Tommy Angelo’s just trying to make ends meet, so when he picks up the wrong crowd in his cab one day and is told to drive or die, what’s Tommy to do? Turns out he’s got two of Don Salieri’s most trusted lieutenants in the back of his car, and to make matters worse, they’re being chased by the Morello gang. Tommy escapes with his new friends in tow but Morello’s men search him out and wreck his car – destroying his livelihood in the process. Tommy turns to the mob for protection and the cushy lifestyle it brings.
What’s surprising is just how well the story holds up after all this time. Each of Mafia’s 20 missions is narrated by an older, wiser Tommy, who recounts his life in the mob to an Irish cop in a bar. This time-honored narrative device frames the events to follow as we follow Tommy’s path from lowly muscle into feared lieutenant, both by living the story and playing the man himself.
Better yet, the supporting cast is likable. The mobsters you rub shoulders with, like Paulie, Sam and Don Salieri himself, resemble real people we’ve spied in movies past, rather than the faceless ciphers we’re served up in so many games, helped in part by the excellent voice acting. That we’re alongside them for the duration of the game means we get to know them too, and along the way, Mafia doles out timeless one-liners that feel at home in every good Godfather film.
The fiction is built every step of the way, from the authentic chug of 1930s pre-war automobiles to the affected Italian-American accents and true-to-life missions you undertake. There’s no rush to the finish line here, and long interludes see you exploring the countryside and diving into the grime and much of the inner boroughs as the fictional city of Lost Heaven is laid bare. By today’s standards, the city is positively spartan, but the accurate touches, like the period-perfect music, paints the picture of a country coming to terms with prohibition; a breeding ground for everyday men looking to make an easy buck.
What becomes of Tommy’s story shouldn’t be spoiled and culminates with a fork in the tale; an epilogue that provides a particularly sobering reminder of the power the mob enjoys. This is a morality story that truly reinforces one thing: there’s no such thing as simple good and evil.