Why The Original Mafia Is One Of The Most Underrated Games Of The Last 20 Years


Mafia III is due out in stores tomorrow, October 7th, and while we’re certainly excited to see what it brings to the table, it’s got us thinking: how does the original stack up after all these years? Well, we recently revisited the game to get a taste of the retro action, and found a package that stands the test of time surprisingly well.

It’s been 14 years since the original Mafia was released on the PC and one claim has dogged it ever since: that, in its delivery of a story tied to an open world, it’s somehow a GTA clone. Just take a look at Eurogamer’s 2002 review of the game. Awarding it a 4/10, the reviewer complained that unlike the fast cars of Grand Theft Auto, Mafia forces you to stick “lumbering clunkers that hobble along at a snail’s pace and accelerate from nought to sixty in a time that is measured in minutes rather than seconds.” The review concludes by neatly missing the point completely. “The storyline is brilliant, but we’re here to play the game, not admire its narrative structure,” it says.


You see, Mafia is a story first and foremost, an action game second and a driving simulator third. There just so happens to be a big open map, too. Whereas in Grand Theft Auto, that map is stuffed with oddities, side missions and shop stores, Mafia’s world is window dressing for the tightly-constructed narrative; a simple driver of verisimilitude.

Mafia plots the descent of Tommy Angelo from everyday cab driver to cold-blooded mobster during 1930s America in a world closely based on the real thing. Without the slow exposition and often tedious lulls in gameplay, the morality tale would be less convincing, but as it is, you’re pulled into a quite macabre story where the line between good and evil is often shrouded in uncertainty.