad side of a gangster’s life such as the daily violence, the frequent betrayal of those ''loyal and close'' friends and family, and almost constant uncertainty of whether you will wake up one day to find a horse’s head in your bed or you’ll go out with your buddies to get some cannolies and end up with one of them shooting you. Now, although all three Godfather movies, as well as the movie GoodFellas, managed to masterfully depict the lives of gangsters, it wasn’t until 2002, that we get to fully immerse ourselves and actually control one in a virtual world.
In 2002, Czech-based Illusion Softworks released and open-world action-adventure game titled Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven. Heavily inspired by both of the above-mentioned movies, Mafia’s plot revolves around Thomas Tommy Angelo, an ordinary man who unwillingly gets involved in a war in between two rival mob families.
The game starts off during the early years of Prohibition and is set in the fictional City of Lost Heaven, located on the US East Coast, where Thomas Angelo works as a taxi driver. One night, while taking a smoke break, Thomas encounters two well-dressed gentlemen, who hijack his taxi and force him at gunpoint to drive them “anywhere, fast”. Soon, Tommy’s taxi starts getting shot at, and he discovers that the two are being pursued by a rival gang, which leads to a high-speed chase around Lost Heaven. Upon successful escape, Tommy drives the duo to Salieri’s bar in Little Italy, where he is given a hefty reward for the car repair and his services, as well as an offer to stop by in case he needs any help or wants work. Shocked by the encounter, Tommy goes home and decides that he won’t even consider the mobster’s offer as for him, it is better to be ‘’poor and alive, then rich and dead’’.
Chronology of Tommy's first encounter with Paulie and Sam.
Few weeks after the incident, Tommy has returned to his regular job of faring passengers around the city. While waiting for the next customer, Tommy gets attacked by two mobsters who remembered him from the night he helped their rivals escape. Faced with the prospect of being killed, Tommy realizes that he is close to the Salieri’s bar and decides to make a run for it, using the side alleys as a cover from the gun-wielding mobsters. After a short pursuit, Tommy reaches the safety of the bar where he finds Paulie, one of the mobsters he drove the faithful night. Paulie and his crew quickly ''take care'' of the pursuing gangster, with the following cutscene showing their lifeless bodies being loaded onto a covered flatbed truck. At the same time, Tommy, Paulie and Sam, the other mobster Tommy helped escape, are seen in the bar, laughing and drinking, indicating Tommy’s induction into the organization and his change of attitude towards it. From that point on, Tommy is sent on various missions, slowly making his way up in the mobster chain of command.
Tommy being attacked and running to the Salieri's Bar and the aftermath.
Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven is played from a third person perspective and features a wide variety of missions. There are those that require stealth, as well as those that involve bank heists and massive shootouts. Driving is an important part of the game, so players can expect to participate in leisure driving, many high-speed chases and even an instance of professional racing. Although the missions are linear in terms of progression, players are able to freely move around the city before starting or upon ending a mission.
The City of Lost Heaven is a pleasure to explore both on a vehicle and on foot. It is very big and heavily inspired by 1930’s New York, Chicago and San Francisco, with some of the real-life landmarks from those cities being present in the game, albeit in smaller scale. It is divided into districts such as Little Italy, China Town and Central Island (and many others), some of which are reminiscent of their real-life counterparts and have a very distinct charm. The city also feels very lively, with NPCs driving and parking their cars, crossing the streets and walking around the sidewalks. The police are also enforcing basic traffics laws, so players need to respect them unless they want to be pulled over and fined. Speeding, running red lights and getting into accidents all attracts police’s attention and can result either in a fine or an arrest which automatically fails the mission.
Surrounding the City of Lost Heaven is a countryside that the players can also visit. This area includes some picturesque scenery, as well as landmarks such as the Lost Heaven Airport which is packed with propeller planes and zeppelins, the Clark’s Motel and Gas Station, Racing Circuit and even an Electricity Dam.
View of Lost Heaven's Central Island, and the Airport.
Besides the beautiful city and the countryside, driving in Mafia is also enhanced by the large selection of vehicles. There are about 70 different cars that the players can drive, including hot rods and old-school racing cars that look like arrowheads. To add to the immersion, the vehicles are introduced periodically throughout the game, with older 1920’s models being available from the very start, while 1930’s models appear later on. Driving is also very realistic, meaning that the players can run out of gas or get their fuel tank punctured by a bullet, they can get flat tires, overheat the engine and even break the transmission, if they were to shift gears improperly.
Mafia was also among the first games to have a Freeride and Freeride Extreme mode, both of which are an equivalent to the modern day New Game Plus modes. These modes become accessible following the conclusion of the main storyline and feature new side missions, such as chasing alien spaceships, jumping off ramps and driving an explosive-rigged truck at a certain speed. Also included are all the weapons, cars as well as the lack of police, giving the players the ultimate freedom in roaming around the Lost Heaven.
Just a small fraction of the cars that players can drive in Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven.
When it comes to the weapons, Mafia doesn’t offer a very wide selection, but those that are present are true to the timeline and include Colt 1911, .38 Police Special, 44. Magnum Revolver, Tommy Gun, Shotgun, Mosin-Nagant and Springfield rifle and the Italian mob favorite – the Lupara. There are also melee weapons such as brass knuckles, baseball bats and switchblades. Players usually start armed with the Colt 1911 and can then collect other weapons around the map, but in some instances, they will also be equipped with a mission specific weapon from the very start, but be careful not to sport it in front of the police, or you will be arrested. Although most of the weapons are generic and there is nothing special about them, they are really fun to use with recoil and sounds that mimic their real-life counterparts.
Speaking of sound, Mafia is probably one of the best games ever in terms of audio features and the soundtrack. Car horns, police sirens and background murmur of people, enhance the overall acoustic vibe of the city, giving an impression of a livable environment with actual things happening in it. There are also many random street encounters between the NPCs that spike up very quirky conversations further amplifying the city’s ambient. Every section of the city also features distinct background music, some of which are compositions from famous artists from the 1920’s and 1930’s, like The Mills Brothers, Django Reinhardt and many others. This really sets the mood of the game, there by bringing to the players the unique charm of the Prohibition-era America.
Another strong suit of the original Mafia is its very active modding community, which even after 16 years from the release, still supports and releases new mods for the game. Although there not as many mods as there are for Skyrim or Fallout, the ones available can really enhance the original game, as well as Freeride and Freeride Extreme modes. For example, there are mods that add new interiors, NPCs, character looks, vehicles, and even multiplayer racing!
Some in-game screenshots of melee action, shooting and mobster pursuit.
All in all, I wholeheartedly recommend Mafia. In terms of visuals, the graphics are dated but even so, the game has aged perfectly and still look very good when compared to some other games of the time. On that note, car breaking physics can easily match more recent games, but don’t forget that you can always install one of the mods that improves the general textures and get even a better experience. Gameplay does have certain limitations such as the inability to stick to the cover, so you have to awkwardly crouch or stand and hide behind it. Nevertheless, the shooting is still very fun with players having to pay attention to the recoil and effective firing range of every weapon. Mafia’s main storyline is long and immersive with many twists and turns, and has about 21 missions total. While some missions are short and last about 10 minutes, others can take up to two hours to complete, with some even allowing for different approaches, such as using violence or not. Overall, to complete the main storyline it takes anywhere between 15 and 20 hours, but that is when Freeride Extreme comes with 18 new missions that further prolong the play time. Throw in some mods, and Mafia easily offers about 30 hours of actual story gameplay, but if you are a fan of old cars like me, you will be back to this game for many more hours just for some joyriding while listening to the 1930’s jazz hits.
*Do note that in the Steam and GOG versions of the game, some music has been removed due to licensing issues, but that is not a problem that a small mod cannot fix
Map of the City of Lost Heaven
Edited by EchelonBrk